November 4, 2021

Putting the Chief in Chief Marketing Officer

Forget the notion of born leaders. Leadership is a skill that is that’s learned through practice, and even trial and error. It is a skill that needs continual refinement and is always a work in progress. In this episode, we explore the path to leadership with CMOs Amy Messano of Altair, Bill Strawderman of GS1 US, and Toni Clayton-Hine of EY Americas.

Tune in as we focus on the “Chief” of Chief Marketing Officer, exploring many aspects of CMOing, from how leadership adapted during COVID to how to lead while following the lead of your CEO. This episode is filled with unique insights into the different paths to leadership as well as tried-and-true ways to inspire employees and organizations to greatness. Don’t miss it!

What You’ll Learn in This Episode

  • How leadership required more empathy post-COVID
  • How to respond as a leader (opposed to reacting)
  • How to lead while following other leaders

Renegade Marketers Unite, Episode 265 on YouTube

Resources Mentioned

 Time-Stamped Highlights

  • [0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Marketers Live!
  • [1:30] Leadership Lessons with Amy Messano
  • [11:16] Leadership Lessons with Bill Strawderman
  • [18:10] Leadership Lessons with Toni Clayton-Hine
  • [23:35] How Leadership Evolved Post-COVID
  • [28:13] On CMO Huddles
  • [30:51] Leadership Lessons in Reacting vs. Responding
  • [36:59] How to Be a Leader Who Works for a Leader
  • [44:05] Leadership Advice for Current and Future Leaders

Transcript Highlights: Drew Neisser in conversation with Amy Messano, Bill Strawderman, and Toni Clayton-Hine

[0:00] Cold Open: This is Renegade Marketers Live!

Drew Neisser: Hello, Renegade Marketers! It’s Drew, and I’m thrilled to welcome you to a special episode of Renegade Marketers Unite. This one is from our live series, which is exclusively for CMOs who are part of CMO Huddles. If you haven’t heard of CMO Huddles, check us out at It is the place where an elite group of CMOs come to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.

Speaking of amazing CMOs, this episode includes Amy Messano of Altair, Bill Strawderman of GS1, and Toni-Clayton-Hine of EY. The discussion focused on leadership: what it meant to be a leader during COVID, the lessons learned, how to apply those now as we move into a hybrid world. So many great tips in this action-packed episode.

Give it a listen, I think you’ll really enjoy it. If you don’t, let me know. If you do, do me a favor and write a review about us on your favorite podcast channel. Okay, here’s the show.

[1:30] Leadership Lessons with Amy Messano

“It's really taking the time to listen and understand what makes people tick and what they need to do to be successful.” —@AmyMessano @Altair_Inc Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m your host Drew Neisser, live from my home studio in New York City. Let’s get one thing out of the way, shall we? Forget the notion of born leaders. Leadership is a skill that can be learned not necessarily in a single book, but more through practice and even trial and error.

It is a skill that needs continual refinement and is always—when you talk to great leaders, they will always say it’s a work in progress. There is no one personality profile that owns leadership. You can’t say, “I’m just not a born leader. I’m not a leader.”

Jim Collins in Good to Great described many an amazing leader who stayed out of the spotlight, acting like an invisible hand guiding their corporations. So on this show, we’re going to explore the path to leadership. We’re going to focus on the C as in Chief Marketing—the “chief” and Chief Marketing Officer.

And we’re going to specifically talk about the lessons three CMOs have learned along the way on their way to getting to their role and the most recent challenges these leaders are facing as leaders. With that, let’s bring on Amy Messano, CMO of Altair and star of Episode 192 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Hello, Amy.

Amy Messano: Hi, Drew, how are you?

Drew Neisser: I’m great. And how are you?

Amy Messano: I’m fantastic. Happy to be here.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. You’ve joined us from vacation. We talk about dedication. It’s amazing.

Amy Messano: I did. Well, you are such a gracious host. Anything for you.

Drew Neisser: Ah, well, that’s very kind and that will definitely go to my head. Let’s talk about this. Before you were a CMO, I’m guessing you worked for a leader or two that you really admired. What were some of the lessons that you started to observe as you were coming up the ranks?

Amy Messano: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think that you almost learn as much from the not-great leaders as from the great leaders. And I would say I’ve seen two sides of this particular example.

One is to empower your people and to let them lead. The opposite of that is micromanaging. I think that that is very important, to really equip people what they need to do their job successfully and then get out of the way.

You’re there when they need you, but you’re not blocking them and really helping them to do their job so that they get recognition and appreciation and they’re learning and developing for future leadership.

Drew Neisser: And these lessons were ground home perhaps by a boss who wasn’t those characteristics?

Amy Messano: I’ve actually had both. I’ve had one great one like that one not so great one.

