No Bull Marketing Ideacast | Season 2 Episode 3

No Bull Marketing Ideacast \ Season 2 Episode 3

Marketing Leadership and the Great Resignation

Alex Draper

Alex Draper, CEO & Founder at DX Learning, reveals what is wrong with leadership, how marketing functions can create real change by adopting a new style of leadership - and gets down and dirty looking at our very own host's own leadership style, and what Becky can do better in her role as founder and leader of the amazing team at BH&P. 


BH&P / DX - The Six Questions to Create Psychological Safety with Team Members


Guest: Alex Draper, CEO & Founder, DX Learning

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AD: The CMO, who says ‘you know what? No. I want to go against what we have done culturally, from a cultural norm point of view, and do something a little different. [They’ll] more than likely be the one that manages to keep the good ones [employees] and attract the good ones.


BH: Hello and welcome to the No Bull Marketing Ideacast. I’m Becky Holland.

In this episode we’re exploring a new pandemic facing the world right now. Bad leadership and how this is having a direct impact on marketing functions, corporate culture and our ability to hang on to great marketing talent. At enterprise-level, in smaller, mid-sized firms and of course in agency land. Where the fight for great people is really on.

My guest today is Alex Draper. Founder and President of Chicago-based leadership development firm, DX Learning.


BH: Alex, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and how we know one another.

AD: I first met Becky, well I worked with Becky, at a company where Becky was in marketing, and I was in sales. We worked pretty intricately together and then we both went our separate ways. I moved to a wonderful country called America. She stayed put in the UK.

Our paths reconnected probably a couple of years, two or three years ago, in Budapest of all places.

BH: Right before lockdown. Just as lockdown was starting.

AD: Two days. I think literally I probably came back [home] with it [COVID-19]. But yeah, that was our reconnection.

BH: Dive in and talk a little bit about some of the challenges that marketing, but I guess leaders in general, well marketing leaders specifically, are facing right now.

AD: We got a problem. I’m sure we’ve all read the research. We have a global - another pandemic - in just, it’s bad leadership. That’s why people are leaving companies right now.

BH: They are leaving in droves. There was an article in Forbes I was reading yesterday about the CMO at Oracle saying that ‘we need to recruit the best people. We need to RETAIN our top folks’. I guess the reality is, the top performers, the ones you really want to keep are the ones who will get fed up if there’s bad leadership, they’re the ones that will go.

They’re the ones you want to stay. It’s really tough.

AD: I think Europe is a bit different to America. So, in America, for example, I believe, in the last six months, about 24 million people have left the workforce. 24 million!

I don’t know what it’s like in the UK and Europe. What I can tell you regards to whether [it’s an] attrition problem or a tension problem, or hiring problem, we’ve all got a shortage of great people.

I think there’s a global renaissance when it comes to just people being fed up [with] having to work for a bad boss. We have technology at our hands now. We know what ‘good’ looks like because of technology, right?

Me and you [Becky] we come from a world where we just work, work hard. [Quotes boss] ‘Put your head down and get it done, Alex. Get it done Becky. You can do it’ and [with the] expectation that you’re going to work 12 hours a day and get it done.

Again, maybe in marketing there’s some cultural tendencies that are there that might need to change script. But we come from that world. I knew no better. I didn’t have technology at my hands to say, ‘ooh you should have a boss who trusts you and a boss who gives you clarity.’ [Quotes] ‘you should be treated like a human being because if you’re not, by the way Microsoft does.’

So, we’ve got all this knowledge at our disposal now. We’re coming into the workforce [and] kind of have this level of expectation that I’m not going to be treated like a robot! 

BH: I mean [in] marketing functions. I’m just thinking back and reflecting back. Agencies particularly. But also in marketing functions, they’re renowned for ‘work hard’ but also ‘play hard’. You also get the perks; you get the lunches. You get all of that stuff as well and a lot of people bought into that industry because of that.

But I don’t know how relevant that is right now. That feels like that’s maybe a long way from where a lot of businesses are right now.

AD: I think, just because it was that way, doesn’t mean that it needs to be that way.

