How to Thrive and Survive C-Level Politics

2019 Fall CMO Club Summit Roundtable Recap

Carol Kruse, CMO Club Board Member, and former CMO, at ESPN, and Cambia Health, and Cammie Dunaway, CMO of Duolingo, talk about how to thrive and survive C-Level Politics.

How many of you, currently or in the past, have been in the C-Suite? How many have been in the board room? How many had a good or bad experience? Was there strife with other executives who thought they could do marketing as well as you? What are your experiences with unconscious trust, winning together, work partnerships, humor, respect, energy? How did it all work or not work?

How to Survive and Thrive C-Level Politics:

Recognize that as the Marketing leader or as a new CMO, that you may be the newest person in the C-Suite, and that your peers likely have tight bonds and history together.

Spend time getting to know your peers in every part of the organization. What are their priorities and goals? What can I and my team do to help make them successful? (important to genuinely ask and act on this). How can we drive more business value working together as partners?

Spend time with the leaders in your company, but don’t do it to just “kiss the ring,” or just have the face time. Make it matter.

It comes down to relationships. If you can find one thing in common, one little seed to build on, that can make the difference in success or failure.

Coaches or mentors can help you check yourself and think through your approaches.

If you are being held back because of what your predecessor did or didn’t do, address it head on with each person, one-on-one.

“Kill them with kindness” – the more they undermine you, the more you need to help them and be kind. It can be incredibly disarming and will sometimes help them open up to you and reveal why they are acting the way they are.

Being “Switzerland” can be a good strategy in some situations, and in others building alliances can help. Spend time really listening and watching people in meetings, so you can understand the politics first.

If you’re having a hard time partnering with someone, discuss and work through the issues together with the person. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to earn trust

Understand how each person wants to communicate, and adapt to them. Ask, “what is your preferred mode of communication (email, phone, f2f, text…)and why?”

Offer reverse mentoring to other executives; pair them with a young person on your team to keep them up to speed on the latest communication channels/tech trends (i.e., What’s App, TikTok, Twitch, Apple Watch, VR, etc,) and in return the exec does career mentoring to the younger employee.

Do your peers or boss want to “build their personal brand?” Marketing and external communications can help with that.

Be clear up front what the purpose and desired outcome of meetings are; and with regular meetings do check-ins, especially if you feel the meetings are getting stale.

Read body language and understand how people are reacting to each other.

Schedule pre-meetings with key decision makers and influencers before the really big meetings to make sure they understand the issues, options, your recommendation so you know if they’re on board or what their barriers are.

How good is your EQ – how well do you understand each person and know what matters most to them?