Drew Neisser: What’s so interesting to me, as I think about what you were saying about, you know, tell them what you want him to do and then get out of the way is, you have to be careful. There are times where there are certain individuals, right?

I remember one leadership course I had early in my career where they talked about how there are some people who are high motivation, high learners, and high skill. You can just say go and they’ll get there.

But there are some people who don’t know how to do a task and if you assign them a task and don’t build the steps along the way… Some of it is also understanding who you’re dealing with and not dealing with everybody the same way, right?

Amy Messano: Yes. Yes, absolutely. I think a huge part of great leaders is really taking the time to get to know your team. It’s an emotional thing, right? Coaching and also learning and listening to what kind of a person they are and how they like to receive information.

Maybe they’re not comfortable speaking in front of a big group. Maybe they’re better one on one. So just understanding how they work, and then you help them, again, to be successful with what they need.

It’s really taking the time to listen and understand what makes people tick and what they need to do to be successful. Listening is not just closing your mouth while they’re talking, but listen, absorb, and maybe come back. Doesn’t even have to be right away. Take some time to process and think about it and then come back with solutions. I always try to come from a place of solutions.

Drew Neisser: So, it’s not just about telling them what to do?

Amy Messano: No, no. They tell me what to do most of the time. Listening is a huge part of it. I actually don’t think it’s always just telling them what to do. I think a lot of it is, I really depend on teams and people and leadership teams.

I don’t say, “Oh, I’m the boss, do what I say.” I very much have a great leadership team and we do a lot of things together, so I think a lot of it is listening more than telling, quite frankly.

Drew Neisser: Well, on Episode 100, I had my father on the show. He was 92 at the time. He just celebrated his 95th birthday, and he talked about the lost art of listening and how he finds that lots of people who have lots of things they want to say, but aren’t very good at asking the questions and being an active listener, which I think is such a big part of this.

Amy Messano: I couldn’t agree more.

Drew Neisser: It was a little bit easier in the pre-COVID period. Now we’re all separated, and we’re all separated all the time. Did that put a new twist in your leadership style?

Amy Messano: It did. You know, I have people at all corners of the globe, and I’m used to traveling a ton. You hit the brick wall. A couple of things that I started to do was a weekly email just as a personal update and a “What’s going on with the business” and really checking in on people. COVID was so different on so many people.

You have single people stuck by themselves in a tiny apartment in Tokyo and you have people with 18 people in their house and dogs and going crazy. Some people were sick and some people lost loved ones. It was very different—or financial strains.

I mean, it was devastating for everyone, so part of it I felt I was very open and honest and I wrote emails that sometimes had very little to do with work, but they were like what I learned this week. And sometimes it was I had to go in the bathroom and cry or I dropped a pot of chicken soup that I made all day and sharing and being really vulnerable.

I think it helped people. I got so many emails back, just one-off the emails to say how that really helped them, that they know that I’m going through it, too. And just some of the things that I always told people to watch. I’d posted videos. My meditation therapy is walking. I take long walks every day.

Sometimes I’d do videos from the walk, which might sound cheesy, but it’s really just trying to connect with people in different ways because people felt so alone and so disconnected and not knowing of when it was going to end. I did a lot more—very, very informal, just very open, very honest, lots of communicating through emails and videos and things like that.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s funny as I was thinking about all the Huddles that we had during the height of COVID, a word that kept coming up is empathy. This was one that, for some CMOs, this was a new thought. But it really did bring out, if you were naturally empathetic in some ways, you had a competitive advantage. If you had to learn that, it was difficult.

But the honesty in this, you had to work harder to make human connections. I honestly think that that part of it, really some great leadership things came out of that. I mean, the connections that you actually made during this period were, I imagine… I know a lot of CMOs who are a lot closer to their people now than they were before COVID.

Amy Messano: Yeah, yeah. I think that’s true. For our headquarter building—we’re outside of Detroit—we’d be normally a lot of people in a room and then people maybe on a conference call in Asia or Europe or somewhere. Now, it’s actually better for them because we can see their faces. There are good parts of it in that regard.

I’m a mom, I have three kids, and I think I’m empathetic by nature, but I think I’ve learned that nurturing as I’ve gone and a lot of that I apply. I used to say a great leader is like a mama bear to protect and nurture. They don’t need a lot of protecting where I work now, but listening and guiding and nurturing and just letting people know that you care about them… It’s emotional, right?

You spend more time with the people you work with than really anybody else. Just knowing that you’re there to listen, no matter what it’s about, it doesn’t necessarily have to be work-related. I have found so many learnings and so many bright sides of COVID just the way people have, I mean, amazing performance, new ways to do things, new ways to think about things, new ways to problem-solve, new ways to collaborate.

