Leaders who excel have an innate ability to dial up the competitiveness at the right time just so they remain at the top. To demonstrate to others that their passion and effort are well documented, so that all others can be measured against.

Let’s take sports as an analogy to put this in perspective.  Born with a superior talent doesn’t always equate to the ideal outcome. And one who usually defines the highest level of achievement in sports is usually defined by the ring, or the cup or the checkered flag. Who has what, how many and why? It is the continuous debate amongst pundits, reporters and historians as to determine who is the very best of the best, period. Now, if you are in a team sport then it gets a bit more challenging because, as a superior individual talent, you need to lead others so they (as an individual) become the best at what they can provide for the benefit for each of their team mates.   

Leading requires many skills besides psychical abilities. It means you have awesome self-awareness, fellowship, anticipation skills, communication and selflessness. In business, we call this collaboration and team building. It also means that a skilled individual also is keenly aware of their strengths, and focuses their every ounce of energy on honing them versus worrying about spending time trying to developing their shortcomings. In today’s business environment, it is called generalists or specialists. And this is like asking Michael Jordon to be the best of the best at all sports (though he attempted and didn’t quite cut it with baseball). 

However, he just focusing on basketball certainly doesn’t make him the best. It just put him in contention to be the best.  He learned – the hard way early in his career– that it takes more than just being talented to win the ring. His scoring average was terrific, but only one facet. In marketing this is called vanity metrics. The Bulls still lost the games even though the stats were good. In business we call this missing the revenue and profit targets.

He realized after many failures that to get the ring, he needed to personally make adjustments. In business we call this learnings, or insight. He knew that he had to work on developing adjacent skills – like a nasty outside jump shot – to compliment the rest of his game. In business, we call these as developing centers of excellence. But does anyone think that he decided to expand the development of his centers of excellence just to get more stat recognition?  No. He knew that his ability to round out all of the aspects of the game would provide opportunity for others to succeed. 

In marketing, we call this work stream execution with excellence. Jordan needed to do this to provide a better and more productive in-game situations for his teammates, like Scottie Pippen. Without Jordan’s outside shot, Pippen would be in the middle of the bell curve of the everyday average pro player. With all the boats rising to the level of Jordan, then the class of the Bulls' way of paying exceeded the masses. 

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This all sounds pretty simple and basic. But I believe the difference is in the ability to execute. To execute at a higher degree beyond all other competitive measures requires dedication to practice to be near perfect. Rollie Massimino, the coach of Villanova NCAA basketball champions of 1985, was an awesome situational game coach using arguable inferior talent compared to his competition. He had set plays for every imaginable in-game situation.

For example, he had plays for his team with two seconds left on clock and down by two points. Plays when up by two points. With two seconds left on clock and tied — whatever. He drilled into the team how to practice, practice and practice so that when faced with the opportunity, the team succeeded. Everybody had a role to win the game — the championship. In marketing we call this agile marketing.

When you reflect upon our situation as a member of the marketing team, think about how Jordan, as an individual, and the team as a whole, performed — under pressure, in the lead, at the big game. Be winners. 

Here are three key takeaways:

Be a leader, even if you don’t have the title

Often, rank and file employees feel as if they can’t contribute because of their title, or because of their manager. And the easy way out is just to do their job, and let everyone else do theirs. In the end, they hope it works out to winning. It doesn’t happen that way. Each person can leverage with individual talent, harness it with a spirit of entrepreneurism and make a huge difference for the team member next to them. 

Marketing vanity stats do not win championships

Marketing gets caught up in a tangle of micro-tactical metrics that on first blush sound really important. For example, while it may be interesting to a social media community manager to track likes, opens, shares and qualitative comments, it is not going to add up to a championship ring.  Find out why these connect back to the business performance metrics like incremental profit. Otherwise, you will find yourself as an individual contributor and not a team player. (You may also find yourself stuck on the B team longer than you realize).

Keep your eye on the prize

Commercial business leaders care about business. And the most important measure of success in a business category is if you can sustain measurable growth greater than the competition, and do it profitably. Otherwise, join a non-profit. As marketer, think, act and do from the top down of a P&L. 

About the Author

FJeff Winsper, President of Black Ink, offers more than 20 years of leadership experience in marketing, serving companies ranging from Fortune 500 to start ups. His deep experience generated the insight that companies – in particular mid-sized enterprises – are lacking the foundation of proper big data analytics to measure marketing’s performance. Prior to launching Black Ink, Jeff founded marketing agency Winsper, part of Worldwide Partners, with 137 offices in 54 countries.


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