What Kind of Leader Are You?

Storm lightning“I’m Your Huckleberry”

One of the greatest lines in history came from Val Kilmer, who played Doc Holliday in the movie “Tombstone”.    It’s the climax when Holliday confronts Johnny Ringo, one of the leaders of the Texas Outlaws.  Ringo was expecting Wyatt Earp, whom he knew he could defeat in a gunfight.  Instead, Holliday came from behind a tree and uttered that memorable line.  The instant Ringo saw Holliday, he knew his days were over.  Ringo was armed with appropriate information, but a change in his plan adversely affected his outcome.  

Custer’s Last Stand

Sticking with the western theme, an example of a leader who didn’t know what he didn’t know was George Armstrong Custer.  In June 1876, Custer led his troops to battle at Little Big Horn.  He assumed, incorrectly, that his military intelligence and superior technology would quickly overpower the enemy, which would result in an immediate victory.  What he didn’t know was that he was outnumbered…  EXTREMELY outnumbered.  By the time he found out, it was too late.  His cavalry suffered one of the biggest defeats in US Military history.

Point Taken

Now let’s talk about a third kind of leader:  One who plays the game with his eyes up, like a great point guard on the basketball court.  He or she sees the game as it unfolds and knows where their teammates should be positioned every second.  They usually aren’t the scoring leaders, but rarely does the team win without them.    

“What kind of leader are YOU?”  versus  “What Kind of Leader ARE you?”

A small shift in emphasis from one word in a sentence to another can change the attitude of the response from an upbeat, positive, team building one to a defensive, self-centered, egotistical one.  Your non-verbal response (or reaction) to that question will speak far more loudly than your words.  

Don’t get upset for being asked, but which is appropriate for you…  The first or second?  Or the third?

Like It or Not, YOU’RE A BRAND!

No more hidingIt’s time to stop hiding behind the “employee” mask.  That title is dying right along with the Industrial Age it was coined in.  While we’re at it, let’s toss the “boss” title out the window, too.  Change is upon us, and all of our futures depend on one very important observation:

If you work with the public in any capacity and earn an income from those interactions, you are performing the FUNCTION of every business in the world:  The acquisition and maintenance of customers.  And you are likely doing this with some goal in mind:  To provide for yourself and your family by making money, which is coincidentally the GOAL of every business in the world.     

Why the assertion that everyone is a brand?  Because the Internet has made it that way.  Everything we post online is a representation of who we are and what we stand for.  Our values, beliefs, loyalties and oppositions are reflected in our words, expressions, clothing, vehicles, homes, possessions…  you name it. Don’t believe it?  Have you ever seen a Ford pickup with a window sticker of Calvin (of the cartoon Calvin and Hobbes) pissing on a red bowtie (aka Chevrolet) emblem?  That’s an example of brand loyalty, albeit an extreme one.  Do you know people who ONLY wear clothes of certain brands?  How about people who refuse to eat at certain restaurants or drink certain brands of beer?  Each of these is an example of brand loyalty.  “But how does this apply to the ‘employee’ label”,  you ask? To answer that question, we must first clarify your own priorities:

  • How did you choose your career?  Are you driven first by (a) intrinsic factors like personal passion and fulfillment, or (b) extrinsic factors like money and power?
  • How did you choose your employer? Are your employer’s values and beliefs: (a) well aligned and complementary to your own, or (b) inconsistent or conflicting with your own?
  • How committed/loyal are you to not only your employer, but all of the brands that you “endorse” by being directly or inadvertently connected to them?  Are you (a) proud to be associated with them, or are you (b) paid to be happy (i.e. with salary or discounted goods and services)?

***If you answered (a) in each instance, you’re probably an employee/brand advocate, whether anyone inside your organization realizes it or not.  If (b) was the choice each time, your work environment probably restricts or discourages advocacy because neither party in the equation knows what the other might say.  Very unfortunate, indeed.       