There is some bright side that the people are smart and will rise to the challenge. The way that people protected each other, looked out for each other, connected, supported each other. When someone needed a little bit of time off, someone else picked up the slack for them. I always say marketing is a team sport, so the way they come together and people have come together as teams has been remarkable. And I’ve shed a couple tears over it.

[11:16] Leadership Lessons with Bill Strawderman

“We're not out there competing for resources. We're out there really trying to grow people, grow the business, grow customers, and grow opportunities.” —@just_a_strawman @GS1 Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: We’re going to talk to Bill Strawderman, who is the CMO of GS1 US. Bill, hello.

Bill Strawderman: Hello, Drew, how are you?

Drew Neisser: I’m great, thank you. Let’s talk about a couple of standout leaders that you’ve worked with. What did you pick up from them in terms of insights on what it takes to be a leader?

Bill Strawderman: I think like Amy, I would say I’ve learned from great and learned from not so great in the same approach. I would describe intellectual curiosity and a restlessness as one trait that I admire and have picked up.

Another is this genuine care and respect for people which, during COVID, that empathy had to be dialed up significantly. I think for me, it’s taken a while for me to get there, probably in some of my failings it would be evident that I had a way to grow from being a starter to where I am today.

I think the other is this idea of a growth mindset. We’re not out there competing for resources. We’re out there really trying to grow people, grow the business, grow customers, and grow opportunities.

Drew Neisser: That’s such an interesting way to think about it. One of the things that really struck me when Amy and I started talking about it is, during COVID, it was really hard to push people because they were being pushed emotionally in so many different ways. And I know that some CMOs were frustrated by that fact. It was just hard. You didn’t know how much you could ask of people during this time set.

I’m curious, as a leader, how you worked around this? We’re growing. We need to grow, and growth usually means more effort or it certainly means smarter effort. It’s a demand. How did you reconcile that, particularly in the last year and a half when it was really hard to know what was going on in people’s lives?

Bill Strawderman: I mean, I think, Drew, that’s a little bit of the sensing approach you have to take with individuals. It’s knowing when you want to press the pedal down and when you need to put on the brake. Really having that clarity around what’s really important to get done versus what’s something that you can be more flexible on.

We would have the discussions with individuals and we would invite them to declare when they really needed that extra care or extra concern or extra flexibility in terms of elongating something that frankly didn’t have to rise to be the top hit of the day.

I think the other thing I would say part of that developing a sense of shared humanity was really taking the time not to be too serious about if you were in the middle of a call and you had cats and dogs or wandering spouses or other kinds of amalgamations of working life bleeding into what was happening. You had to adapt your seriousness and had to be prepared to just let humanity happen and enjoy it.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s so funny. We all got to know each other’s dogs and kids during this time frame. And by the way, this is the hour in which my dog almost always decides that he needs to come in for a hug, so it is quite possible that Louie will make an appearance.

I think it’s interesting, and you talk about understanding what’s a priority and not. Do you have an operating system, if you will, that you use as a leader to make sure that everybody understands our team goals and how the individuals fit into that?

Bill Strawderman: Yeah, I believe we have a pretty clear approach to setting corporate goals, and those corporate goals are actually shared more or less across the entire organization. That’s a good guiding light for many people to organize a lot of their activities around.

If you understand how your work contributes to that, the achievement of that corporate goal, it really in some sense helps you prioritize that versus another thing that might be more, let’s say, longer-term focused or might be more task-focused.

Those are the types of things where it’s good to open up the dialogue with people about what really is essential versus what is more… That’s really a tomorrow thing. We can certainly negotiate how and when those things get done because they don’t rise to the occasion.

And then individuals have their own sets of goals too. We do have a process where, mid-year check-ins, there’s a flexibility to trade off one goal versus another to the extent that you had other things that came in that were a little bit hotter and things that, again, back to the level of importance didn’t necessarily need to rise to the top of your stack.

Drew Neisser: It just occurred to me as you were talking here—and we didn’t talk about this in prep for the show, but I’m thinking about… How do you make sure that you are being the leader that you want to be and that you’re weighing in, measuring yourself? How do you keep your saw sharp, so to speak?

Bill Strawderman: There are a bunch of ways. When it comes to that checking in with the team, it’s really the informal ways that Amy described, and I think the more formal approach is to skip levels and do all of the structured meetings we have with either program teams or with managers directly just checking in one-on-one with them.

In terms of the ways I like to sharpen my saw; I love solving puzzles, so I’m a crossword guy. I’ve recently picked Sudoku back up. When I go on a run, I go in part for that purpose of just having some meditative time. I actually find problem-solving… Sometimes you spend too much time focused on the problem, and when you step away from it and you’re distracted by some other healing activity in some respects, you can be struck with inspiration and say, “I finally got it!”

