Follow the leader

Three-plus decades helming communications for CPG behemoth P&G taught Charlotte Otto what it takes to be a true comms leader. In this exclusive submission for PRWeek, she shares some of that wisdom.

Three-plus decades helming communications for CPG behemoth P&G taught Charlotte Otto what it takes to be a true comms leader. In this exclusive submission for PRWeek, she shares some of that wisdom.

As a young pup in marketing at Procter & Gamble, I quickly figured out leadership was a vital key for success. It took me longer to figure out how to do it and, 37 years later, I'm still learning.

With more than 91,000 books on leadership listed on Amazon, there is no shortage of views on what it takes to be a great leader. They range from John Maxwell's The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership – that's a lot to remember – to insights from virtually every US president since George Washington.

My view is simple: Break leadership down into a few basic behaviors and practice them. Clearly articulate your leadership beliefs, live by them consistently, and be a student of leadership forever.

The light bulb went on for me when I learned of P&G's 3-E model of leadership. It outlines specific behaviors that can be learned and practiced. Today – new and improved – it has evolved into 5-Es:

Envision. This means defining a clear, specific picture of success and articulating it in an inspiring way. What are you trying to accomplish? What is the future you are trying to create?

Engage. This is about enrolling people in the vision and what's in it for them. Why should they care? You need to encourage questioning and be open to evolving the direction so people can own it.

Energize. You must help the team stay excited and focused on the mission. Strong leaders keep the team moving forward despite setbacks.

Enable. It is vital to understand and help people access resources, capabilities, and systems necessary for success. It also means removing barriers and shielding distractions.

Execute. You have to make it happen. Great vision and strategy are fine, but they only matter to customers and clients when they turn into results through excellent execution.

So how does this apply? I use the 5-Es as a quick mental checklist for virtually any situation, from a major strategic initiative to a crisis.

Understanding the behaviors linked with being a leader is one thing. It's another to define your way of bringing them to life. A written philosophy is a great tool to consolidate your leadership beliefs.

Why bother with this exercise? First, it has helped me clarify my own leadership beliefs. Writing them down forced me to get much clearer about who I am as a leader, what I value, and even my hot buttons – things that send me right over the edge. It's good to warn people about these things.

Otto's leadership checklist

1. Respect the unique talents of every individual, as well as your common aspiration to succeed.
2. Be a relentless catalytic leader.
3. Trust and leverage your instincts and experienced judgment.
4. Be transparent about your hot buttons.
5. Lift as you climb.
6. Love what you do, and show it.

Personal stamp
Glittering generalities do not cut it for real leadership. I recall sharing an early draft of my beliefs with a colleague. He shot them back with the critique that much of it could fit anyone. He was right. A good leadership philosophy needs to be authentic and distinctive. If it could apply to anyone, try again.

It also provides a great basis for quickly building relationships and teamwork with colleagues and business partners. I share my leadership beliefs with the people I work with, including clients. It helps them understand what I can bring to the party and how to best leverage my talents.

For example, I let people know I am a catalytic leader, often working behind the scenes to make things happen. I typically will not come up with an idea no one has ever thought of before, but I can help others take their visions and make them work.

For instance, a team sought to completely revamp P&G's approach to philanthropy, but didn't have a plan to align the many stakeholders and make it operational. They knew they could tap my strength in taking diverse ideas and integrating them into a holistic, actionable approach. The result was an entirely new grant-making strategy and process.

I also use my leadership philosophy to invite people to hold me accountable for living them consistently. I believe in respecting everyone's talents. As a multitasker, I asked my P&G colleagues to tell me when they felt they didn't have my full attention – and they did. It was a good reminder when I was not consistently living my beliefs.

No matter how accomplished the leader, he or she can always be better. While I'm sure there are many pearls of wisdom in those aforementioned 91,000 books, I learn the most from simply asking people about their beliefs and how they evolved.

My work in executive equity and engagement at Weber Shandwick has given me a wonderful opportunity to work with a broad range of CEOs and senior officers and hear their stories.

I have learned a lot about overcoming obstacles such as debilitating pain, female stereotypes, about leading organization transformation, and even about keeping fit and staying healthy.

Most people love to tell their story, so don't be afraid to ask. You could learn a lot. At minimum, you will understand the person better.

I've long wondered whether leadership is different in an agency role versus a corporate post. I've concluded “yes and no.” At P&G, it was my job to set organizational direction and call the shots. At the firm, I recommend and advise. That's different.

I recall my first chat with Harris Diamond, then CEO of Weber, who told me that this would be the hardest part of moving to an agency role. He was right. Still, the basic leadership behaviors are the same and it always helps me to fall back to my mental checklist, the 5-Es. Pretty basic stuff, but – even in complex situations – it works.

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