 

In the Industrial Age, passion and alignment with an organization’s values wasn’t part of a job description, especially for someone applying for work on a factory assembly line.  However, as the Industrial Age began fading,  assembly lines became more automated and less human. At the same time,  educational institutions began shifting their programs away from “blue collar” careers and toward “white collar” ones.  The paradigm that still exists, unfortunately, is best explained by visualizing the factory environment.  

Walk up to nearly any factory and what do you see?  Big doors, solid walls, and a few windows. The windows aren’t there to look out of, though.  Rather, they are windows usually located a few feet below the roof line.  They’re not intended to allow passers-by to look in and see the workers…they are intended to allow natural lighting into the building.  The walls (and placement of the windows) allow the majority of employees to remain anonymous to the outside world.

Look around today:   You won’t find many offices and businesses without windows.  Organizations know that great work environments attract great people.  Even cubicles, the trademark of ‘90’s office spaces, are being replaced by mobile technology leveraged by teams in remote locations with wi-fi that turn Starbuck’s seating areas into satellite business locations.     

As mentioned earlier, the LABOR shift from human to automated, specifically in the industrial sector, began years ago.  What has been clinging on to the Industrial Age is the Employee/Boss “MIND”-shift. It’s time to let go.

NOW.   

Employee Turnover: Shut The Back Door

Shut The Back Door

There’s a lot of instability in the sales world right now. It’s clear from the tone of message boards, forums, e-mails, and business meetings that the ripples in the water are developing whitecaps. While all of the attention is on somehow innovating ways to continue building revenue, there’s an even bigger problem that will potentially cancel out a large number of marketing efforts designed to build brand trust: Employee turnover.

It’s not the 80’s anymore, folks. You can’t expect a terminated employee to remain quiet when you let them go for not meeting the quota you assigned them using your antiquated sales systems. It’s 2016, and they have networks, connections, friends and followers. People “like” them and their online communities reflect their shared, complementary world views. So what happens when they post on their timelines that they just got fired from the job they were enthusiastically posting about getting just two months ago?  It’s likely to be “Outrageous!”  Even more so are the numbers.

Let’s say you hire, train, and fire 5 people per year and each averages 200 close online contacts across all of their networks. That’s 1000 people per year that no longer hold you or your brand in high esteem: You fired their friend…You now suck.  Not only that, guilt by association concludes that your brand and everyone affiliated with your brand now sucks.  But wait…we’re STILL not done sucking:  The industry with which your brand is affiliated sucks, too.  “A thousand people in a one-rep market doesn’t make that much difference”, you say? What if you’re not the only brand OR industry representative in the market? What if there are 20? Or 200? As a group, you are burning through 1000 people per year.  Potentially 200,000 of the customers you intended to market your products and services think, you guessed it— that YOU suck. Does that get your attention or are you still not buying it? That’s what I thought.

Here’s what is baffling: Nearly every forum places the blame on the employee for their failure to produce!   “It’s that damn (fill-in-the-blank) generation! They just don’t want to work!” Heaven forbid anyone would entertain the possibility that the world around them is changing at the speed of light. I learned years ago that you have to provide employees all of the tools and training necessary for them to succeed or else they will fail. I also learned that you manage things, but you LEAD people.  How many true leaders seriously have NO contingency plan when all trends over the last decade have indicated major changes are on the horizon?  How is it in the realm of possibility that interrupting people’s lives to initiate a sale is going to work forever? Do DVR’s, disconnected land lines and DNS database usage stats not send a message to anyone else?

The internet’s inherent advantage is that customers can tell brands how they want to be served in real time. Unfortunately, it seems that very few are listening. Instead, enthusiastic people with unlimited potential are being turned off by legacy companies every day because the only tools they are trained to use are obsolete. There’s also a subliminal message being conveyed to great current and future customers: “This brand isn’t equipped to serve you on your terms.  You need to get online and build a relationship with one that’s looking to the future instead of living in the past.”

Even the best marketing strategists can’t dig themselves out of that hole.