So, the notion of a table tennis [type culture], [quotes] ‘hey great culture. Work hard and hey at the end we’re going to have beers together and cocktails and play tenni-‘.

That’s [a] superficial ‘work hard, play hard’ right? So, it’s deeper than that now. WAY deeper than that [with] the younger generation. There’s just a change going on and if we don’t change with it, we will be left out, right?

The marketing firm or the CMO, or the Creative Director who says ‘you know what? No. I want to go against what we have done culturally. From a cultural norm point of view and do something a little different. We’re more than likely to be the one that manages to keep the good ones [employees] and attract the good ones.

I have a lot of friends here, in America, who work in marketing firms and people I’ve worked with who’ve left a firm because they couldn’t stand their boss. They’re now working for a firm with potentially less money. Because culture, I think, is a 10.4 [times more] relative importance to compensation.

Essentially, a toxic culture is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to attrition than compensation. So, money matters less, right? This ‘work hard, play hard’ [culture], people are actually willing to give up money for a better culture. So, in marketing, the higher you go up the ranks, right? You get more money. You get more power.

Again this [process of] rising the ranks, and [more] money and power is starting to fizzle out. Starting to. We’re not there yet.

BH: OK. What is important then? It’s all very well saying ‘oh, culture [is] great’. I guess there’s a narrative that everybody’s heard about a million times about ‘oh hybrid working, three-two remote working. Blah, blah blah.’

What’s the answer? If we know that culture is the thing that’s going to help people to stay, then what do you do?

AD: Yup. Let me guess that the people who are listening to this [episode] are probably sick and tired of the word ‘culture’. I think we all are. But let me say ‘there’s a reason why’.

So, let’s just make culture [figuratively] really easy, right? This is my opinion. Culture is a mirror of leadership.


AD: They’re literally one of the same things. So, I run DX, I’ve got ten employees. The culture of DX is a mirror of my leadership. My leadership is what I value, what I believe and how I behave. If I behave differently to what I value, that causes immense…that’s where that toxic [culture] comes from.

So, culture is a mirror of leadership. So, what do we all need to start doing, is we all need to start acting… our values and behaviours need to be matched to the expectations of those that we serve, it’s really that simple.

We made something, of course in our industry, we make really simple things complex. But that is, that is the essence of culture.

So, you Becky, you are the leader of your firm. What you believe in and how you behave is the culture of your firm.

BH: No pressure!

AD: I think you’re a pretty good human being so at least you’ve got one leg-up there.

BH: Well, I’ll take that. You’ve known me long enough, so I’ll take that as a compliment.


BH: So, it’s slightly different. For me or for you who’s running a smaller business. We know all of our team. Even if they’re sometimes working from home, we go into lockdown for various reasons shit happens.

But, what if you’re a leader? The head of performance marketing, the CMO [or] in the marketing function of a large enterprise. I know marketing functions that have people, not just in ten, twenty different cities across the US, but with developers in Asia, people in Mexico, people in Europe people with language barriers. People that have never met one another that come to meetings and expect to be productive and work together and have the same culture.

That’s very, very different from me being a leader of my team or you are being a leader of your team.

AD: I think it’s a yes and a no here. I think I think it's a yes and a no here. So let me put this in context, you're a CMO of a 5000-person organization. Your boss the CEO doesn't care about culture [they’re] like ‘ah, stupid culture.’

You're the CMO and you've lost 2 of the people that you just didn't want to lose and your leadership mirrors that of your boss, the CEO, and a couple of people have left. I think this is the key here.

It’s when you lose the good ones that you know there's are problem and then you're finding it hard to replace them. So, what I say to that is if you care if you don't want to lose the good ones and you want to attract the best ones then a culture you can have a culture within your own team.

Just because your boss doesn't believe in it doesn't mean you can't believe in it [and it] doesn't mean you can't create a culture for your team. Remember. Culture is a mirror of leadership. So as a CMO who's got a team of 20, globally, you are the culture for those 20 people and whatever you do, whatever you believe in and however you behave becomes a culture of that team.

