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How Emergent Leadership Can Help Your Team Thrive

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How Emergent Leadership Can Help Your Team Thrive

Think of every group project you’ve been in – whether in high school, college, internship, or other.

Often, someone would naturally take the reigns without being officially appointed as the leader – that’s called emergent leadership and it’s something you may want to leverage in your professional life.

Learn the key characteristics of emergent leadership, examples of it in daily life, and the benefits of this approach.

Emergent leadership allows the right leader to be elected once they have demonstrated their potential in group settings. This will be someone who has earned the respect and trust of their colleagues and are able to inspire them.

Too often, companies bring in new leaders and there’s a big adjustment period. They may struggle with communication, understanding their teams’ values, establishing trust, or a number of key elements needed to propel a team forward.

This approach democratizes leadership by letting employees make key decisions regarding not only their leaders but also their projects. As a result, you can get employees who are more invested in the company and serve as its champion.

Promoting emergent leadership within your team is all about fostering an environment of collaboration and ownership. As a manager, you will serve as a resource while allowing your team to take the lead.

By creating this environment, your direct reports will feel comfortable bringing their full selves to work and take the lead whenever their skills align.

To recap, emergent leadership:

  • Promotes ownership and independence over one’s work.
  • Fosters a collaborative environment.
  • Can create a more cohesive team.
  • Prevents bottlenecks by empowering employees to be decision-makers.

Emergent Leadership Characteristics

Wondering how to identify a leader within your organization? Here are some key traits to look for.

Influential

A key characteristic of any leader is someone who is capable of impacting someone’s character and/or behavior.

Look for comments from team members like “X suggested this approach,” and “After speaking with X, I…” – Statements like these demonstrate the impact that someone has on other members of the team.

Reliable

If anything, a leader should be reliable as it’s key to building trust. It means you rely on that person to be consistent and dependable. Whether that’s in their work, communication, or another format.

How do your direct reports show up for others? Do they provide resources? Are they available to mentor? Do they follow through? If the answer’s “yes,” you’ve got a reliable person on your hands.

Inspiring

A great leader helps others feel they are capable of more. When you’re evaluating your staff, an emergent leader is someone who brings fresh ideas and perspectives, cheers others on, and is always striving to improve.

Collaborative

Emergent leadership can only happen in a collaborative environment. Look for people who celebrate new perspectives, create space for others, and invite knowledge exchanges.

Emergent Leadership Examples

The most popular example of emergent leadership comes from the famous medical TV drama, “Grey’s Anatomy.” In one episode, residents were tasked with solving a difficult case together. The goal was to help them work better together but also see who would naturally emerge as the leader of the group.

The most extroverted person in the group often seems like the obvious choice but that’s not always the answer. Just like in real life, the emergent leader in the show was the one who displayed an ability to listen, delegate, make decisions, and inspire confidence from others.

Now back to real life.

Photo app VSCO is one company that leverages emergent leadership to encourage brand champions in its own employees.

According to its former VP of People and Places, Katy Shields, the brand believes that giving up control early on in the company’s growth can help it self-correct in the face of adversity.

Back in 2015, Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google explained how Google tackled this.

He said, “What we realized…is that giving up power is just as important to leadership as seizing power.”

Assigned leadership is the straightforward approach most organizations take. However, emergent leadership could prove to be more effective.

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How A Non-Marketing Content Approach Produced Award-Winning Results

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How A Non-Marketing Content Approach Produced Award-Winning Results

Matt Hartley is not a marketer.

And yet, he is a 2022 B2C Content Marketer of the Year finalist.

Though seemingly incongruous, it’s not. Companies don’t all approach content (or marketing) with the same organizational structure.

Matt leads editorial strategy for TD Bank Group as a senior manager in the corporate and public affairs department. Under his leadership, TD Stories took home top honors for Best Content Marketing Program in Financial Services and earned finalist mentions for Best Content Marketing Launch and Financial Services Publication in the 2022 Content Marketing Awards.

Those results prove that department, title, and reporting structure don’t matter if the content works.

“We tell stories aligned with (the company’s) communication goals. We’re not necessarily looking to sell something. It is about brand building, thought leadership, financial literacy,” Matt explains.