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s funny you should say that. I was just listening to a book on getting things done for creative people who might get stuck. Just in the first chapter, it was, “Step away.” Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forward. Just leave it over there and make a new list of happy things that are happening in your life. Well, that’s great. Crosswords and Sudokus and meditation.

[18:10] Leadership Lessons with Toni Clayton-Hine

“By and large, over my career, I have more people that have exhibited more stewardship, servant leadership than the other way around.” —@Toniclaytonhine @EY_US Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s bring on Toni Clayton-Hine, who is the CMO of EY Americas and the star of Episode 65 of Renegade Thinkers Unite. Hello, Toni.

Toni Clayton-Hine: Hello. How are you?

Drew Neisser: I am great, thank you. Let’s talk about a couple of standout leaders you’ve worked for and what stood out about them.

Toni Clayton-Hine: I think that their ability to communicate and do so in a way that is so audience-driven is the thing that always strikes me about great leaders. To understand when you’re talking to a bunch of people that are maybe on the front lines and salespeople and be really excited and energetic.

And if you’re talking to people that are more in the back office, operational, to be probably a bit more focused and detail-oriented. When you’re talking to clients, to be able to think about how to put yourselves in their shoes and the things that they’re looking to articulate.

I’ve always just been struck by those leaders that can really understand the importance of time and place and individual personalities to some extent or the general personalities of a cohort and be able to connect at that level. It’s always been really impressive.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, it’s funny you should say that. At the top of the show I talked about—there is a cult of personality around one leadership type that are really charismatic and they’re good at that. I wonder, as I’m thinking about it, yes, they need to be good communicators and yes, they need to understand the audience, but I wonder if they always have to be that great “Follow me. Let’s go charge the hill” kind of thing. I mean, that wasn’t the Jim Collins model. I wonder if you’ve ever worked with an almost… is there such a thing as an introverted leader?

Toni Clayton-Hine: All sorts of them throughout my career not always have been the most gregarious and charismatic. I remember one leader who was just so intelligent and operated at such an incredible level that it was sometimes difficult to, as a marketer, to help them communicate, help them formulate thoughts. Almost savant-like just in terms of their intelligence, and just being able to help them think through how to slow down and to lead a team from a marketing perspective, just helping that communication internally and externally come through was really interesting.

And then, you know, having spent some time in my career in the research side, those folks tend to be a lot more introverted and analytical. I know I gravitate towards the smart anyway, so to me, that rock star person is not always the most charismatic, but the brainpower that they can exhibit or just their way of thinking has always been really interesting to me personally anyway.

Drew Neisser: Have you ever worked for someone who had to be the smartest person in the room?

Toni Clayton-Hine: Many times, yes.

Drew Neisser: Can you talk about the problem of that as a leader?

Toni Clayton-Hine: Well, sometimes they have to be the smartest people in the room because they are, in fact, the smartest people in the room. So that is interesting. It’s sometimes just a lack of self-awareness that they’re coming off as constantly needing to ensure that people understand that.

But I would say, by and large, over my career, I have more people that have exhibited more stewardship, servant leadership than the other way around. The people really understand and want to pull out the best of people and be very generous with their time and their accolades and the support of the team around them to be able to shine. Who doesn’t want that, right? Who doesn’t want to follow somebody who understands the power of the team?

Drew Neisser: Yeah, that’s so true. And it’s so easy. It’s so easy to forget to be generous with praise because you have so much to do.

Toni Clayton-Hine: Exactly. I think back on one leader that was just one of my favorite bosses to work for. And he really opened every conversation at a group level with a thank you. It just struck me and I just loved it.

I probably emulate that more than any other leadership styles that I like, which is to make sure that if we’re taking an opportunity to address a group, whether it’s a meeting of 5 or a meeting of 50 or a meeting of 500, that you take the opportunity to say thank you. Thank them for their time, thank them for the work that they do. I took that from him and I always liked that. I just thought that was such a great way to kick something off.

[23:35] How Leadership Evolved Post-COVID

“When you're time-boxed at work, it's very different than being time-boxed in a virtual environment.” —@just_a_strawman @GS1 Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I think that’s a perfect place to bring Amy and Bill back. I’m curious, Amy and I started getting into how your leadership evolved. So, Bill and Toni, did you have to make some adjustments during the COVID period because it was a new challenge?

Toni Clayton-Hine: For me, I tend to be very casual as a leader, I’m very open and hopefully very approachable, so the thing that I was struck by during COVID was to try to think through how words matter. I may say something flip and not think about it so much.