Business Focus: Ants or Elephants

elephantAntHow many sales representatives are trained to hunt “elephants”? (Figuratively, of course!)  Elephants are the big accounts that can surpass an organization’s annual sales budget in ONE DEAL.  

Reps that land these accounts are seen as heroes whose business practices are written in stone for everyone hired into that role going forward.  We can all agree that elephants provide an organization with significant revenue streams in the short term, but what about the long run?  Is there another source that could be as, if not MORE, lucrative over the long haul? As a matter of fact, there is…except not many representatives or companies are able to see them or the massive potential they represent. Why?  Their work is being done mostly underground.

I consider myself an “ant”, not an “elephant”.  In fact, most small business owners probably place themselves in the “ant” category.  The reason?  Because small business owners aren’t provided the same opportunities to leverage today’s technology and big data as large corporate counterparts. They simply have to be more frugal with their cash flows in order to make ends meet. Unfortunately, that means the customers they are passionate about serving are often faced with operational IN-efficiency throughout the buyer journey.  For instance, large companies have the resources to leverage predictive analytics to more accurately anticipate the needs of customers.  Small business owners have to physically listen to each of their customers’ interactions and reach out to them MANUALLY, not via automation tools provided to their larger competitors within their custom-tailored systems.  This seriously restricts the ability of small business owners to add value to their customers’ experiences.  My assertion, which is supported by at least a handful of influencers out there, is that “ants” provide a huge, untapped opportunity.

Ants are truly fascinating creatures, and perfect for this analogy.  Here are some interesting facts about ants that can be assimilated to small business ownership and marketing:

  • Ants can lift up to 100 times their body weight.  Like small business owners, they have to do their own heavy lifting.   
  • Ants recruit other ants into their colony to help do their work.  Sounds very similar to an advocacy program, doesn’t it?
  • Ants do most of their work out of sight.   They build massive networks of colonies across hundreds, even THOUSANDS of acres, and no one even pays attention.

What would happen if some attention and support were suddenly given to small business owners who have been doing their own heavy lifting, manually piecing together their own systems while diligently building tight-knit, connected and far-reaching communities of compatible world views? What if they suddenly had all of the tools necessary to come out from their underground networks and could start influencing others to build their own inter-connected communities above ground? How would the cumulative benefit of serving thousands of “ants” compare to that one “elephant” not only in present, future, value?

It might be worth a look, don’t you think?

KNOCK IT OFF!!!

boatFigure it out soon, or you’ll be standing on the dock when the boat leaves the harbor.  Seriously, if I read one more article about how a small business should market its products on the internet through social media, I’m going to puke.  Forbes, Business Week, and a ton of other publications are continually posting on this subject.  Come on, people, you’re missing the point! You don’t market your products through social media, you BRAND YOURSELF through consistent and transparent representation across whatever channels you choose;  Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn being the Big 3.   The only way you’re going to earn money in the very near future is by being genuine and accessible at all times.  If customers are coming to you for help, they already trust the brand you represent. Nothing happens unless they trust YOU.

Not a bad idea for brand managers to ponder, either.

I’m Listening, But I’m Ignoring You

hearing-protectionAt least if you’re telling me I have to conform to the way things have always been done, if I have to use the same performance metrics, if you tell me the only way I can grow my business is to do things people hate.


For the last decade, we’ve asked everyone how they feel about phone calls during dinner, direct mail, pop-up Internet messages, and unexpected doorbells.  100% of their reactions were negative, almost confrontational.  In fact, the majority stated that they have taken multiple steps to prevent any of those activities from happening in their lives.


If we’re truly listening to our customers, WHY are these strategies still required courses in sales training classrooms? Because brands refuse to open their minds to other options and instructors are only paid and retained if they follow orders. When this is the dominant corporate culture, how does significant change happen?

The only solution is to start from the ground up.

