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Antonio Lucio, former Global CMO of Facebook, HP and Visa, is a modern marketing legend. After a storied and highly influential career in the corporate marketing sphere, Antonio is now an Executive Fellow at the Yale School of Management. In collaboration with the Aspen Institute, he is actively mentoring top leadership across the marketing industry to change the equation. We spoke to him about his efforts to address one of the most important topics today: inclusive leadership.

Building Inclusive Leadership

Since leaving the corporate world after 40 years I have spent a lot of time thinking about what leadership means, specifically what leadership means within the context of an inclusive environment that we are trying to build.

Leadership is defined by who you are, what you do and how you do it. But we don’t all have the same access to a seat at that leadership table. Women and people of color have to work much harder to earn a seat at the leadership table.

Over the last year I have been working on an acceleration program for women and people of color that will help them earn that seat so that they can be successful as leaders.

The model we have built is based on four principles that are applicable to every type of successful individual that I have crossed paths with: man, woman, person of color, LGBTQ, those with a disability.

The fundamental difference is that for most white, straight, Ivy League educated males these four principles can happen naturally. But for the rest of us, these four things are something we must build on our own. 

First, there’s capability. This is something we all need to be good at our jobs, but there are two levels of capability. You have functional capability, which everyone gets, regardless of who you are. But then there is leadership capability. Women and people of color do not have the same access to this secondary capability that others have.

Next is community, which is made up of people outside of your organization that are in your same role but at other companies. This community can help you navigate various types of issues you may be facing.

Often the people who work within your company are not representative of the community you represent. Therefore, some issues may be foreign concepts to your colleagues. So, by having this external community, you’re able to address these issues, share frustrations, best practices and, most importantly, never feel isolated.

The third and fourth principles are the importance of having mentors and sponsors and understanding the difference between the two.

A mentor is a someone outside of your company; they have a broad view of the business world and they should also know you very well. They are able to ask you fundamental questions about life and work. This is the person who is going to be able to tell you, “You know, Antonio, it’s time for you to leave. You’ve run your course.”

A sponsor would likely never do that. Your sponsor is inside your company, but it’s not necessarily the person you meet for golf or even the one who is mentoring you. A sponsor is someone that advocates for you. This is the person who is going to stand up and say, “Hey, Cara deserves this position or this opportunity.”

Sponsors are the people that will give you what is called stretch assignments, where the company is betting on potential as opposed to capabilities. Women and people of color have less access to stretch assignments yet every successful leader that I have met has had stretch assignments.  I marvel when a diverse candidate gets one and the rest of the organization explains it as a diversity move. It is not a diversity move. It is a leadership development move that everyone in leadership roles need!

Becoming a Leader

I want to share the point of view from the individuals that I have been mentoring for the past year because their struggles are imperative to understanding the hurdles minority groups encounter when moving up the ladder of leadership.

As part of my Leadership Empowerment Acceleration Project ( LEAP) , I have spent significant one on one time with leaders. The group was 75% female and 60% identified as people of color. All were high potential middle managers. Eleven different industries and eleven different companies were represented.

Interestingly, most participants were challenged with their leadership roles. They all echoed a similar sentiment which was, “The first day I was promoted was the happiest day of my life but now, six months in, I’m sinking. I don’t know how to manage my agenda anymore because I have the meetings that I used to have, and then I have new meetings and I’m drowning.

It’s true that this feeling is often shared by all types of leaders. But the difference we see is that for women and people of color is the added feeling of ‘imposter syndrome.’ So, these leaders are reluctant to speak up, share the fact that they’re struggling, because there is the fear that others will see their struggle as proof that they weren’t ready for the position.

Imposter syndrome is real, I negotiate with mine every day. 

The first concept we’ve been working with them on is the mindset that ‘leaping requires elevation.’ What we mean by that is the realization that you must understand those things about your role that you cannot delegate – things that no one other than you can do.

Your number one role as a leader is to set the direction, to align the agenda, to do the right level of resource allocation and to remove roadblocks. Those are things that you, as a leader, must do. Everything else you can delegate.

So, who is your person? Who is the you when you were in your previous job? Who can you delegate to so that you can actually get the work done? The moment you begin to see things this way, once you are only spending your time on your specific tasks, your day-to-day-calendar will become much more manageable.

And then, you encounter your second issue: to delegate or not to delegate. Because for many leaders, they love the executing. They were pros at executing. But now they’re in a situation where the work their team delivers is going to reflect on them as a leader.  So, they feel like they must be all over their team to ensure the work is done right.

They obsess over the chart, the presentation, the font is all wrong, this could have been improved visually and so forth. But does this obsessing make you a better leader? Does obsessing allow you to treat the people who are reporting to you the way you wanted to be treated when you were first achieving success?

The high performers on your team will typically want very tight direction with lots of room for interpretation, but still want the support to be there when things go wrong.

The worst thing we can do as leaders is to micromanage. 

Something else we must do as leaders is to be okay with the ‘just enough’ mentality.

If you know the quality that you can deliver is 100 percent, but your team brings you 80 percent but it’s still enough to get the project approved, you should allow it to be. Because the marginal benefit of you investing that last 20 percent is just not that valuable for you, and it’s not valuable for your team.

Next, we tackle feedback. And what I heard on this subject was heartbreaking. Some of the people we spoke to said that with all the emphasis on diversity and inclusion, they knew their bosses weren’t always being candid with them. And we know that, without that level of candor, one cannot get better. So now we’ve gone from one extreme to the other, where we’re afraid to say things because we don’t know if we’re going to say it the right way.

And the concept that came out of this conversation was that feedback sessions need to be candid, but caring, so that a safe space is created. Furthermore, these sessions need to go both ways so that we can give room for a person to say, ‘Actually I’m not being aggressive, I’m just being passionate.’

These two-way feedback sessions can create the space for one to be able to express the way they’re behaving, relative to the way that it is being interpreted by their boss. Leaders must prioritize providing feedback in a caring way, that at the same time allows people the opportunity to respond.

Another topic was the institutional solution mindset vs. quick fixes. So, when you’re driving a project and you must get things done, you might put a Band-Aid on a problem here and there so you can keep going. But when you’re a boss, you must begin to think about how you can fix the problem, holistically, so the same issue doesn’t happen again.

And you need time to do this because in order to get started you have to look at your level of priorities. What are the right processes you have in mind? What is the right level of organization? Are you assigning money to it? Do you have the level of support for the agenda? It is a completely different mindset that requires time. And the only way to get that time is to reprioritize how you are spending yours.

Finally, we get to social capital. There was a lot of conversation about social capital within the group I interviewed. They explained it like this, “I’m coming from a great school, I have the brains and the work ethic, but I’m not used to dealing with the people in the C-Suite as associates. I did not grow up this way.”

This group talked about having trouble approaching those C-Suite associates in the context of a social setting. And this experience really underscores the importance of having a community of people outside of your company. Having mentors who can help you navigate these sensitive types of conversations is incredibly important. Because these are not the kinds of things we usually talk about during a performance appraisal, and often these are not issues people would feel comfortable asking a sponsor.

So much of what I’ve shared here seems obvious and this is all within our capabilities to address, but we need to take time to think about the legacy we want to leave behind and how we will apply the insights shared today.

It is the impact we have on the people and things that we touch. Everything counts. The things we decide to do, or the things we decide not to do, and it will happen whether you’re conscious of it or not.

So, in closing, it’s about having the intentionality to begin to create the space for a more inclusive environment, by paying specific attention to those people that we decide to promote as leaders, and doing the work to ensure that they are successful. This will take companies to the next level.

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