Humble Leadership – A Chat With AMA Boston President Bob Cargill by Trevor Stasik
I had the pleasure of meeting with Bob Cargill recently. He was humble; kind yet authoritative, just the type of leader you can admire. With over 30 years of leadership experience in the field of marketing and as the current President of the American Marketing Association (AMA) Chapter for Boston, he was nice enough to let me hear his perspective and philosophy on leadership. Bob is currently on his second tour of duty as the President of the Boston AMA, having served previously several years ago. Bob is also an adjunct professor with three different universities. He has been President of Toastmasters clubs. He was President of his running club, and has ran the Boston Marathon 14 times. He has even completed his goal of becoming a published author with his recent book, Twenty Jobs, Twenty Lessons – a Long, Strange Career in Marketing, from Junk Mail to Social Media (Cargill, 2022). In other words, Bob has a deep bench of leadership experience to draw from.
Bob initially became a leader in 1990 when he started his first business. His leadership skillset began to mature as he learned to work with people, manage people, speak in front of people. Thus, he found his leadership style. For Bob, it always came down to people. Even though you may not make every person happy with your decisions, as a leader he found that by being empathic, compassion could help guide any truly difficult decisions. In his leadership positions, he has had the opportunity to deal with a wide variety of people. When it comes to working with teams, he wants people to succeed – as long as they are doing their job, it’s okay for them if they have quirks or idiosyncrasies. Bob has learned that you can work with individuals with many different styles; different personalities. People will continue to surprise you in the ways they find success.
Empathy was already mentioned as a key skill, but there are several other skillsets that Bob has honed over the years. It’s important to become a bridge, connecting with others and building relationships. To create trust with those that work for you and those that you work with, you need to have strong communication skills to build those relationships. Make sure you work to create connections outside of work too, not just at work. Find time for social situations. Leaders should get better at both public speaking, private speaking, and digital communication. Get excited about your work; you will find you are able to turn on the energy during meetings, even if you are exhausted.
Being a leader means finding the energy to keep you going. Motivate yourself so that you can better motivate others. He says he finds a way to go outdoors. Bob has found that a simple thing like going out for a run, getting some exercise in, and getting the blood flowing can help drive and focus him. Another interesting way Bob has found to get himself pumped up is by watching or listening to motivational speeches, and then to make them himself. A little secret he shared is that part of the reason he creates his own motivational videos for teams he works with is because it gets him motivated too. It is so energizing to know that people listen to what you do and say, and that you have made an impact. He cares about seeing people, and people care about seeing him.
At this time, our conversation segued, and got a little deeper as Bob shared his philosophy and approach to being a leader. All people have different ways of doing things that can lead to success. As a leader, it’s important to bring out the best in people by empowering them. Emphasize that you have their backs. Let your team know that it’s a safe space. It is okay for your team to make mistakes, you can catch them if they fall. By trusting your team to get the work done in their own way, they will trust you and the team will celebrate in their success. Consider this – what you say in leadership carries weight. A leader should be careful and think through what they are going to say before they say it. People will look to you for clarity and guidance. You can help them make the leap from student to teach.
Leaders don’t always get it 100%. They try to make effective decisions, but they need to be unafraid to course correct regularly. Bob feels that any leader with experience will know that they cannot say, “It’s my way or the highway,” and expect results. Don’t be too proud to admit that there are many paths to success. It’s crucial for leaders to take a measured approach; get feedback, look at the results, and then course correct. Make slight course corrections as you go, instead of making large changes at the end. Listen diligently to those that report to you and also to your customers; those are the people you serve. Hire people that are better than you, find people that can compliment your skills and do the things that you can’t do.
Bob expressed that while knowledge is important, wisdom gained through experience is critical in decision-making. Instincts improve with experience, and that can make all of the difference. It’s also significant to note that you can observe others for their experience; learn from them. Experience has also taught him that you need to prepare, prepare, prepare. There was a quote he’d heard once that, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” This quote, originally attributed to the Roman philosopher, Seneca (A Quote by Seneca, n.d.), means that you must prepare yourself in advance, so as to be ready when an opportunity presents itself.
Touching on how to motivate and inspire greatness in others, Bob expressed how leading by example can be contagious. When Bob is energetic, his teams will often emulate his energy and enthusiasm. When he empowers his teams and encourages them to try a variety of ways to get things done, they learn to be comfortable and do that themselves. Give people the ball and let them run with it; it will help your team gain confidence. You can also motivate through storytelling. A good story will help people listen and learn from your stories and experiences. Finally, and most importantly, a good leader needs to BE HUMBLE. Every leader needs to remember to be reflective and to serve others. Try to help everyone succeed. Don’t believe your own headlines, because hubris can lead to failure.
In conclusion, Bob’s overall philosophy can be summarized as this: A good leader leads the charge, a great leader coaches others so that they can lead the charge. There is a need for great leaders. You may find yourself in a situation where others don’t want to take responsibility and things are chaotic. You should stand up and step forward. Anybody can be a leader. Just remember to stay humble.