Exponential Magnification: The Power of Six

magnifying-glass-450690_1280In 1992, a scientist named Robin Dunbar assigned “150” as the number of close individual relationships human beings are capable of maintaining at one time.  The human brain, Dr. Dunbar asserted, reaches a tipping point and becomes overloaded if forced to retain information about more than 150 people.  Anyone who looks at their own life would likely see this theory as being quite reasonable.  But how does Dunbar’s Number apply to connectivity within social networks?  What if you could exponentially magnify that number by engaging with and connecting complementary community members in a very precise manner rather than at random?

 

Since Mitch Joel wrote a book called “Six Pixels of Separation”, I’ll choose the number “6” for the purpose of this discussion.  If you were to choose SIX topics you are most passionate about and SIX topics that would make you exit a room as quickly as you entered it, what topics would be on each list?  Do you have your lists made?  Good.  Now reflect on the 150 people closest to you.  You all share a few common insights and passions, right? Otherwise, you’d run the other way when you saw them approaching you.  The important thing to note here is that NOT ALL of your 150 closest relationships are compatible with ONE ANOTHER.  Because of this fact, I ask you to now categorize each person into whichever of the six “passion” categories you defined a moment ago.  If they fit into more than one, great!  It means you have more to talk about when you get together!  

 

This is where it gets interesting.  Where Dunbar’s Number caps the relationship figure is where the real magic happens.  How is this possible?  An old-school concept called DELEGATION. Except in this case, you’re delegating purposeful connectivity rather than authority.  And your network becomes exponentially magnified as a result.  Remember the six “passions”. and the six “deal breakers”? Let’s start first with the deal breakers.  Would you ever choose to engage with people with whom you share zero commonality?  Of course not.  The great thing about big data is that these people can now be identified before you send them ANY marketing correspondence.  By the way, this is the ONLY way they’d ever hear of you in the first place.  They, like you, certainly aren’t going to connect with anyone they have ZERO in common with, right?   This concept pinpoints exactly why traditional advertising is on its last leg.  

 

Finding people who share one or more of your passions is the key to success.  Why?  The relationships are more genuine, authentic and engaged when joined together by passion. Customers who share one or more common worldviews are also less likely to leave your care, and therefore, you make a better living as long as you never give them a reason to not trust you. “What does ‘Dunbar’s Number’ have to do with any of this”, you ask?  In order to understand, you need to take a step back and visualize a rather unique example.  I’d like you go back to science class and picture an ATOM, namely the individual molecules within that atom.  

 

Let’s start with the nucleus:  YOU.  Rotating around you in the next layer are 150 of your closest friends.  Connecting you to those friends are one or more BONDS (as discussed above).  The number of bonds between you is the number of passions you share. Dunbar’s Number stops there, but with the Molecular Networking model, we’re just getting started.   What happens next exponentially magnifies your network by delegating the power to expand it to your friends.  Although the two of you may share a few common friends, you are only one particle in their networks, right?  The thing you can be relatively assured of is that, because the two of you share compatible worldviews, it’s likely that others in their network you have yet to meet are likely to be compatible with you as well.  We see this playing out online every day.  My assertion is that, much of the time, such connections are less purposeful and more random.  By making these secondary connections more purposeful and focused, however, we gain two distinct advantages:  First, we maintain some element of control over our connectivity.  Second, we are able to inject passion into the second layer of communities THROUGH our first layer bonds.  

 

The difference between this Molecular Networking concept and traditional marketing is that there is no randomness, and therefore, a reduced level of discord within networks.  Once the passions and deal breakers have been determined, the focus of the networking process is EXCLUSIVELY ON THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE.  The primary function of the nucleus is to strengthen the bonds between molecules.  When done correctly, the bonds (chemistry) between molecules (people/communities) are become stronger than any opposing force(competitor), thus dramatically reducing the pull (noise).  The potential size of a network using this theory is limited only by one’s ability to engage and energize their communities. Even if you only achieved a 20% bond with the group one layer beyond the initial friend layer, the potential is staggering:  

 

150 x 150 = 22,500 x .2 = 4500 people.