But during COVID I felt like there’s so much tension in the air, in the environment, and in the family, and in the workplace, so no flip comments. There’s too much opportunity for things to be misinterpreted. I know personally that was something that I was very focused on. Not sure I accomplished it very well, but definitely a focus area for me.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Bill, what about you? I love that notion. If you’re in the office and you say something flip, you can recover. “Oh, I was just kidding or whatever,” but if you do it in a Zoom and people aren’t paying attention or whatever, it can just come across as, “Oh, what is she talking about?” So, Bill, what was your adjustment that you made during COVID as a leader?

Bill Strawderman: I think the big adaptation for me is, I have a team that is largely co-located. You walk down the hall, you have the opportunity to pass the time casually, really say, “Hey, I’ve got this thing I want to interrogate with you right away.”

What was very difficult with COVID is resisting that urge to make your curiosity someone else’s time problem because the big deal, I think, for people was that they didn’t really feel as in control of their time. When you’re time-boxed at work, it’s very different than being time-boxed in a virtual environment. Learning that was an adjustment I had to make to keep the team sanity as good as it could be considering the circumstances.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, that’s funny. I’m thinking back to podcasts that we recorded in April and May of 2020. There was a lot of conversation during that period about helping people deal with time.

Part of it was we were all working. We weren’t commuting, so we just added those to our workdays. And now we’re coming out of this and some people are commuting and some people aren’t.

But the hours still seem to be really long and it feels like something where, as a leader, this is a moment where you have to hold up stop signs and really pay attention to: Are folks taking their vacations? Are folks taking time to sharpen their saws and do something else? Anyway, that’s me. But I’m wondering, are you thinking about that? Is that on your list, Toni?

Toni Clayton-Hine: About making sure people are taking vacations and personal time? Absolutely. Yeah, we have that as a firm-wide initiative, just to remove from stated vacation to unlimited vacation like so many other companies have done. We did that at the same time or just before COVID really hit.

We’re really mindful of that because we would hate for this unlimited vacation to be turned into “I’ll never take vacation.” We just came off of—one of the things that EY does, it’s incredible, is they close the firm for the week of Fourth of July and the week of Christmas.

I never realized what an amazing gift that is until it happened. You usually go away on vacation and come back to a flood of emails from people that are still working, and it’s nice when everybody is off at the same time. It’s unbelievable and really helps everybody recharge.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I love that. What a gift to everybody.

[28:13] On CMO Huddles

“I learn something every single time.” —@Toniclaytonhine @EY_US on @CMOHuddles Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: This is a moment where, if you don’t mind, I’m going to plug CMO Huddles for a second. CMO Huddles, for those who are watching, was launched in 2020. It’s an invitation-only subscription service that brings together an elite group of CMOs to share, care, and dare each other to greatness.

One CMO described a Huddle as a cross between an expert workshop and a therapy session. Anyway, I’m just curious, Toni, Bill, Amy, if you have any comments that you would like to share about CMO Huddles? Not to put you on the spot, but what any thoughts?

Amy Messano: I think they’re great.

Drew Neisser: Well, we’ll start with Amy. Go ahead.

Amy Messano: I have found them to be very helpful especially during COVID, again, when you can’t get out there as much and talk to people. For example, moving to hybrid from virtual, and when will people go back. It gets people to ask questions from your peers and get real answers in a protected, safe space. Drew’s done a great job of actually connecting people. I’ve found it super useful.

Bill Strawderman: Yeah, the value of getting to know people who are not necessarily in your daily orbit and learning from a community of people who are facing similar problems in other cases, very similar problems to those that you have.

I’d say the other thing that was a fantastic use of the network connection, Drew, was the one-on-one discussion when I wanted to really interrogate some e-commerce related issues I was having with another CMO. You were able to identify someone and it was a very, very productive use of time. I was greatly appreciative of having that connection.

Drew Neisser: I love it. We need to get more huddlers to do those one-on-ones. Anyway, Toni. Any thoughts?

Toni Clayton-Hine: Yes. Okay, first of all, I learn something every single time. The fact that, if you can’t make it, you do these incredible recaps so that you can scan through with all of these resources is huge.

Then the second thing is the Slack channel. Your ability to then show up, if you can’t make it, you see the recap. And then, if you’ve got a question, you post it in the Slack channel, and then people can respond and send suggestions. It’s not really just when-we-meet; it’s really as ingrained or pervasive as you want it to be. And like I said, I learn something every single time.

Drew Neisser: I love it.

[30:51] Leadership Lessons in Reacting vs. Responding

“How do you take the idea that they want to do something and corral the energy and celebrate that a little bit?” —@Toniclaytonhine @EY_US Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Let’s talk about some tough moments. The good news is we all learn from things that happen when something didn’t exactly go as you expected. Because you’ve talked about having leaders at work, you learned as much from the ones that weren’t good.

