Looking into the C-Suite of any successful organization and discovering it was populated by strong personalities and characters probably wouldn’t surprise anyone. But it might surprise you just how much the psychological make-up of different top-level roles manifest themselves, how they can affect the dynamics of the executive suite, and how they might inform the career prospects of those who aspire to rise to the top. That’s what a recent study of the personality profile of the average Chief Marketing Officer—how CMOs compare themselves to their C-Suite peers—explored, and the results are fascinating.
The study, Inside the Mind of the Chief Marketing Officer, from executive search firm Russell Reynolds, compared the results of online psychometric testing of 36 CMOs to those of a broader selection of C-Suite executives. According to the report authors, the results from assessments over a range of 60 psychometric scales give us an insight into the psychological profiles of executives in various positions of responsibility; in particular, that of the CMO. Perhaps not surprisingly, considering the nature of marketing and communications, the outcome suggested that the CMO often has the most extreme personality in the executive suite—one that can influence and encourage digital innovation—but which can set up potential clashes with other executives in doing so.
The Attributes of the CMO Personality
The study focused on a couple of things: How executives conceptualize the challenges they face, and how they actually put their ideas and plans into action. When compared to other C-Suite members, CMOs manifested significantly stronger leadership and behavioral traits across a range of attributes, as illustrated by this graphic from the report.
CMOs clearly demonstrate that they have a much more imaginative, innovative, and pioneering mindset—all creative personality traits, as mentioned above—than do many of their executive colleagues. As the report points out, these are vital qualities to have in the boardroom, especially in today’s world of digital transformation, where growth—which is likely to come from a more disruptive approach—dominates the agenda for most companies. When it comes to putting plans into action, CMOs also exhibit strong social and persuasive qualities that allow them to operate, according to the report “in a remarkably active and productive fashion.” That only makes sense—I can’t really imagine a successful marketer not being possessed of strong social and persuasive qualities—can you?
The Boundary-Pushing CMO Versus the Risk Averse CFO
If you’ve ever been tasked with building a team, you know that the best ones are often comprised of a mixture of personalities, each of which bring different strengths to the group, often creating positive tension within the team. And the C-Suite is no different. Take the CMO compared to the CFO, for example. These roles, by their very nature, are likely to attract different characters, with potentially very different personalities—that old “right brain/left brain” thing—however the contrast in attitudes revealed by the study is quite striking. As this graphic from the report illustrates, and again, something that shouldn’t be at all surprising, the CMO is considerably more imaginative, innovative, unconventional, and more likely to want to test limits than his or her more conservative CFO counterpart.
Strong differences were also found between the CMO and others in the C-Suite. While this indicates that tensions are likely to arise as a result, the study suggests that companies should view this as an asset and not a liability. Looking at our own executive team, this makes perfect sense. We find that it’s the balance of all of our different personalities, our individual quirks, our strengths and our weaknesses, that actually serves to make what it is we do work. Recommendations from the study include these thoughts:
- “Diversity of mindset” should become ingrained in the company culture, allowing the clearly defined differences in personality traits to drive creativity, while at the same time enhancing risk management.
- And perhaps most importantly, the more unconventional DNA of the CMO should be allowed to drive innovation and creativity across the whole organization, and not just within marketing-related areas.
Understanding the dynamics of these personalities, and getting the right balance between them, is critical for every organization; and that will vary from industry to industry. The more creative and less regulated may look for the more innovative to dominate, while the more highly regulated sectors will need a more risk averse approach to come into play.
The Splintering Role of the CMO
The report suggests that while the CMO has many qualities that put them in a good position to continue to drive digital transformation, business needs in the future may see a splintering of that role into ever more tightly defined psychological profiles. The operational responsibilities of the CMO mean that their focus will naturally always be on selling. But, as the digital transformation process continues, companies may look for a more disruptive approach that necessitates the fragmentation of the CMO function. This might—and in some instances already does—include roles like the Chief Digital Officer, the Chief Experience Officer, and Chief Innovation Officer.
As we see the CMO role evolve, we’ll likely see more highly focused specialty positions emerge.
On that front, the study also took a look at how the attributes displayed by the CMO equips them to lead as CEO. That analysis showed that the CMO personality might be something of a mixed blessing for those with leadership aspirations.
The report suggests there is much that CMOs with leadership ambitions can do to improve their chances of reaching the top. They include:
Find the right environment. Those with strongly exhibited CMO attributes may find that their leadership style is more suited to more innovative companies, or in fast paced, transformative industries. Heavily regulated, more traditional sectors should perhaps be avoided.
Moderate extremes. CMOs with leadership ambitions need to be objective and open, and make sure they are able to see things from others’ points of view. While remaining bold, they will be well-served to understand—and welcome—perspectives other than their own, and be able to adapt to and welcome input from different audiences.
Be more collaborative. While not being afraid to be imaginative and take initiative are positive attributes, the most effective leaders are often collaborative ones. Involving others in the decision-making process helps build strong teams, and strong leaders.
While it’s no surprise to see that executives with different backgrounds and responsibilities display varied personality profiles, I thought it interesting to see here how strong the variations in psychological attributes can be. The research provides interesting insight into what makes the typical CMO tick. That’s something that should give those responsible for hiring CMOs food for thought, and for those CMOs with higher career aspirations, some equally interesting fodder for consideration.
What do you think? Does your experience of hiring, working with, or perhaps being a CMO jive with the findings of this study? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
All graphics are from Inside the Mind of the Chief Marketing Officer
When writing this post, I stumbled across the below and thought it interesting. Almost 40 years later, the advice remains pretty on target.
Additional Resources on this Topic:
Shelly Kramer is a Principal Analyst and Founding Partner at Futurum Research. A serial entrepreneur with a technology centric focus, she has worked alongside some of the world’s largest brands to embrace disruption and spur innovation, understand and address the realities of the connected customer, and help navigate the process of digital transformation. She brings 20 years' experience as a brand strategist to her work at Futurum, and has deep experience helping global companies with marketing challenges, GTM strategies, messaging development, and driving strategy and digital transformation for B2B brands across multiple verticals. Shelly's coverage areas include Collaboration/CX/SaaS, platforms, ESG, and Cybersecurity, as well as topics and trends related to the Future of Work, the transformation of the workplace and how people and technology are driving that transformation. A transplanted New Yorker, she has learned to love life in the Midwest, and has firsthand experience that some of the most innovative minds and most successful companies in the world also happen to live in “flyover country.”