If you want to be a great leader, advertising and technology guru Randall Rothenberg has three words of advice.
Open your ears.
Of the many traits demonstrated by top CEOs and prominent business chiefs, the ability to listen is among the most important, according to Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the main lobbying and marketing research group for online advertising.
Speaking from an event space at McMahon Hall on the Lincoln Center campus, Rothenberg delivered the inaugural Flaum Leadership Lecture on Jan. 17. He regaled a nearly packed house for more than an hour with stories from his career and tips on what makes an effective leader.
“Listening is key, and you’d be surprised how often that doesn’t happen,” he said. “New managers come in and want to make a big splash. They tell people why and how everything is going to change, but surprise is the enemy of good leadership. Listening, clear communication, buy-in and consensus building are its allies.”
And Rothenberg knows something about the business world. He held down high-level editorial and managerial positions at The New York Times and Booz Allen Hamilton before assuming leadership of the Interactive Advertising Bureau last year.
“I’ve always been motivated by curiosity, which is why I became a journalist,” he said. “After a while, I wanted to do more than observe change; I wanted to create it.”
Although he had no formal financial training, Rothenberg’s journalistic background helped him get up to speed in areas where his knowledge base was lacking. “Reporters know how to vacuum up facts, process them instantaneously, mold them into a cohesive narrative and spit them back out,” he said. “That training was invaluable.”
Relying on his experience, he explained the difference between a manager and a leader. A manager, he said, is charged solely with creating and implementing a process, while leaders articulate an original vision and inspire people to achieve it.
He next listed three focal points that leaders can emphasize to build support—ideas, people and process.
“First, know your mission and strategy,” he said. “Having a teachable point of view demonstrates that you have a firm grasp of the issues and that leads to buy-in.
“Next, repeat your mission and strategy over and over again—the same way in the same language,” he continued. “People will get it; they’ll internalize it, and then they will make it their mission and strategy. That gives you leverage. Finally, be clear about your process. Communicate clearly and thoroughly; just don’t send out millions of e-mails.”
Rothenberg also offered words of caution to would-be leaders who seek the spotlight at the expense of their team. “It’s dangerous to think that just because you’re the smartest kid in the room, that things are going to get done,” he said. “If you long to be a soloist; if you think you can solve every problem by yourself; it’s not going to work.”