Macro level, what we really want in the world, is the CEO of that company of 5000 people says, ‘these are the values of my company’. ‘This is what I believe in, this is why we're doing this and here's the culture that I aspire [to achieve]’. Then the CMO goes ‘oh I believe in that too but that doesn't happen very often. We're not there yet.

So, my in my message to you, and the people listening, it doesn't matter if you're a leader - and of course like I can then go to a whole separate story of we're all leaders - but let's put this in context of CMOs and people who lead a team in the marketing industry. You can create your own culture if you want to create a culture that, again, keeps the best ones and hires the best ones, we’re just going to have to potentially change the way you think about leadership and culture. I think that’s what we’re trying to get at here. and you can create your own culture which doesn't have to be the same as your boss or your companies if you don't if you don't believe in it.

BH: Does that not cause problems down the line? Or is it selfish to just focus on the culture of your own team? Is that not going to prevent you from progressing or do you just not worry about that?

AD: Well, their [employees] life’s a big decision that we all have to make as human beings, right? So, put that in context, so you're the CMO, let's just use that example.


Your company that you work for does not have a deliberate culture. There's no set-in-stone values. It's not hardwired into performance management and it's just people here that [think] ‘we're here to make money people’.


So that's the company you work for. That's okay, there's lots of them [money-driven businesses] out there. That's how we used to do things. You're a CMO and you're like ‘you know what? I'm sick and tired, I’ve just lost again. I just lost my director. That's the second time I've had to lose them. And I know on my exit interviews that they're telling me I'm sick and tired of this’. This [company’s] results-only focused I want to go work for a company that cares about me.
‘I'm out of here’ and you know it. So, you're like okay for me to create a team, a high-performing team, I need great people and I can't keep losing them. So yes, in that case, it's totally okay for you to go against, per se, what the company is doing in terms of who cares. It's just [like] get the result and says, ‘no I'm going to take it upon myself to change some things around here and it's how I lead it's how I care for my people.’ ‘It's how I create clarity for them so that they know what's expected of them. It's making sure that I don't command and control them’ which I think is horribly inherent and, typically in high-IQ job functions like marketing. But the more you control the less flexibility you give, the more they're going to hate you for it.


The relationships [and] making sure that you actually get to know your people which I know is really hard for you because you're all ‘heads down’ even a CMO is probably doing work. Of course, to lead, you can't do the work. You’ve got to let go so that you can build relationships with people and make sure that we all have empathy for each other, that will eventually lead to the sense of fairness within a team and most people will leave because of, a lack of fairness. The biggest emotional trigger in the brain comes from disgust [and] seeing disgust. Many people are leaving because they're disgusted with how they're being treated or how people are being treated which is the equity part. We call that CARE, by the way.


BH: So, when you say ‘CARE’, there’s four different parts of ‘CARE’ right?


AD: Yup. Yup. When we say ‘CARE’ and care for your people. Because I hear and in research papers from MIT to Kelly Services to Corn Ferry all the research says the same thing. Care for your people. But like what does that even mean?

We say CARE is…We're all human beings. We all have a brain, all 7.5 billion of us, so therefore isn't leadership simple? [It must] feed the brain the ingredients that it needs to be at its best-performing self, and people will be happy.

So, what are the core ingredients that a brain needs? So, we did some research on this with a bunch of psychologists here [Chicago]. It needs clarity. If a brain doesn't have clarity, that lives in ambiguity, it gets pretty annoyed and pissed off right?

15,000 years ago, we needed to know where it was safe to eat otherwise it meant death. Well therefore, leaders [listening] on the podcast, give your people clarity. If people are [living] in ambiguity, while it's not [like] two tigers coming after them, it's still a sense of ‘I'm not safe I don't know what's going on here.’ ‘Oh, I'm upset. My brain's upset’ So, give them clarity. That's what C stands for.

A stands for ‘autonomy’. We love to be in control. If it was cold, we'd build a fire. ‘If there was a storm, we’d run into a cave. We were more likely to survive if we were in control. So, stop trying to control your people. Stop telling them to come to work five days a week. Stop telling them to have to work between 9 and 5. Just give them the flexibility give them a sense of decision-making. Let them have a little bit of control. Not total control on your behalf. So, autonomy, give them autonomy, starve them of autonomy. They'll get a little bit pissed off, of course, because you're starving them of their survival.

