Target The ‘V-Zone’ For Effective Leadership

Photo: Pixabay/markusspiske

Are you so focused on your external customers that you are forgetting about your internal customers?

I was curious to hear from Thomas Barta, a former McKinsey partner and global marketing and leadership expert. He's conducted the largest leadership study of chief marketing officers, ever. His new book is The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader: How to Succeed by Building Customer and Company Value. While this book is targeted at marketing leaders, I've read it and it's great advice for leaders of all kinds.

I recently interviewed Thomas to get his advice on how to add value to both their teams and their own leaders as well. (The transcript below has been edited lightly for space and clarity.)

Kevin Kruse: What is the V-Zone?

Thomas Barta: Many leaders think a lot about the problems they're tackling for a certain group. In marketing, for example, you think about customers. What do they want? What's important to them? What do they worry about? I think the same can happen in HR. You think about certain HR issues for a certain group.

But what we learned is that the most successful people know way more about their own target group; but, they also understand what's at the top of mind of the CEO. If my CEO wakes up at night, what are the top three things they're saying are really, really important? And if the stuff I'm working on for my customers, for my target groups… is this really aligned with what's really hot in the company?

It will never be perfectly aligned, but how much overlap is there, and in the zoom of that overlap, we call that the V-Zone. That's where your power lies as a leader in the company.

Kruse: You talk about the powers that fall into a domain you've categorized as “Mobilize your boss.” So how do we mobilize our boss?

Barta: Business depends on people in their own company to bring up ideas. There are so many examples where big company leaders actually made wrong decisions, and the whole company went bust because nobody has really pushed them. So it is so crucial that you mobilize your boss, because they're setting the agenda.

How you do this? First of all, you've got to know the thoughts of the C-Suite. You’ve got to walk in there. What are they thinking about? If there is a cash crisis, and you come in with some functional marketing or HR or whatever proposal to do some research, it would just not be on their agenda. So how can you make that connection? But also, how can you prove how what you're doing is actually contributing to what's important for the company?

In the example of marketing, nobody in the C-Suite will want to hear about millennials, segmentation, programmatic, and all that stuff that we love to talk about. What they want to hear about is how to get revenue. What about our cost and customers? That's the stuff that we need to explain. We need to find the language to do this. The same, I'm sure, is true in HR, right? There are always things that matter to a company's C-Suite. Is this what you're talking about, is it clear? Lastly, and there's a third point, you've got to work with good people. If you work with good people, external people, internal people, your work becomes better and you get more accepted.

Kruse: And when it comes to our direct reports, how do we mobilizing our team.

Barta: Many people in companies, specifically function leaders, grow up as experts. And as an expert, when your job's to know the answer, your tendency is to want to know everything.

Now, the times are long gone when you as the leader of a team can have the right answer. You have to have the right question. You have to help the team understand what they need to do. It's very interesting, when you look at teams where the leaders get very involved and try to own the answer and control all the work, those are the teams where everything's late, where everything is hectic, and people are frustrated. The teams which are very clear about what they need to do–you as a leader help them ask the right question, and perhaps you steer them at times.

Those are the teams that innovate, that attract people, and that are also more successful. So the challenge is, as a team leader, can you spend 90 percent of your time explaining and 10 percent controlling versus 90 percent controlling and 10 percent explaining?

Kruse: I recently heard someone say leaders need to be more like Yoda and less like Superman.

Barta: You're right. And that's when your people dare to ask for forgiveness and not for permission. Because if they ask for permission, you have a queue in front of your office and nothing is happening. If they ask for forgiveness, you talk about the things when they go wrong.

And that's how you create a highly powered team.

Kevin Kruse is a New York Times bestselling author, host of the popular LEADx Leadership Podcast, and the CEO/Founder of, which provides free world-class leadership training, professional development and career advice for anyone, anywhere.

CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at