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7 Questions on Leadership with Taylor Smith

Name: Taylor Smith

Title: Former General Manager, Xbox Global Brand Marketing

Organisation: 21-years with Microsoft / Xbox

Taylor’s mission is to inspire fans around the world.

Most recently, Taylor led Brand & Content Marketing for Halo and led Global Brand Marketing for Xbox. His team was based in Seattle, and developed branding, packaging, integrated campaigns, partnerships and research. They worked across the Xbox line-up of consoles, across services like Xbox Game Pass - as well as across the incredible line-up of games IP, including iconic franchises such as Minecraft, Halo, Gears of War, Forza Motorsport, and over 50 more.

Before Xbox, Taylor led global ad campaigns for Microsoft.

And before moving up to Seattle, Taylor was with Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco working with Fox Sports, Sega, Coors Brewing Co., Waterpik, Levis, and new business development.

Taylor’s work has helped drive billions in sales, received over 60 Lions and 6 Grand Prix at the Cannes Festival of Advertising, and the team has won seven-years consecutively, the Clio Award’s “Games Marketing Team of the Year.”

Even more importantly, the work has earned a place in the hearts, minds, and living room walls of gamers around the world.

Taylor graduated from the University of California, San Diego. He lives in Kirkland, Washington with his wife, three kids, and dog Sparky.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Taylor's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Leadership challenge is my favorite kind of challenge. I believe in my core, that we are all better working together as a team. That when we bring our different perspectives and ideas together that we are capable of doing great things. Especially in the creative industries that I work in -I believe in the power of collective groups to create in ways that are far more powerful than any single person is actually quite intoxicating. The privilege as a leader to see what the team can build on and come up with is a pursuit with endless rewards.

Frankly, it's a big reason why I loved Microsoft and Xbox for 20+-years. The teams there are large, matrixed with smart, super eclectic, super opinionated groups of people with a wide variety of experiences, expertise, and global perspectives.

I'd say the most challenging part about leading is the limited time to stay connected with people - in touch on a 1-1 level, at the group level and then also be an advocate outside your group, outside your company as a leader for your team. It's challenging to be on all those fronts. All the time.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I'd say "becoming" a leader comes in spurts, in inflection points.

For me there was some training and focus in leading at great companies like advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding and then Microsoft. FCB had a training program that I am so grateful for. It had inspiration, leadership, and raising the bar across all aspects of our role at the company. But leadership didn't kick in, until I had people reporting to me, and those moments where I trusted and gave them enough space to bring their best forward. Where I had a role in shaping their environment and focus, but they brought their special abilities to actually do it. That's two people, on a team, being 1+1 = 2. With one of those leading.

The next big one was in leading a large team of 50+ - where my direct reports, were also managing their own groups. Becoming a leader at that scale, was when I realized and got more practice in maintaining relationships across and outside the team. Within the group: 1-1, 1-select groups, and 1-whole team. And then representing the team outside of our group.

Seeing the systems that way, I did my best to allocate time to all of those important connection points.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I do my best thinking when it's dark, quiet and caffeinated, ie the early morning. So I focus on thinking and planning, 6-8am. Then actively connecting and seeing things through during the day.

And when I'm on plan - I'm fitting in a workout in in the late-afternoon. It takes discipline to step away and prioritize it amongst the chaos, everyday. But I'd like to stress to you the learning that to be a great leader you also need to fill your cup so you can be at your best - mentally, physically, spiritually. For me the afternoon workouts are what's keeps the energy high. So find those ways to keep yourself at your peak and excelling, then structure the discipline around those to protect them.

As a side note, I've tried flipping it, as many people workout in the AM. But then I found I lost that critical productive thinking and planning time. Where the afternoons tend to get filled with busy work. You have to try and adjust and stay flexible - this is what's working for me today.

In the evening, it's home for dinner with the family at 6p sharp. I try to limit the amount of emails after dinner, but it takes some monitoring. Walk the dog. And then I love a good show with my wife late-night.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

There is great tension in establishing and nurturing traditions, and at the same time constantly evolving, and leaving new open space for progressive action. It's critical that leaders establish rhythms, frameworks, and systems. But it's also critical that things are constantly opening up, challenged and evolving. It can be tricky to find the balance.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Gary Vee's "Twelve and a Half: Leveraging the Emotional Ingredients Necessary for Business Success." His dive into leading with emotional intelligence, customer-centricity, empathy and creating an atmosphere that motivates the team is all the good stuff.

Love Gary and his energy for teaching and inspiring leadership. I'd encourage you to work a build a personal relationship with author's your admire. Through events, social media, and podcasts they are more available than ever and their knowledge is gold.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Light the fire of inspiration. As a leader your role is to inspire your team, finding both that personal inspiration that makes them each tickly individually - as well as launch that "north star" level of inspiration that guides everyone.

Your role is to inspire.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

It was a Tuesday afternoon meeting. Nothing out of the ordinary. We were presenting creative ideas to one of the most brilliant game studios in the world. We checked in and our electronic keys didn't work to enter their studio door. We checked with Security. Now, we all work for the same company. But we had been "blocked" from entering their studio.

They did not want to hear our ideas about an upcoming project. (They felt they already had all the answers).

Every creative project, which is everyday in brand marketing, starts as a blank page. Anything is possible. It's exciting, but also creates a great deal of heated discussion about what goes on that "blank page." How it starts. How it develops. How it finishes. Heat at every phase.

As a leader, your role is to see the bigger picture. Understand what's behind the feedback. Not take it personally. Dig into the data and the audience POV. And then find a solution by triangulating your stakeholder feedback. See the forest from the trees. And plant new trees, when needed.

When the team is stuck, at odds. It's your role as a leader to find that way forward that other's may find it hard to envision.

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