Relationships. That sense of belonging. We all want to be valued as a human beings. If we weren't valued in the old days as a human, as part of a tribe, they're like ‘well we don't need you and you'd be siloed and if you were siloed and excommunicated from the tribe it meant death.


BH: A bit drastic!


AD: It is, but it’s kind of true! It’s like ‘my God am I valued?’ It's even the question ‘am I valued?’ [that] means that brain is upset. So of course, my job as a leader is to make sure that my team are valued and I haven't left any stone unturned and I explicitly, and with clarity, let them know what their value is on this team. Empathy, right? I get to know my team on a human level.


Relationships, that's the R, and the ‘E’ is ‘equity’.


In the old days, if the hunter's kid didn't come back with food, [it was like] ‘Well we're all dead’. We shared our resources to make sure those that needed the most got it. Someone who was ill on the tribe who used to sow the seeds and we needed them back, get them back to health. Give them more resources. Don't be equal, be equitable. If we see unfairness that triggers disgust. So that's what we mean by CARE. Clarity, autonomy, relationships, and equity.

You give your people that leadership. Then you're more likely to engage them and make sure that they are psychologically safe.


BH: I mean I guess this is the pressure that all leaders are under. But I guess particularly in a marketing function where there is a huge pressure to be outward facing whether that's managing stakeholders or building trust in a brand and doing stuff in a very sort of complex digital framework if you like. You know, where it gets ever more complicated to do actually the outward-facing job. That looking inward [process], that takes a real conscious effort. It's not just going to happen by accident, right?


AD: Oh yeah, and you just nailed it on the head, right? This stuff doesn't happen naturally. There’re 165 biases in the brain that prevent us from caring for our people. So yeah, it doesn't happen naturally. So therefore… but this is the whole point of it right? Leadership is a deliberate act of consciously doing good by other people. So, if you don't deliberately do it, it just doesn't happen naturally because your brain's a selfish machine. It wants you to survive [but] it doesn't want your team to survive, that's servant leadership 101. So yeah, and I'm probably not going to be very popular when I say this…


BH: Go on.


AD: I say that’s an EXCUSE versus anything else. We're client-centric, we've got clients. ‘And?’ You've also got 10, 20, 30, a thousand people working for you. So as a leader, again when, your head's down doing the work, your head's not up above the work doing the things that you got to do which is lead the team.

So, that's - I’m not very popular when I say that - but that's that change of…and I know in marketing I'd say it's a very ‘heads down’ culture right? We are client-centric, we have to do the things a client comes back with a spec, we got to change everything ‘Oh my God’. It's all heads down but then I got to go ‘don't you have a team to do that?’


So, until you do it deliberately and find time to do it. It won't happen. I think that's the change that needs to happen, is we need to be more deliberate and find the time to lead and because culture is a mirror of leadership that then creates the culture.


BH: Do you have an example? Can you talk to us about somebody that's done this? A situation where that's happened, where they've…where it's made a real change and how they did it? Because it sounds easy, I'll just make the just make the time just do it.


I had a situation this morning when a client said ‘Oh, I happen to be passing through. Can you make the time for me? ‘Yeah, sure I'll just cancel everything else I was onboarding two new team members and I’ll go and do that!’

It's fine I spend some time with them this afternoon. We'll be all good!

But it’s much easier said than done.


AD: Man. This is the toughest part. So, what's leadership? It's decision making, if you say yes to this, you're saying no to something. There’re consequences to every decision that you make. The question is are you making the right decision for the right reasons for the right people? In this case I'm not going to tell you whether that's the right or wrong decision.


BH: It’s already done!


AD: They're just a client who cares man? It's like ‘boundaries [are] everything.’ I truly believe that if you're a client trusts you. I'm a client. We're professional service business like you right? We're billable everything that we do is billable. So, we're very similar, and I'm in a similar position where there's an expectation that, because I'm the CEO, clients expect to see me.