 
Not bad, right?  Hang on, friends.  This is only one facet of a multi-layers concept..  How many influencers on Twitter have used the phrase “Employee Advocacy” in the last 3 months? Exactly.  Your team members are also nuclei, aren’t they?  You have 3 of them?  Triple the product in the above equation. Three HUNDRED people report to you?  Bad news:  You need to buy a new calculator.  What about the impact on recruiting when networks and worldviews are factored into the selection process throughout all levels of an organization?  Wouldn’t people enjoy going to work more if everyone throughout an entire organization shared at least a few compatible worldviews? How much would such diversity benefit a company’s retention efforts?  

Personally, I believe it would be a game-changer.

Relationships And Ear Buds

earphones-477446_1920Have you ever been sitting in your house when the power inexplicably went off?  Do you remember the wave of unsettling panic that swept over you because everything you use to keep you safe, informed, and connected to the outside world was suddenly immobilized?  That’s the way you’re going to feel when consumers turn off your volume and not just unplug your amplifier, but smash it.

Today’s world of attention is characterized by i-Pads tuned to YouTube or Vine videos by kids wearing Beats.  Nothing else besides what’s coming through those two devices matters.  (As a parent with firsthand experience, trust me on this one!) What if you could create customers that behaved like my kids? What if customers were so in tune with YOU that they would voluntarily wear earbuds and bookmark your channel on THEIR IPad?  Isn’t that the goal of content marketing?  What would that do for retention?

I think we all know the answers to those questions. What many are still struggling with is formulating and executing a plan to make it happen.  There’s no better time than the present, right? How about we start by dismissing some competitive paradigms?

  1. “Everyone” is NOT your target market.  “Whoever chooses to engage with you” is.
  2. Your current customers (and mine) have the right to choose to leave you (and me) if you/we aren’t serving them how they want to be served.
  3. It is NOT necessary to openly solicit anyone else’s customers.  Solicitation by competitors won’t be the impetus for movement from one provider to another…Movement will be based on know, like and trust relationships built within connected communities.

Now that we can dismiss those actions, we can focus on activities that will generate positive outcomes for both representatives and brands/companies.

  1. Get on your personal brand IMMEDIATELY, and be transparent about it.  Contrary to popular belief, you are not a different person at work than you are at home.  Stop thinking you are.
  2. Everything you do on line is a representation of you.  All attitudes, opinions, and even connections define your world view.  The more insights and information you share, the more beautifully your life puzzle will come together.
  3. Accept the fact that people can view your integrity trail any time they want.  In fact, encourage that they do so. This will help speed up the due diligence process and in some cases accelerate the sales cycle.
  4. Learn to connect and serve rather than advertise and sell. The “close” is now executed through validation of virtual identity (online) compared to physical identity (in-person). When those two personas match, trust is more likely to be established.
  5. Educate and engage within multiple communities by enlisting the help of your team and your personal army of advocates.  Highlight the uniqueness of every member of each individual community and lead by example in the growth of all involved.

Identify your customers’ favorite channels and help them tune out the static.

 

Arranged Marriage

wedding rings

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be assigned a spouse without considering an emotional attachment or dating first? Seriously—what if they snore?  What if they have gastrointestinal issues?  Arranged marriages happen in a few cultures, but not often in America.  Although spouses are very carefully (and lovingly) chosen, the fact remains that very little freedom exists between the partners to make the final decision.

Do you ever wonder what happens when you visit a branded website looking for basic information about products and services you believe may suit your needs?  I don’t know everything, but I DO know that the information you provide during the website visit is often accumulated, disseminated, and distributed on lead lists to brand representatives within an organization.  That’s correct:  Your name is assigned to salespeople whose job it is to finalize the sale you knowingly or unknowingly initiated with your visit to that website.  The only decision you made up to the point of that return contact was which site to click into. Everything that happens afterward is very similar to an arranged marriage.

What were you looking to get from the experience may have been nothing more than a transaction of some kind, especially when the product or service sought is readily available from multiple providers with price as the primary consideration.  But what happens when the product or service sought requires a deeper understanding, and thus, a deeper, ongoing relationship? Wouldn’t you prefer to at least LIKE who you’re going to spend the duration of that experience with?

