Have you ever found yourself stuck in a role, stuck with a boss, and stuck in a life that just feels like all the universe’s karma is aligned against you and your dreams? If you’re not the Chosen One, I suspect you know what I am talking about. It’s not a fun place to live day to day.

The matrix structures common in professional services firms provide the best—and sometimes the worst—conditions to build and exploit individual strengths. The best leaders have the courage and care to apply both the art and science of the matrix to unleash their teams’ individual and collective potential.

Here’s one example.


Last week, I attended a Fortune magazine event, thanks to an invitation from a marketing leader at McKinsey who once worked on one of my teams. As you would expect, she is engaged, smart, ambitious, conscientious, and articulate. Several years ago, she didn’t have the same shine.


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When I first met her as a peer, she was in a regional role and nothing more than a job description to her manager; she existed simply to complete a list of defined tasks. Her success was measured by the extent to which she completed tasks to the satisfaction of her geography leader. Unfortunately, that approach did not align with the woman’s strengths or career ambitions, so she, the marketing team, the region she served, and the firm missed out on the valuable and important contributions she could have made.


When I began supervising her after a promotion, I applied the good counsel a very good leader had given me earlier in my career: “Your team’s success is your success. Focus on helping THEM be successful.” I took the time to listen and to learn about her strengths and those of two other peers turned direct reports. I figured out where they loved to play. One was impeccable at strategic thinking, thought leadership, and program development, but she often did not communicate her exceptional ideas in relevant, tangible business terms to leadership. As a result, she was misunderstood and her ideas languished in a smaller region. The second was exceptional at executing and producing results when given the proper programs. And the third, the woman at McKinsey, was exceptional at and passionate about, media relations. Unfortunately, the firm had a corporate communications leader who was a little territorial about both his role and his reporter relationships at major publications—but those relationships were not serving our regions well.


READ: The Purpose of a Leader

I assessed the entire marketing team’s strengths and ambitions then align them all with the organization’s needs. My first step was to assess the firm’s capabilities and proficiency in sales and marketing. Second, although no formal role existed in the HR hierarchy of job descriptions and roles, I gave each of the regional market leaders North and South American responsibilities.


DOWNLOAD: Marketing Capabilities Gap Assessment

The first, in addition to her regional role, became head of strategic program development and worked closely with global thought leaders to develop integrated marketing programs that exploited the firm’s intellectual capital. The second developed a standardized approach and systems to execute the programs. The third developed a supra-regional media relations strategy that focused on key regional publications and media relations skill development. Each leader then cascaded down the same strategies to their individual teams to exploit and align strengths and dreams with the broader organization’s goal.

READ: The Roles You Need On Your Marketing Team


Each of the team members developed individually and contributed mightily to the organization.

Their results included:

  • The firm claimed the number one spot in thought leadership market share.
  • The firm grew at above-industry average growth rates.
  • We built a model for developing and sustaining strategic marketing capability that drove long-term growth.
  • We developed a pipeline of future growth-oriented marketing leaders.
  • Our team had one of the firm’s highest employee engagement levels globally.



Whether you are a practice leader or marketing leader, your first job is to help your team members be successful. You cannot help them succeed by just making sure that they get their tasks done.

You help them succeed by understanding their strengths, weaknesses, and dreams and then aligning them with the organization’s goals. Most often, that means breaking rules, processes, traditions, and rigid structures.

One of the many joys I get to experience as a former CMO is seeing members of my past teams achieve success in their careers. Today, members of those teams lead their own marketing organizations at top strategy, accounting, financial, healthcare, HR, and software firms.  I like to think that I helped them unleash their talents to do so. Do the same for your team.

Karma, baby, karma.


Be prudent.

Jeff McKay

Jeff McKay

Founder & CEO

Jeff’s teams and strategies have helped the world’s top professional services firms achieve industry-leading growth rates, optimize marketing investment and maximize brand value.  He was the SVP of Marketing at Genworth Financial, the Global Marketing Leader at Hewitt Associates, and held senior roles at Towers Perrin and Andersen. 

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