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How the Personality of a CMO Compares To Others In the C Suite

Steve Olenski
Master Principal Sales Architect

Last December, executive search firm Russell Reynolds released the findings of a report they conducted which they called Inside the Mind of the CMO. For their research they conducted online psychometric testing of 36 CMOs as well as other c-suiters, if you will. 

The results were quite interesting and insightful to say the least. 

Let's jump right in with a finding. 

As the authors of the report point out, CMOs, when compared to others in the c-suite, have a markedly extreme leadership and behavioral profile. 

From the report:

  • The first set of attributes (above) centers on CMOs’ innovative, pioneering spirit—they act unconventionally, test limits and are not beholden to structures. These traits conform well to a conventional mental picture of a CMO.
  • The second set of attributes provides a welcome explanation as to how these innovators are successful in action—they use their strong social orientation and persuasive tactics to operate in a remarkably active and productive fashion.

I can tell you from the hundreds and hundreds of CMOs that I have interviewed and gotten to know personally over the past 10 years as a contributor to the Forbes CMO Network, these findings do not surprise me in the least. The fact that CMOs were found to be nearly 50% more imaginative than their c-suite counterparts is not only unsurprising but I would have guessed that percentage to be even higher. 

Help or Hinder?

For many CMOs, the aspiration is to progress along the ladder and make it to CEO. And while the report notes that CMOs "can bring a uniquely innovative sensibility to that role" they differ differ significantly from chief executive officers on several key attributes which may help or hinder their chances of growth.

Personally I happen to love the fact that CMOs are 33% more unconventional than CEOs and 32% more like to eschew structure and guidelines. As for being flashy, I don't even know what that means. But overall this could very well speak to the fact that a great number of CMOs are working with and for "old school" CEOs so when they are compared to them, of course they will appear to be more unconventional, etc. 

But that's a good thing. 

However, the report authors offer the following advice for CMOs wanting to be CEOs when they grow up. 

  • Be in the right place. Faster-moving or more transformational industries, in particular, are better suited to the CMO leadership style, as are companies in the midst of change or innovation programs. CMOs may struggle as a CEO in more heavily regulated industries.
  • CMOs need to moderate how they display some of their more extreme attributes. CMOs test limits, are bold and are upfront in their influencing style. CEOs seek to understand different perspectives and involve others in decisions but do not overanalyze. They achieve success through others yet remain tough minded.
  • Make sure others are on board. The CMO leadership style can be unconventional, colorful and flashy. CEOs exhibit measured emotion. CEOs excel at calculated—not careless—risk taking. They display intensity but maintain control.

The Boardroom

One way and place the CMO can show their value is by sitting on the board and in the boardroom, literally. Currently very few marketers sit on boards but as the tide of Modern Marketing advances, more marketing executives are rising to the top because credibility in the boardroom is measured in hard numbers. 

Download Marketers in the Boardroom and learn why marketers deserve to have a seat at the most senior level, get hints and tips for what marketers can do to attain board level and more. 

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