But we got past that [it’s] like ‘why did they even want to see me? Who cares!’ So, create the boundaries for, again, clarity. Let's go back to clarity. For the client interaction. You can still have boundaries. You can see me, but you can only see me for half an hour a week or half an hour a month and here's the reason why. Because I want to build a business, but we are our own worst enemies by not creating boundaries and clarity.


Of course, then our calendars become a become hell, but that's, you know, that's me and our own fault. and let me give you the example Becky. Between 2015 and 2019 I lost every employee at 100% attrition between those years.

BH: That’s tough!

AD: Everybody. All gone, and here's a sad part. I started a business to wipe out bad leadership and to create great cultures. Yet I lost every employee.


BH: I mean, there’s such a thing as testing, failing, and learning. But that’s pretty spectacular.

AD: Exactly, woo! I was the person I tried not to be, but anyway. So, but vice versa 2019 to 2022 not one person’s quit. 100% retention. So, there's your case and example. What did I used to do? I did exactly that. [The] client came in, [I] dropped everything ‘who cares about you guys? [the] client’s first’. It was all about the client I worked 12 to 16 hours a day.


Every day [it was like] ‘head down, doing it’ [it] didn't give any control. ‘My way or the highway.’ No clarity, no autonomy. No time for relationships. People just felt horrible. So, I was my own worst enemy. Even though the whole business was built around what I was trying to teach, per se, I was not preaching it myself. So, yeah, I am a case in point. I’m a living, breathing case study.

BH: That’s awesome.




BH: You mentioned, you know, [the] 165 biases in our brain. That's selfish. You mentioned you need to hold a mirror up to your behaviour. If somebody’s leading a marketing function right now, what should they do first? Is like there a first step or is it just about carving out time and just doing it and making a conscious effort to do it?


AD: Well, pay me a million dollars and I'll fix it for you! But I’ve got I got a wonderful marketing agency, [a] wonderful firm called Becky and you’ll market this to the world. But no…


BH: I’m not sure you should say a marketing agency called Becky [be]cause I think that doesn’t make sense…


AD: A marketing agency called BH&P. My friend called Becky. But let’s have some fun with this. So, Becky, here’s a question for you.


BH: Yeah, OK.


AD: Think of your team. So, there's identity and reputation. There's your identity what you think of yourself and there's your reputation which is what people say behind your back. When it comes to your reputation - what Sophia, Gaz, Claus, your team say - behind your back when it comes to them having clarity about what the hell is going on. What to expect on a daily basis.


When it comes to them feeling like they're in control and like ‘we're in control we have decisions we're flexible’, whatever. ‘When it comes to Becky, Becky's got our back.’ ‘She knows the name of my dogs.’ ‘She knows the fact I'm going through strife with my boyfriend or girlfriend. She knows us.’ All that sense of equity and just fairness and we always get the resources that we need to succeed. Which of those four would you say, THEY say, is your Achilles Heel, your blind spot?


BH: Ooh. I would say I probably don't know enough about what's going on when they're not here at work. I don't know all the names of all of their dogs, and I should, right?

AD: Do they even have a dog? Who knows?

BH: No, no, I know who has a dog. I know who has a dog.




BH: Do you know it's interesting isn't it? Because you focus on the bits, you naturally focus on the bits that you're good at like the ‘autonomy’ bit the ‘equity’ bit, the ‘relationship’ bit I work on. The ‘clarity’ bit…I don't know how good I am at the ‘clarity’ bit actually. Maybe [I]m] not good enough. Actually, the fact that I don't know [means that] I should ask probably.

AD: But there you go. There is that ‘drop the mic’ moment. [You think] ‘Oh maybe I should ask’ which to answer your question, is exactly what we should do.

What we just did over 30 seconds by asking you a question it got you to think about ‘well what is my blind spot?’. ‘What do I need to work on? Crap! Maybe I should ask my team.’


Yeah! You can use assessments. You can use an engagement survey. You can just ask your team. Whatever it is most of us, 95% of us, think that we know what we're good at.

