Former President & CEO, Cable Telecommunications Association for Marketing (CTAM)
Washington/Baltimore WICT Power Brokers Breakfast
October 6, 2015
Thank you for the invitation to speak about leadership.
Speaking of leaders, congratulations to the WICT national organization on selecting Time Warner Cable’s Ellen East as WICT’s Woman of the Year and recognizing her during Cable Diversity Week. Warm congratulations to Ellen on the honor. Talk about an exemplary leader! We can all learn a lot by studying Ellen’s principles, habits and style.
To prepare for this talk I wondered what has been written on leadership. Now that you’ve had your coffee, it’s quiz time. How many books on leadership do you think are available on Amazon? Per the Wall Street Journal’s September 30th article on “followers,” there are 362 books listed on amazon.com that focus on followers – while nearly 154,000 examine leadership.
That makes this talk daunting. What more can I say than all those authors who think the secret sauce is honesty, empathy, curiosity, being organized, proactive, resourceful, delegator, inspirational, emotionally stable and on and on?
Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce.com, had it right when he said recently at the Wall Street Journal Women in the Workplace conference – “you can’t lump all female workers into one group. You can’t assume all females have the same views and aspirations.” Well that’s true for leadership as well.
So I can tell you a little bit about my path to, and journey in, leadership. While I strived to figure out how to lead, I think one success factor for me was to focus on the trait of trust. It’s really a building block for everything else.
I look at the prism from different angles:
- Being trustworthy
- Trusting others … or not
- Trusting yourself
BEING TRUSTWORTHY starts at home. Parents want to trust us to be where we say we are. To be with the people we said we’d be with. To come home when we say we will.
But being trustworthy is critical in business. Remember in your first job when you struggled to persuade your boss to trust you? Trust you not just to do the job, but to follow the rules, and if you are exceptional, trust you to figure out better ways of doing things and to go beyond the requirements. We’re women after all.
Being trustworthy is equally important with your colleagues. They need to know they can trust you… with the project, a piece of information, that you’ve got their back. To be trusted you must have your own moral framework and live it.
Being in the association world, it was critical that the senior leadership of our many member companies could trust me. At CTAM, all of my predecessors served around 2 years – yet I served more than 20 years. I know one of the reasons was that I was trusted. They trusted me to stay in sync with the needs of our stakeholders.
That became essential when the cable and content companies radically transformed their businesses over the past decade. Marketing was centralized at the MSOs, and the majority of networks were fully distributed. As a result, the very foundation of CTAM was called into question. We had thousands of members who worked for those companies. In fact for 85 to 90 percent of those members, their companies paid their CTAM dues. These members enjoyed the chapters, loved Summit and competed for Mark Awards.
But, the Chief Marketing Officers and senior leadership needed CTAM to be a different kind of partner to compliment their transformed corporate structures. Now, if CTAM was a democracy, we’d still offer the long standing services. But the organization exists to support the member companies who created and support it. We executed changes that were painful, but it was the right thing to do. Many industry leaders told me they never doubted I would lead the organization to change.
TRUSTING OTHERS … OR NOT! That starts when you get your first management assignment. You have to learn who on your team you can trust.
I think many women managers do well on the measure of trusting others. Maybe too well. I struggled with this one, sometimes trusting the wrong people, taking the wrong advice, allowing a culture of mistrust to take hold.
I found getting outside help was the solution. I sought training, coaching and tools. I eventually learned a lot of tricks in hiring and motivating great employees built on trust and mutual respect. I’m proud that my CTAM senior management team is still leading the charge almost two years after I left.
Again, the association world is a little different. I had a new boss, called the “chair,” every one or two years at CTAM, plus bosses at the CTAM Educational Foundation, and the MSO Marketing Co-op. That’s a lot of bosses!
Job One was to get them to trust me and for me to trust them. The benefit is that it became, for me, an annual executive education course in effective management and leadership! I learned traits, habits and styles that work, and some that don’t. The downside is that it is a tricky business when your boss has ideas that you don’t agree with.
Perhaps the most stunning example was the CTAM chair who told me that CTAM would be more effective if I’d just hire more men! Needless to say I didn’t follow that missive.
Trusting others applies in many situations. In my new life phase, I would like to serve on a public company board of directors. I have deep experience on non-profit boards and a little on a private company board. How do I get ready for the next level? I joined an association of course. The National Association of Corporate Directors provides education on being a director, and I have attained the Director Fellowship certification. One of the things I learned is that corporate CEOs, board chairs and Nominating Committees are looking for people they can trust. The path to a well run company starts with a highly functioning board of people who can work together.
I know you probably do pretty well on being trustworthy and trusting others. One that women often struggle with is TRUSTING YOURSELF.
I appreciate that many people seek feedback to improve. And that’s important. But as you climb the leadership ladder, you will receive less or different kinds of feedback. You need to prepare. You have to put yourself in a position where building blocks are in place – a great education, industry and company knowledge, skill building, taking risks, learning from your mistakes. You need to know the goal of whatever you are working on and have a framework to evaluate the options. Then you need to trust yourself and be self critical.
Fairly early in my career I worked at a place where about 90 percent of the focus was on one area, and I led an ancillary division that accounted for 10 percent. That was great, because, as long as I drove to achieve the agreed upon over-arching goal, I could pretty much set the strategy and execution that I thought was right.
My boss was brilliant, but not keen on management. Which is to say, I got no feedback. We had an annual review process, and I submitted my paperwork. Three months went by. Then six months. I was young and getting nervous that something was wrong. I tapped my network of friends – many women suggested I needed to deal with this issue aggressively. This wasn’t fair. But, I had a talk with myself, and said, I know the goal and I know I’m doing good work. I’m not going to worry.
Close to the time of the next review, I was summoned. I sat down, and when it was time to talk about compensation, my boss pushed a little slip of paper across the desk. It had a big number on it. It was way bigger than I expected. The boss said, you’ll see the catch-up payment in the next check. You are doing a heck of a job and keep doing it. (Guilt can be a good thing!)
Despite craving feedback, I said “thank you” and left. I reflected that I trusted myself – we had an agreed goal and I was confidently driving to it. I was doing good work.
Trust is a building block of leadership success. Trust now is a buzz word in the presidential nomination process. Think about how often you hear poll results where they measure whether people trust a candidate. It is extraordinary that we have several leading candidates from both parties who the majority doesn’t trust but they are still polling well. You could say that refutes the theory of this talk. But, my prediction is that while it’s easy to say anything right now, when voters make the final decision, they won’t elect a leader they don’t trust. I can’t wait to see how that turns out!
My cable journey has been amazing. I was thrilled to play a leadership role in an industry that is so successful and has improved people’s lives.
As you move on your path to being a leader, you probably should read more than a few of those 154,000 leadership books … but in the meantime you can take a step right now to re-examine your framework, behavior and habits on being trustworthy, trusting others (or not) and trusting yourself. Thank you.