Being a leader in a Vuca (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) world is not easy and according to Susanne Marell, requires listening. And listening takes different forms. Listening to the market and customer trends, listening to my team needs, listening to individual needs and listening to feedback from my team, not to mention the questions that arise.
How can we listen in a way that gives us energy to think strategically and create success in a company, even through challenging mergers and acquisitions.
Susanne Marell is CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Germany. Before joining H+K she was Managing Director at JP KOM and prior to that she served as CEO of Edelman for six years, overseeing the acquisition and merger with ergo Kommunikation.
She started her career as a consultant with the agency Kohtes & Klewes (now Ketchum). In the following years, Marell worked for companies such as Schering, Hoechst and Aventis CropScience. As Head of Communications and Market Services, her responsibilities included strategic communications support for merger and acquisition activities. In 2000, she moved to the chemical company Cognis and, as Vice President Corporate Communications, took over the management of worldwide corporate and sustainability communications. Following the acquisition of Cognis by BASF in 2010, Susanne was responsible for global brand management as Vice President Corporate Brand Management at BASF in Ludwigshafen.
Susanne is a certified systemic consultant and change expert. She has many years of international experience in communications, marketing and sustainability, both on the corporate and agency side. In addition, she is a co-founder of the German network of “Global Women in PR” and has built up the initiative “Next Gen Leadership” as a member of the extended board.
In this episode, Susanne Marell shares how continuous feedback is needed to be a great leader; it helps you listen to make a more objective assessment while keeping you on the pulse of the organization, what your team needs and how you can move together towards a common goal with market trends top of mind.
She points out that psychological safety, where people are provided a safe space to be heard without fear of consequences, ensures open and honest feedback.
She also highlights the importance of leaders understanding market and customer trends first when leading teams. She calls this an outside-in approach so that you can understand the bigger picture around what you want to achieve by listening to all the stakeholders.
“A leader needs feedback to be a good leader.”
– Susanne Marell
Listen IN Notes:
01:10 – The first time she experienced being a communication practitioner and becoming a good leader
02:40 – Only by listening in a new business model will you be able to understand the context and how things play together
05:14 – How listening supported her leadership role as being part of an integration team
9:25 – To better understand what is behind any criticism and feedback: You must learn how to frame things, dig into the details, and learn the context of what you put in your story line,. If they [colleagues] are positive towards you, they will stress test your vision.
13:57 – Feedback being the highest value for a leader
16:46 – Providing psychological safety in leadership sessions
19:13 – Going in front of people [employees and investors] even in uncertain times and you don’t know all the answers
21:28 – What it means to be a leader in a VUCA world
23:13 – Focusing your team on the outside in
24:56 – Giving a Northstar is just as important as giving people the 100 criteria
27:08 – What does being agile in today’s world mean?
37:50 – He who poses the questions is the one who leads
43:28 – One listening style: Posing questions on a 360 degree angle
45:23 – Having a full scope of questions beyond Zoom meetings avoids risks in losing so
47:48 – Finding the right way to be on the pulse of your organization, of your teams, and of
49:43 – Creative ways you can do where voices are heard outside of work environment
51:38 – Is listening agreeing to what people say?
“In all of these projects, where I was part of integration teams, I simply had to listen very well first to give a good recommendation about how we could integrate teams. But also to develop the vision of why these companies work together and put this vision in a storyline, which would be understood by all people globally.” – Susanne Marell
“Feedback is something which is of the highest value for a leader. If I’m getting feedback, this helps me to develop, but it also helps me to give a better analysis of where my team stands where my plans stand.” – Susanne Marell
“The positive part of listening is you get feedback.” – Susanne Marell
“Leading in uncertain times simply means that you have to navigate your team through those times as best as possible, even if you don’t always have the answers.” – Susanne Marell
“It is best to tackle with trust. Because if I trust my people that they will strive for the best solutions, they will come to me for guidance, then it’s easier for me to decide without having all the facts.” – Susanne Marell
“Your North Star is of even bigger importance. Because if you have the direction clear where you would like to go, then at least you have a kind of decision corridor, even if you do not all have the facts and things are changing.” – Susanne Marell
“When we just focus on Zoom teams and just checking where we stand with our business, we will lose so many things. Now we have a full scope of questions adjusted to the person I talked to.” – Susanne Marell
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