Archive for the 'Leadership' Category

Can you sell your leadership product?

What is a leader? A mentor once told me a leader is someone who can find others who will follow him (or her).

But as we all know, followers can be high-maintenance folks, requiring constant tending to whatever it is that attracts them; most of the time “it” is something intangible. Napoleon is reputed to have said, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Intangible.

Leadership, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So we asked our radio and online audience which of five characteristics is THE most important to being a successful leader. Two of the leadership traits we offered, courage and perseverance, got the lowest ranking, each in single digits.  The highest ranking went to “ability to communicate,” with about 40% choosing this one, followed by “ethical behavior,” chosen by almost one-third of respondents,  and “vision” selected by a little more than one out of four.

At first, I was surprised that courage and perseverance didn’t rank higher, because it’s my belief that both of these are defining traits of a successful leader. But surprise turned to clarity when I realized that our poll had revealed what we all know but don’t always remember: There are two faces of a leader. One is the face leaders see when looking in a mirror, and the other is the one followers see. When seeking the definition of a leader, we have to be clear about which point-of-view is being sought: leadership traits we seek in ourselves or those that attract followers.

The face in the mirror knows courage and perseverance are definitely among the imperatives for leadership success. But to followers, these are merely raw materials used to manufacture the product they demand of leaders - that intangible “bit of colored ribbon” delivered by communicating a vision that is executed based on mutually held values.

Turns out, being a leader is a lot like being a business owner. To be successful in business, it’s not enough to offer quality products you’re proud of - customers drop the gavel on that judgment. Similarly, it’s not enough for leaders just to please the mirror - followers are the customers of your leadership product.

In order to get others to follow you, both faces of leadership must be in evidence. Nurture those traits that success requires of you personally, like courage, perseverance, faith, commitment, etc., while simultaneously delivering what followers expect: ethics, communication, vision and performance.

Write this on a rock … Are you finding followers for your “bit of colored ribbon?”

Organizational special sauce: an intangible force

“Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

You may know this line as the commercial jingle describing the Big Mac that McDonald’s created to compete with the Hardee’s Husky, which came with essentially the same condiments, including Hardee’s own special sauce.

Over the years, the term “special sauce” has been re-deployed beyond the burger wars, from condiment to handy metaphor. Management and organizational commentators, like me, have co-opted the term to identify a level of organizational performance beyond extra effort. Here’s how I’ve observed organizational special sauce in the marketplace.

Organizational special sauce isn’t a strategy or campaign, nor can it be achieved with a slogan or mission statement. No special sauce was ever the child of an algorithm, big data, or other amalgamation of ones and zeros. To the chagrin of Wall Street quants, organizational special sauce is an incalculable, unprojectable, and intangible force. It’s 100% performance leverage produced by a single active ingredient: human beings loving to work together toward something they all believe in.

This leverage kicks in like a turbo after quantifiable, tangible leverage reaches its RPM red line. Every business would like to have organizational special sauce but few ever do, because the elements that foster it are not easy to achieve, including, but not limited to:

  • Hiring the best people, who are then respected and valued.
  • Excellence as a non-negotiable performance standard assumed by all stakeholders.
  • Leaders demonstrate all the aspects that define the word: courage, integrity, morals, ethics, commitment, decisiveness, humanity.
  • People are not interchangeable parts, as if they were modules.
  • Corporate values flow to the organization’s last mile as a minimum expectation.
  • Delegation includes responsibility AND authority.
  • Corrective action first presumes shortfalls result from best efforts, and the first management step is redemption.

Here’s how organizational special sauce manifests:

  • Peerless products and services.
  • Industry-leading employee retention.
  • Prospective employees line up to join the organization.
  • Employees and partners are proud of and claim the organization’s excellent reputation.
  • Ethical actions and integrity manifest as devotion to the unenforceable.
  • Customers become the organization’s best salespeople.
  • Teams work harder than they ever did, while having more fun than they ever had.
  • And the classic marker: quantum leap performance.

You can’t demand, buy, or acquire the intangible leverage of special sauce, you can only foster an environment that gives rise to it. It’s an engagement sweet spot that produces results beyond expectations and projections – quantum leap performance.

Organizational special sauce is possible, but rare in public corporations, because it doesn’t conform to the analytical expectations of the Wall Street 90-day conference call. Our here on Main Street it’s more prevalent, where small business leaders know special sauce comes from the intangible resolve of their valued and respected employees.

Write this on a rock … Contributing to organizational special sauce is one of the hardest and most beautiful things you’ll ever do at work.

Are you looking for answers in the wrong places?

This is a story about three small business owners who had one thing in common: a wise man named Luther. Oh, by the way, Luther is their janitor.

On Mondays, Luther cleans the offices at National Supply Co., Inc. Sometimes he talks with the founder, Mr. Gilbert.

One Monday afternoon Mr. Gilbert said, “Luther, I don’t know how long I can survive.”

“What’s wrong, Mr. G?” Luther asked.

“It’s those big-box competitors,” Mr. Gilbert said. “I’ve looked under every rock for ways to lower our prices and increase advertising, but I just can’t compete with those guys.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” Luther offered.

“What do you mean?” Mr. Gilbert asked.

“Those big competitors will always be with us,” Luther reminded him. “Why don’t you emphasize the value of the human connection and customized service that only a small business like yours can deliver? Those two things alone are worth more than anything the Big Boxes offer.”

On Wednesdays, when Luther cleans the offices at Central Data Corp., he often visits with the owner, Sarah.