Brands fight really hard to get your attention.  They throw their names out there on every commercial, in every newspaper, and on every website.  Although traditional marketing like this has to happen to maintain the brand’s image and name recognition, a key point gets left out of the equation in the pursuit of immediate ROI:  The Courtship.

My policy, out of respect for the person I was dating, was to never kiss on the first date. Let’s get to know each other first. See if we’re compatible.  I’d like it to last.

 

 

Lessons From The Baseball Field

One of the things I love about my career is having the freedom to impact the lives of others.  Freedom in the sense that I’m not tied to a desk from 9-5, or working every weekend. The following is the story of a group of kids I helped coach that came together as a team over a period of two seasons. Memories like these can never be replaced. 

 

Champions

 

Every game day, we get up before the sun, excited and nervous at the same time.  These young men have come so far that we occasionally pinch ourselves to be sure it’s really happening. The early mornings allow time to reflect on the team and how to help them improve, but more importantly, how this simple game of baseball has the ability to transform lives.

 

When we all got together for the first time, we were strangers. Nobody knew much about the others’ attitudes, talents, or desire to play the game.  Those are hard things to determine on the first impression.  But as the season progressed, the chemistry of the team became evident.  Every opening day, it’s funny how a collective breath is held when each player comes up to bat or a ball gets hit toward one of our defenders:  We are all hoping, including the batter and the fielder, that he achieves a positive outcome.  Hoping because we don’t really know what  to expect of them and they don’t even know what to expect of themselves.   When the outcome is positive, it builds confidence. If the outcome is negative, it doesn’t mean failure—it simply provides a focus for our efforts. As parents and coaches, our role is to help them manage both as we all move to the next level of development:  Thought.

 

In the beginning we all hoped for a good outcome.  After we had some positive experiences, we evolved from “I hope he can do it” to “I think he can do it”.  Results were based more on  the players’ belief in themselves than reliance on outside factors. Each week, the players started standing taller, communicating with each other more effectively, and anticipating strategies better than the week before.  They built a solid record over two seasons, achieving all four of their goals in the end.   The opponents we defeated were formidable, as were the ones who defeated us. The reason we were so proud of them:  Even in the cases where we were on the wrong side of a lopsided score, they never gave up on each other.  We all shared that sense of pride in this team.  And as the curtain fell on the season, these young men strode confidently into the last phase:  Belief.  

 

Belief is knowledge.  Belief is trust. Belief is completely understanding your role and having unwavering faith that you and your team can do anything they focus on doing.  It’s knowing that if you get on base, your teammate will get you home.  It’s knowing that your teammate is going to field the ball cleanly for the out.  It’s knowing that your teammate has your back and will pick you up if you make a mistake.  This optimal level of trust comes from total surrender—surrender of your SELF for the team.  That, my friends, builds character.  It also wins championships, but in the bigger picture called life, a solid base of character trumps hardware every time.    

 

It was after a miserable performance in pool play round of one tournament when we had to search for this belief.  In the car ride home, the concept of “I’ve Got This” was born.  It means quite simply:  “I’m not afraid.”  The very next day, the team did a complete reversal.   Then, just one week later, those kids achieved something remarkable:  Their only first-place tournament finish.  Having it take place on Father’s Day made it even sweeter…There wasn’t a dry eye on ANY of our parents.   They carried that momentum into the Gold Bracket at State: A place most had never been before.  They went on to finish 3-2 and placed #12 out of 60 teams.  So what if the final game didn’t end like we hoped it would… none of us had any reason to hang our heads.  Our job as coaches was always to bring out belief and self-confidence in every player, then nurture it so it grows.  

 

Although our team disbanded at the end of the season, “I’ve Got This” lives forever.  There is no doubt that phenomenal group of kids adopted it as a lifelong philosophy. When they take ownership of their attitudes and behaviors with same energy and optimism that was on display that magical season, their opportunities in life will be endless.  

 

What more could we ask for our children?