That's a horrible bit of empirical research from Tasha Urich. Only 10 to 15% of us really know right?


So [it’s about] self-awareness. What I know about my identity. What I know about myself mirrors the reputation [of] what my team know about me. [There’s] only about [a] 10 to 15% connection between those two. So of course, we just need to ask more. I think this is the challenge of most of your audience right now. Do you find the time, the white space in your calendar, to stop, think, and just ask questions right?


‘What am I doing well? What am I not doing well?’ Finding time to pick up the phone and call up one of your team members and go ask the same questions. You know. ‘What's working? What's not working?’ I have a list of questions here. You could probably hear me rustling. I asked these questions of my team all the time. What's the thing that I do that's distracting from our success?


Now, what's one thing that you see me doing that's helping me contribute to this team? What's one thing I need to know about our relationship that could make some improvements? Just little questions like that. Any question. Quick questions and inquisition [are] just the most powerful thing that we can do as leaders.

But to do that, you’ve got to find the time to do it and how many of you have whitespace in your calendar just for thinking time? I bet you most of us don't we just go from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting to meeting. A client comes in. We get a lunch etc. We're always on. Put that off button on.

BH: The irony is, actually, I don't know anybody that wouldn't really like to have a few less Zoom meetings and a few gaps. That's what we all want and crave. So why are we not having them?


AD: Why we not having them? Culture. Culture is the mirror of leadership, right? But if you, do it, Becky, others will do it. You can't expect of others what you don't do yourself.


You’ve got to create a culture that expects it. ‘I expect each of you to have half an hour in your calendar every day for doing nothing. In fact, you know what? On Fridays, people, we ain't even gonna have meetings. Shock and horror!

‘We can’t not have meetings on a Friday!’
‘Yeah, you all have brain time on Fridays.’ Imagine that, and by the way there's a wonderful bit of empirical research from MIT that says ‘the best amount of time that should have no meetings? Three times per week. We should only ever have meetings twice per week. What?!


I'm like in shock and awe. Just so that you know that none of you [listeners], I am not that person I'm like chocka block all week. I do have brain time. I’ve got that piece down. My next ambition is they have, [on] Fridays, no meetings and I know some of my clients do that too. We're working towards that and then maybe Tuesday is [a] no meeting [day]. So, imagine that no meetings means of ‘thinking time’, ‘doing time’ or autonomy. But of course, you can't have that unless you have clarity.


Going back to CARE, this is where the whole thing works together. Yeah, but we've all got to do it. But Becky, you and any leader who's listening. You can't expect of others what you don't do yourself. Leadership is simple. It’s what you DO. It's not what you talk about? It's what you do. So, stick some white space in there and tell others ‘Hey by the way an hour a day, don't you dare call me. Clients get out. This is my time.’

BH: So that list of questions that you started with [including] ‘what am I doing well? What am I not doing well?’ All of the other questions. Can you share with me a list of questions that I can give to all of the people that are listening to this so they can have a little look and start asking the questions of themselves and get their team to ask the questions of themselves and just start this process?

AD: Yes. I will share those questions that I have in front of me. These are questions that actually came from Jean-Marie Di Giovanna.

BH: Who’s that?

AD: She’s a coach with a focus on psychological safety. Those types of questions are really good at creating that psychological safety. So, I’ll share that PDF with you, with the source and anything else that you think would be useful for your listeners.

BH: Awesome!


BH: Thank you so, so much. It has been, well it’s always a pleasure talking to you. But it’s really nice to get you on the podcast at last and I think this is going to be really useful to lots of people so thank you very much indeed for your time.

AD: Thanks for having me. Good luck out there finding some white space in your calendars people.

BH: Cheers, Alex. Enjoy the rest of your day!

AD: Thank you!


BH: In the next episode of the No Bull Marketing Ideacast, I’ll be joined by entrepreneur, Madeleine Evans, whose wellbeing management platform, Levell, is poised to take the world by storm. Can we identify burnout before it happens? Can we measure wellbeing and, critically for marketing functions, what is the impact on creativity?

So, join us, Madeleine and I, as we drink tea and talk creative.