Can you think about some situations and maybe share a situation where, “Gee, maybe if I’d done it differently, I would’ve had a different outcome”? Anybody want to jump in on that one? I know it’s not easy and we’re going to be exposing ourselves a bit, but I could go any eenie, meenie, Bill!

Bill Strawderman: Sure, why not? Look, so I would say—this is actually not a specific situation, but a problem I’ve had to grow beyond, which is the propensity to react versus respond.

You’re in a situation, you’re confronted with something that isn’t going right, and one way to handle it is to get curious and to step back and diagnose what you think went wrong. The other is to just light a fuse.

Learning that there’s a space between stimulus and response that gives you that ability to respond more than react is a learning curve moment for me throughout my career. I’m still not perfect at it, but I think I’ve gotten a lot better than when I was, say, 25 years old.

Drew Neisser: Oh, if I have one major flaw as a leader, that is it. Absolutely. Because I like just, boom. I see the problem. I hear it. I go, “Oh, we can solve that like this. Just go, boom, boom boom!” Give yourself some time. I really appreciate that nuance before you react and respond, just pause. Because if someone’s bringing you a problem and you solve it in five seconds, what are you saying to them really? Such a good point. Thank you. All right. Who’s next? Who has something they could to share?

Amy Messano: I would really build on what Bill said. I remember I had a boss one time who told me just to look at my shoes before you responded to something you need to think about. But I think it’s a much longer, especially working in global environments, to take the time to make sure that you’re not offending anybody if you speak and people can understand you, so speak slowly.

I do think the whole process of taking time to answer and also to say, “I don’t know.” It’s OK to be vulnerable. But I will share, for myself in marketing, I worked in a lot of technology companies, and sometimes real, real smart engineers and technical people or even hardcore sales guys think they can do marketing. I have had to learn actually that too, not to react right away. “My kids can use social media, so it must be easy.”

I found over time, it’s much more easy now; I can handle it much better than when I was early in my career and I was personally offended by that. But now I understand. I’m just much better to process it and I know how to be able to respond and not react. I love what Bill said, so that’s just digesting information and responding more appropriately.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I love that point, Amy. I love that point. It drives me crazy. I talk about it in the book right away that CMOs are confronted with this all the time. “I watch the Super Bowl, so I know advertising,” and it’s like going to the CFO and saying, “Hey, I balance my checkbook, I can handle the books!” It’s just an unfortunate reality, but good for you for figuring out how not react to that one. Toni.

Toni Clayton-Hine: I’m going to jump on that a little bit in maybe a different way, which is, I have come to the point where I used to feel like if somebody was trying to help you market or giving you a requirement to say, “We have to go to this event” or “We have to do it this way” or “My kids can do social media,” which I don’t know, how many times have we heard that…

I tried to train myself to stop and think about the essence of what they’re trying to do, which is try to stop thinking about it as who is the better expert here versus they’re trying to actually help. There is good energy there. How do you take the idea that they want to do something and corral the energy and celebrate that a little bit?

When someone comes to us and says, “I want to do the 77th, craziest, potentially not smartest, lowest ROI thing that you would think as a professional,” rather than, where I probably used to say, “Yeah, we’re not doing that,” instead say, “Okay, let’s take a moment and say, what are we trying to do here? Why is this coming up? Is it coming up because you need to curry favor with somebody? Is it coming up because we have a brand gap? Okay, then let’s talk about how we can help the brand gap, and I promise our logo on a napkin is not going to solve the brand gap.”

For me, that’s been the biggest idea. Stop and listen to it, just like Bill and Amy are saying, but trick my mind a little bit to be like, “Okay, don’t listen to the actual idea, but try to up-level and abstract the concept and then think through how we could help them solve that or address what they’re trying to say in maybe less marketing speak.”

Drew Neisser: Clearly, you’re a bigger person than I am, and I admire that. It’s like in judo and karate, taking the energy of their punch and going with it and using it to your advantage. I admire that.

[36:59] How to Be a Leader Who Works for a Leader

“Leadership is often a challenge of getting to the root of an issue.” —@just_a_strawman @GS1 Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: Now, as we’re talking about admire, we’re at that moment in the show, where randomly I ask what Ben Franklin would say to this question of leadership.

Franklin was a really interesting leader because he was not a good public speaker. In fact, he hated public speaking, and yet he got so much done. One of the reasons that he did is that he tried to give credit and push all of his ideas out to other people. They were the ones who presented, and even through all of the various constitutional conventions, he was just behind the scenes doing these.

It’s interesting to me when you would ask him, what does he say about leadership, he says: “He”—and really he really means he/she/they—”that cannot obey, cannot command.” I thought that’s really an interesting perspective, and I wonder if you think about that at all.