Here’s how a non-marketer finalist for Content Marketer of the Year built an award-winning program.

If the #Content works, details like reporting structure, title, and department don’t matter, says @AnnGynn via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Launching the newsroom

In 2018, Matt joined TD as a content strategist. He was hired partly because of his background in reporting and creating new content products. Matt had worked as a technology reporter at The Globe and Mail and the National Post. He also created the Financial Post Tech Desk, a home for Canadian and international tech news, and was the founding editor of the Post’s arcade video-game news site.

TD leadership had recognized the shifting media landscape. They saw fewer earned media opportunities and turned to Matt to help scale a TD-owned channel called TD Newsroom.

While TD Newsroom aligned with the external communications goals, it ended up with an internal audience – less than 10% of visitors came to the site from outside the bank.

Turning the content program inside out

TD Newsroom’s importance grew when the pandemic hit in 2020, making some forms of traditional customer outreach impossible. No longer just another tool in the communication toolbox, TD Newsroom became pivotal.

“Creating our own content and being able to distribute it became crucially important to us,” Matt says.

The TD Newsroom team focused on creating branded service journalism (content intended to help customers), and traffic to the site increased substantially. Topics such as banking tasks you can carry out online, budgeting for income impacted by COVID, and planning an emergency fund took center stage.

That was the beginning of the TD Newsroom evolution.

“We were rethinking how we did content and where the customer was in their journey,” Matt says. The team also doubled down on data-driven content and refined its content strategy.

In 2021, TD Stories debuted. “It places the customer at the center of the story. It tells stories that resonate with customers and colleagues,” Matt says.

The site’s tagline – “Enriching lives one story at a time” – reflects this mission.

TD Stories organizes content around five pillars (as shown in the site navigation in the screenshot above):

  • Your Money features financial tips and advice.
  • Innovation highlights new technologies to create more personalized banking experiences.
  • Community features stories about TD’s involvement in the communities where it operates and where its employees live.
  • Colleagues tells the stories of employees.
  • Insights features thought leadership from the bank’s executives.

TD Stories places the customer at the center of the story, says @thehartleyTO of @TDnews_Canada, via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Making everything count

“We’re a small but mighty team within corporate affairs. It’s a flat team – everyone brings ideas to the table. It really wouldn’t work if it wasn’t as cohesive as it is,” Matt says.

The digital content team also functions a little like an agency. In corporate affairs, they work with relationship managers for categories such as personal banking, insurance, US banking, etc., as well as product, partnership, and philanthropic managers.

“We work with them to create the stories. We may pitch to them, asking for a subject matter expert to help us tell a story, etc.,” Matt explains. “We could not exist in a vacuum.”

He oversees a digital content team that includes a data-driven strategy role that has been critical in the TD Stories evolution. That added focus has helped the team in its content development.

For example, the bank’s editorial calendar revolves around repeating deadlines and patterns. Deadlines for retirement plan contributions and income tax returns occur during the same period every year. And each spring, more people begin house hunting.

With TD’s digital content team amping up the content measurement strategy, Matt and team can analyze how well those yearly content pieces perform. They also can better understand what people are searching for, so they can refine and improve the next content iterations.

“We can take those moments and make those moments fresh,” Matt explains. “We can ensure the customer gets the best and most accurate information possible.”

The metrics reflect the team’s dedication to excellence. In 2021, traffic to TD Stories grew more than 125% year-over-year. Almost all the traffic (98%) comes from external sources, including 25% from organic Google searches.

Knowing the real goal

“At the end of the day, the content is not the end goal. The goal is to help educate the customer and help them feel more informed and financially confident. When you keep that in mind, the actual structure of a story or every sentence is a means to an end,” Matt says.

Educating the customer is the goal – story and sentence structure are the means to that end, says @thehartleyTO of @TDnews_Canada via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

That’s part of the secret science of brand journalism. As Matt explains: “Take the objectives of the business and marry them with stories that the customers find engaging and useful.”

And that’s an award-winning formula regardless of department name, title, or organizational structure.

Want more content marketing tips, insights, and examples? Subscribe to workday or weekly emails from CMI.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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