Why Mentors Are Crucial, Even When You're in the C-Suite

CMO Spotlight: Lisa Woodard, Transamerica

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At a certain point in everyone's career, the benefits of networking are undeniable. Who can't credit a contact with having found us a new job, or improving our work with a good piece of advice? Even so, we often overlook the peripheral, but no less important, benefits of networking. Shedding light on these is Lisa Woodard, CMO of Independent Distribution Transamerica. The CMO Club honored Woodard with the President's Circle Award in 2015, and it should be no wonder that she credits her strong network with her rise to this elite circle of marketers. So, if your own networking is in neglect, read on -- these four benefits are sure to get you mingling again.

Lisa Woodard
Lisa Woodard

1. Avoiding others' mistakes
On a scale of 1 to 10, Lisa Woodard tells me that having a strong network should rank at an easy 9 in terms of career importance, especially for marketing leaders. As no man is an island, no CMO can effectively lead -- or effectively learn -- in isolation. "With frequent transitions from company to company and vertical to vertical as the norm for most CMOs, just having experienced mentors to call is extremely valuable," says Woodard. Mentors are especially helpful in minimizing the "error" part of any trial-and-error learning curve. "Where I have learned the most is perhaps by hearing what others have tried that did not work -- allowing me to avoid pitfalls early in my tenure with a given role," she says.

2. Fortifying your happiness
It's not just a ropes course to the next job or channel for industry know-how -- a strong network can also offer life lessons that neither your loved ones nor your boss could probably offer honestly. For example, Woodard recently participated in a roundtable and CMO Club discussions on the topic of work-life balance. She says that aside from being "nurturing, affirming" experiences, listening to those in her position profess their own attempts to sort through life's challenges "provided me with very practical tools to make sense of the almost constant craziness."

3. Updating your marketing savvy
Focusing on our immediate work sometimes causes us to tune out important changes in our field of profession. To combat this, Woodard carves out about 10% of her time for conversation with her fellow marketers. "Once you rise to our level, keeping marketing skills fresh requires external input," she says. "It's not solely being learned within the company." Woodard's peers provide this essential perspective, and the more input, the better, she says. "Networking gives me a chance to work on my business, not just in my business."

4. Finding next year's star employee
Something I often ask CMOs is how they view the "giving" versus the "taking" transactions inherent to building an effective network. Many stress the need to strike a balance, but Woodard offers a different perspective. "My satisfaction comes even more from the giving than the taking. I just have to believe that in the long term, those good reciprocal relationships will add value." Sometimes, building a relationship without receiving accrues interest, if you will, providing valuable returns.

For example, she tells me about a prospective hire whom she liked, but whose skills weren't quite a match for the role. Rather than dismiss him, Woodard kept in contact and watched as he evolved into a social-media savant and consultant. "He applied his social media knowledge and spoke at various groups of folks in transition, helping them optimize their LinkedIn profiles. In fact, he helped me fix mine," she says. "He was able to parlay that giving to others into a paid consultancy and his own marketing business." Woodard later hired him and says that clients love him. "It was all about reinvention and paying it forward," a perfect example of how networking is an investment that delivers diverse payouts.

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