As a leader who works for a leader, how important is it that you take the guidance from your boss or your board of directors? It’s an interesting perspective. Bill, I’m curious, does that resonate with you? That as a leader, you need to obey?

Bill Strawderman: Yeah, I mean, I think what I would say, you know, obey is one of those weird value-laden words. What I think really is the intent behind it is that you actually need to really take in a lot of information, process it, and then try and use that information to help the teams make wiser decisions or other leaders make wiser decisions.

Leadership is often a challenge of getting to the root of an issue. I think as we were talking earlier, it’s like, “I want a 5×7 box colored red with a logo in the left corner.” That’s not really something of interest or a problem that often we want to solve. We want to get at what is behind the problem. Leading from behind in that respect means that you’re really trying to do a good job ferreting out what it is that the business or the individual is trying to achieve. And then you apply your expertise and your position, frankly, to help steer that in the right direction.

Drew Neisser: Yeah, I’m thinking of a moment where on a show I actually did with Diana O’Brien, who at the time was the CMO of Deloitte, she admitted that her CEO had asked her to run a program that she didn’t think was a good idea at the time. It was called Deloitte University and it was a new idea. She didn’t think it was a good idea, but she did it.

And I’m thinking that’s the moment where someone else had a big idea and you couldn’t process it, but she did it and it became like the signature thing of her career. That’s maybe what Franklin was talking about is, “OK, you’re doing that.” So I’m wondering, Toni, Amy, was there a moment where somebody suggested something to you and it didn’t resonate and eventually you got there?

Toni Clayton-Hine: Probably a hundred every day. I would say that, gosh, there are so many programs. In the tech world, it happened a lot, where I was trying to understand. If I didn’t understand the technology behind it, what was the why behind it? How do we bring it to life? And then maybe try to shape that.

I would say that there are certain things that have definitely taught me that what I think is the right idea or the right way to portray something is not always the right way. This idea of obey and then command has, tactically speaking, really driven me to do a lot of things like A/B testing. Or testing, just because I don’t think it’s right or I do think it’s right, how does everybody else think about it? How does the buyer think about it?

I end up feeling a lot more around what are the ways that we get that information around, what do we need to obey, what we want to obey, and then how do we turn that into something that could be great and insightful? And a lot of times, to be totally transparent, it’s how much do I respect the person who’s talking in the subject that we’re talking about? It’s not always respecting the person as an individual, but sometimes you’re back at the “Social media can be done by my kids. Why is it so hard?” comment that Amy made that I love and then just thinking through, “Take a minute. What are you trying to get to?” and then aligning that tactic properly.

Drew Neisser: By the way, one of our listeners, Carol Hink, edited the Franklin quote and said “He/she/they that cannot align cannot command,” which I think is an interesting one. But I still think there’s something really profound in this area that I hadn’t really thought about.

We’re talking about listening as a great leader, and if your boss or the board of directors comes up with something, you know you have to process it and you can’t simply say, “No, that’s a bad idea.” You can’t dismiss their ideas because of that. I love the notion that there’s an A/B test so we can try it. But there’s also just a recognition that every leader is fallible and every leader is going to make a mistake. We continue to have to listen and make sure that we’re not blind to opportunities that could be right there, because it’s easy to do it.

Amy Messano: I was just going to add that I think it’s also trusting your leaders, because I’ve found over the years there’s always something that I don’t know, something else that’s going on in the background, which is why they say “Do this path or don’t do that.”

I have examples of things that I was like, “This is amazing. Look at all these stats that support this great idea!” and it didn’t even get off the ground because they didn’t let me. Then I figured it out like a month on later something else.

The same as “do this,” even if I didn’t understand it because I trusted them or believe that what I was going to do the right thing because of something else I didn’t know about and then it made sense later.

I do think I have learned that in my career, to trust it. Hopefully, I’m working for a good leader that I trust and that usually that always and you put it together later, but there was some super-secret acquisition or new hire coming in or something that you just didn’t understand. You didn’t know what’s going on.

Drew Neisser: It’s such a good point. Yeah, I’ve felt that one. There are times where you have a broader perspective than your employees and you can’t share it all. I’m sure that’s happened, and sometimes you just have to say, “You’re going to have to trust me on this one. I know some things about it.” And they’re going to have to suck it up.

[44:05] Leadership Advice for Current and Future Leaders

“You don't have to be loud to be a leader. You don't have to be an extrovert to be a leader. Be yourself and bet on yourself.” —@AmyMessano @Altair_Inc Click To Tweet

Drew Neisser: I’m wondering, we talked a little about this at the top of the show, but the best advice you’ve been given—and maybe it’s in the context of who you are, but maybe it’s just great leadership advice. Amy, maybe you have something you thought about.

