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What’s So Challenging About Leadership in Marcom?

Marcom Leadership

At Fluency, we are constantly motivated by the opportunity to unlock the potential of marketing and communications (marcom) leaders to be fully-expressed business leaders. That’s our passion, our purpose, and the foundational part of our business. 

And in combination with that motivation is an observation…that being a leader in the marcom space is really, really challenging right nowIn the work we do across marcom teams and through 1:1 coaching with their leaders, we see where the struggles exist and where the friction points come to bear.  

So what’s behind this? What’s the real challenge? 

We share three insights as to what makes the leadership challenge in marcom particularly monumental these days. And within this challenge we shine a light on the enormous opportunity. 

First, the shift by (almost) all companies and organizations to be customer-centric in everything they do raises the stakes for the marcom leader and their teams. In the pastthere often was a default setting that deferred most critical decisions to the top of the food chain (CEO), the financial shot-callers (CFO), or those that run the day-to-day operations (COO). But today, the voice of the customer and the brand of a company are literally at the heart of everything. And if you are a marcom leader, you are closer to the customer than any other leader with an organization. You are the voice, the conscience, and partner of the customer in all your work. You think about them all day, every day. Marcom leaders can’t simply “stay in their lane” and must actively seek out the opportunity to lead, to drive critical decisions, and to ask the powerful questions that drive a customer-centric business forward. 

Second, there is unprecedented visibility in the work of marcom leaders and teams. It’s always existed to some extent but has become amplified in recent years and especially during the pandemic. It’s a vulnerable place to be as you lead the public-facing plans and strategies that are critical to an organization’s success or failure during such a tenuous and uncertain time. As it should be, marcom leaders often are looked to as the champions of rallying an organization around its purpose and message, or navigating the choppy waters of perpetual crisis or changeThe glare of the spotlight is stronger on these leaders than on others, and it takes a highly curated and focused set of leadership skills to navigate. And it takes a lot of courage. 

Third, we know that there’s never been a bigger need for employee communication, engagement and connection. Particularly for communications leaders, the role of driving content, messages, and leadership vision through the lens of this function is paramount. As the work world violently and almost instantaneously moved to a distributed and remote model, the requirement to build engagement with employees and help them navigate uncertain times became a priority for all organizations.  

What’s the opportunity? 

Despite some of these challenges, the opportunity for marcom leaders to lean in, step up, and make a higher contribution has never been greater. We offer that this is the opportunity for marcom leaders to seize. They have the deep ability to have all the relationships, see all the connections and all the layers available. These shifts open the door for marcom leaders to become more fully-expressed and courageous leaders. 

How can we bring this to life? 

Beyond the core requirement for these leaders to be constantly curious, constantly growing, and constantly expanding their leadership imprint, we see three ways in which this opportunity comes to life through the innate skills and existing capabilities: 

  • Storytelling – Marcom leaders are very often great storytellers. In fact, it’s essentially a stamp that each needs to carry in their work passport today. They carry the ability and passion to create a compelling narrative, to motivate action against that narrative, and use the power of language to create change. It’s a superpower that’s never been more valuable and essential. 
  • Flexibility – Marcom leaders have a propensity to be agile, adapatable, and open to changing conditions. Like reacting to a changing marketplace or media landscape, there’s an embedded pliability that many marcom leaders can accessNow is the time for them to show that pliability, to remain flexible and willing to adapt, and lead through an unmatched ability to see what others can’t see and bring clarity to an organization through uncertain times. 
  • Connection – We work with a range of amazing leaders in the marcom space. They often have sixth sense to connect with others on a human level. They are in the business of making connections, so they can leverage this same ability in the leadership space. Whether it’s connecting employees to a critical business change or connecting customers to their organization’s purpose, marcom leaders can fuse and forge the necessary connections that become the glue for the most important things. 

We offer this as a reflection on six months of work at Fluency, as well as the reflection of our decades of previous experience and leadership in this space. We are now seeing more of what we need to see tbe better coaches and thought partners to the leaders we work with. In part, this has been a self-reflective experience as we’ve looked back on our careers in marcom leadership positions…all the things we believe we did well, and the even longer list of things we know we could have done better. 

Our hope is to do better for our clients, so we can give them the courage and insight to rise as strong, fully-expressed business leaders.  Leadership is always hard work, but we are inspired by the opportunity for marcom leaders to lead like never before. 


Questions for reflection: 

 What‘s the leadership opportunity that’s available for you to seize? 

Which superpower as a marcom expert can you lean into and lift your leadership to the next level? 

What’s the best next step you can take to lead with more purpose and passion? 

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