Why Great Brand Managers are Even Better Leaders


Companies frequently search for ways to gauge success and often come up with practical measures to decide whether a product is a boon or a bust.

Executives often believe that by setting measurable goals that brand teams can create a level of responsibility and performance accountability that the entire team must meet.

However, when Best Practices, LLC, has researched brand leadership and interviewed product managers, we discovered that one of the biggest frustrations they face is how little control they have over the secondary people assigned to product teams.

While most of the focus is placed on the primary brand teams, much of the discussion revolves around involving the secondary team members to directly impact product success.

Much of our research has been done with life science companies, and we have found the leaders of such cross-functional teams manage diverse teams with a variety of backgrounds, cultural values, languages, team player styles, training and interests. In addition to the people management skills required, a team leader must also possess the ability to follow what is often highly technical and scientific team work.

Where the frustration lies, is that the brand leaders are frequently asked to drive success without the authority usually associated with a team leadership position. What is so amazing about this is that drugs that generate hundreds of millions to billions of dollars of revenue annually can see much of their issues tied more closely to team issues than to brand issues.

We tell companies that are creating new launch teams to take many things into account when creating the team dynamic because it can be a delicate balance. Some of the points we make include:

  • The normal movement of people on and off brand teams often threatens the continuity of purpose and consistency of decisions and actions.
  • Brand teams need “the right leaders and the right individuals,” not just people in the right roles and from the right functions.
  • Several people cited the importance of recognizing when there’s a problem with the team: “You have to be willing to admit there’s a problem, and then get everyone on the team to help fix it.”

Ultimately, it is critical that brand team leaders and their senior management set clear guidelines about the results expected. These cross-functional teams need to know what the overall company objectives are and where the brand fits in with the overall company portfolio.

Thus, a brand team leader must exert control but also be willing to work with those on the team. Among the things the team leader must be cognizant of are:

  •  Ensuring attendance at brand meetings. When key members start to come late and leave early, move quickly to speak with each person privately. Try to determine whether the problem lies with the team or within the recalcitrant member’s department.
  • Discouraging multi-tasking. When it becomes apparent that team members are multi-tasking during meetings, there becomes a need to refer back to team norms. If there are not rules about multi-tasking, engage the team in an exercise designed to develop guidelines for that and other disruptive behaviors common to multiple-site teams.

Another tactic that companies find effective is to require a monthly report from each team member, along with next steps. This keeps everyone honest and ensures that any problems can be resolved promptly.

In “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” Patrick Lencioni quotes a friend as saying, “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.”

If this is case, then product managers must become the ultimate coxswain for their brand teams.

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