Amy Messano: Oh, gosh, I think getting to know people, like we were talking about earlier and understand how they tick. To me, listening is the biggest thing. You don’t have to be loud to be a leader. You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a leader. Be yourself and bet on yourself is a good one, too. If someone else thinks you could do it, you should think you can do it, too.

Drew Neisser: Which reminds me, I wanted to bring this up. Has there ever been a moment where you didn’t trust yourself? Like you said, “I’m not ready for this job” and you talked yourself into it?

Amy Messano: Of course. Every time I have ever gotten a new job or a promotion, I always have that little self-doubt, bad guy, good guy on my shoulder. Just take the chance. I just go back to what I said. If someone else believes that you can do it, you’ve got to give yourself a chance. And what you learn from failing, the old cliche is true. That very cliche quote, if you don’t reach for the stars or the moon or whatever, you won’t get dirt. I’m messing up that quote, but something about… Just try. What’s the worst that can happen, I guess.

Drew Neisser: It’s funny, that’s a Leo Burnett quote, and it was “If you reach for the stars, you won’t come up with a handful of mud.” I’m inspired by Burnett because he started his agency, I think, in ’60. But the other thing that I wanted to add to this conversation was—and Toni was talking about this—which is the notion of listening.

A famous ad guy, Bill Bernbach, used to carry a little sheet up in his pocket that said, “They might be right.” And it was about input he was getting from the client. He was one of the most creative individuals in the history of advertising and he carried that note just to remind himself. Toni, the best leadership advice you’ve ever been given.

Toni Clayton-Hine: My favorite is always, assume positive intent. Just that idea that, in the marketing world, people are generally trying to help. It may come out in a funny way, in a rude way, in an unbelievably strange way, but if we assume that it’s positive intent both on the people we deal with as well as the teams and the inter-team dynamics, it has served me well for a very, very long time.

Drew Neisser: Assume positive intent. I have to say. I remember a, literally a 7th-grade science teacher who said, “I know you’re going to be great in this class.” And like, I had no idea I was going to be great in this class and I was really not. He happened to have my older brother, who was a really good science student, but I actually did well because he expected it. I love that notion of assuming positive intent. Bill, the best leadership advice you’ve ever had.

Bill Strawderman: Yeah, I think in terms of growing as a leader, leadership is more of a commission than it is a position. If you think about early career, you’re reaching for the stars and a lot of that feels more like the level.

What people often don’t understand is that what comes along with the commission of leadership. That’s all of the people management, the culture building, and the things that are not specific to the function that you’re leading. It’s a lot of the other soft stuff.

Frankly, that was a big learning curve for me from when I was just starting to where I am now. It’s more of a lived piece of advice in addition to just general advice that I’ve gotten over time.

Drew Neisser: I’ve never heard the phrase, commission, not a position. It really does sum up this conversation so well that you’re given this role and you’ve got to earn it and it never stops, which I think is a really important part.

Again, I’m thinking of some younger people who are listening, who are not CMOs, who are growing up in the business, and particularly young ladies who might not think they’re ready for an opportunity. I’m just curious, Amy, Toni, any words of advice for them as they aspire to be CMOs but they go, “Oh, I don’t know.”

Amy Messano: They’ve done all those studies that men will apply for jobs if they have 5 of the 10 skills, and I’m paraphrasing here. And women have to have every single 10 thing before they even will allow themselves to apply for the job.

I would say, obviously, hard work pays off. Don’t be a delegator. All of us, I think are working managers and we work as much as everybody else. I think, and I say to my kids all the time, hard work pays off, but don’t be afraid to bet on yourself and give yourself the credit that you can try. You’re not going to fail for trying, right? You’re going to learn as you go along, so take the chance and work hard.

Drew Neisser: Yeah. I’m so glad you mentioned that study in that because I had that front and center. I just didn’t know if I was politically correct to even talk about it. But coming out of your mouth, it sounds just perfect. Toni, any final thoughts or words of advice?

Toni Clayton-Hine: I would say try. Obviously, I’m completely aligned with Amy’s point. And then just think through how to present a unique point of view or solve a problem or come to the table with a thought-through potential solution. So as Amy’s saying, “Get out there and put yourself out there,” my add on to that would be “…by delivering a point of view or a particular solution or creative new way of thinking of something so that what you’re putting out there is noticeable and memorable.”

Drew Neisser: Thank you Amy, Bill, Toni, you’re all amazing sports and leaders. And thank you audience for staying with us.

Show Credits

Renegade Marketers Live is produced by Melissa Caffrey. Our intern is Sam White. Our botanical expert is Nicole Hernandez. For show notes and past episodes, please visit, home of quite possibly the savviest B2B marketing agency in New York City. I’m your host Drew Neisser, and until next time, keep those Renegade Thinking Caps on and strong.