PM360 asked Jeff Berg, President of AbelsonTaylor, what he has learned about leadership after taking on the role in 2019 as well as what he picked up over his 35-year career in research, marketing, and business development.
PM360: What is your secret to making your employees/team perform better?
Jeff Berg: There is no secret, it’s really very simple—just listen. I don’t mean sitting impassively and nodding your head occasionally without interrupting, disingenuously trying to make the person feel heard. People certainly do need to feel heard but not just in the moment. Getting individuals and teams to perform better requires that they believe you take what they say into account, irrespective of whether you agree or disagree with them. They need to know that their input is valuable and that they have an impact on the business.
What was the best piece of advice or inspiration you got from another leader?
I was once very upset with how one of my VPs handled a situation and our EVP of Business Development said to me, “At some point, every one of your direct reports will do something to really make you angry. You need to let it go quickly, otherwise you will dislike everyone.”
What skill do you think is the most important for a leader to have that not enough people talk about?
The ability to tolerate a high level of cognitive dissonance. Often, there is a great deal of inconsistency in what people believe and how they behave. At some time or another we all act in ways contrary to our beliefs and the best interests of the organization. As leaders, we must be able to understand this dichotomy and not spend time railing against these contradictions. Accept and move on.
What factor, event, moment, etc. had the biggest impact on the formation of your leadership style?
I had just joined the marketing team of a company after being in R&D and was assigned to build a forecast for a new brand. I was working late, searching for prescription data in the many volumes of IMS data (this was a long time ago), and the SVP of Marketing walked in and asked what I was doing. Quickly realizing that I was floundering, he patiently sat with me for the next hour, guiding me in obtaining the data I needed. He never made me feel inadequate to the task, and I knew that he genuinely wanted me to succeed. People climb the management ladder through personal achievement, but I believe that leaders who take joy in seeing their people and teams succeed are the most effective.
Finally, who is the boss?
I personally don’t like the word boss because it’s often used pejoratively: “She’s so bossy” or “You can’t just boss me around.” Leader is a much better word. Dwight Eisenhower likened leadership to a string between leaders and their teams. “Pull the string and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.” The boss/leader is the person pulling the string.