“Luther, I always assumed my kids would take over my business, but now it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen,” Sarah lamented one day.

“Why aren’t they interested in the business?” Luther asked.

“I’m stumped, she said. “I’ve shown them the opportunity and how profitable the business can be. What else can I do?”

“Maybe you’re asking them to look in the wrong place,” Luther suggested.

“What do you mean?” Sarah asked.

“Sarah, I’ve noticed how much you love what you do,” said Luther, “even when times were tougher and things weren’t so rosy. From what I’ve seen, being an entrepreneur is as much about nourishing the spirit as growing the bank account. Help them think about that.”

On Fridays, Luther cleans the offices at Westco Dynamics, Inc. Mr. West usually talks with Luther for a few minutes, but he seemed pensive today.

“Luther, my family was so poor that we struggled just to survive,” Mr. West said. “When I left home, I vowed to never be that unhappy again.”

“Mr. West, it sounds like you’ve got something stuck in your craw,” Luther observed.

“Aw, it’s nothing,” Mr. West fibbed. “It’s just that, with all my money and stuff, I still can’t stop looking for ways to make sure I’ll never be poor again.”

“Maybe you’re looking in the wrong place,” said Luther.

“What do you mean?” Mr. West asked.

Then Luther said, “You’ve been motivated by the fear of being poor instead of the joy of creating something from nothing. Try finding happiness in knowing that you provide valuable products and services for your customers, and jobs and income for your employees and their families. Remember, money and stuff only give you options, not happiness.”

Write this on a rock … When you’re looking for answers, make sure you look in the right places.

Four things salespeople can learn from Sir Laurence Olivier

The great English actor, Sir Laurence Olivier, once admitted after a lifetime on stage and screen that he had always suffered from stage fright.

Think about that. One of the 20th century’s most revered actors, who appeared in over 120 stage roles, 60 movies, more than 15 television productions and countless performances, actually battled the fear of rejection and failure. But when you look at his numbers, it’s obvious that Sir Laurence’s “condition” didn’t cost him success.

So, what about you? What do your “numbers” look like? Your sales numbers, I mean.

Sadly, too often, well-trained and motivated people allow something to prevent them from achieving their numbers. That “something” is to the marketplace what stage fright is to acting: call reluctance, brought on by the fear of rejection and fear of failure.

The good news about call reluctance is that you can overcome it the way Sir Laurence overcame stage fright. Indeed, his success, and the fact that he was willing to talk about his condition, provides us with at least four clues about his professional courage and spirit.

1. He recognized a personal performance challenge.
2. He accepted it as something that must be dealt with.
3. He took steps to minimize negative effects.
4. He refused to let it get in the way of his goals and success.

How can you tell if you or someone in your organization has debilitating call reluctance? You’ll find it in the numbers: insufficient call reports; a missed selling step such as proposal delivery; a poor close ratio; and of course, failure to meet sales budgets.

Those afflicted with call reluctance will often:

  • Call on customers they like instead of new prospects.
  • Spend time on safe activities, like paperwork, instead of face-to-face prospecting.
  • Make excuses when asked about why they aren’t getting in front of customers.
  • If you aren’t making your sales numbers, the problem might be call reluctance. See if you recognize any of the behavior in the list above. If so, consider Sir Laurence’s list again. There’s a good chance that you’ll need help with the first point, recognition, because most of us aren’t good at seeing our own shortcomings. And the third one, taking steps to minimize the challenge, will likely require help from a professional trainer.

    But dealing with two and four, acceptance and refusing to give in, will require calling on inner strengths. You’ll have to ask yourself if you’re allowing fear to control and direct your life. Or are you more like Sir Laurence Olivier – prepared to recognize, deal with and minimize the effects of your challenges? And in the face of these challenges, can you draw on your spirit to accomplish your goals.

    Write this on a rock … Don’t let call reluctance prevent you from having the maximum opportunity to be successful.

    What politicians, small business and mice have in common

    Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Spencer Johnson wrote a legendary book titled, Who Moved My Cheese? It tells a story about four characters who ate only cheese.

    Early in the story all four characters went to the same place in their world – a maze – to get cheese. The first two were not picky about their cheese or where they found it – it was just food. In fact, the current place in the maze where they found and ate cheese was literally just that. So when someone moved their cheese, they immediately started looking for the new place where cheese was being put.
    For the second two characters in Johnson’s story, cheese represented more than food; they had allowed themselves to become defined by the specific cheese found in that specific place in the maze. To them, this cheese was more than nourishment, it also represented their esteem, success and happiness. You’ve heard of being hidebound. Well you might say these two were cheesebound (my term, not Johnson’s), which really wasn’t a problem until someone moved their cheese.

    Twenty-five years ago, in his book (and film), Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future, futurist Joel Barker defined a paradigm as a set of rules that: 1) establishes/defines boundaries; and 2) tells you how to be successful within those boundaries. Barker says paradigms, both written and unwritten, can be useful until there’s a shift, which is what happened to the cheesebound characters in Johnson’s story. When someone moved their cheese, instead of looking for new cheese like their maze-mates, they whined and dithered so long in the old place – now devoid of cheese – that they put their survival in jeopardy.

    Johnson’s cautionary tale – and the two sides of Barker’s paradigm coin – apply to all parts of life, especially politics and business.

    For generations, the Democrat and Republican Parties each showed up at the same corner of their own political maze where they had always found the same cheese. Like the second characters in Johnson’s story, both parties had been nourished and defined by the cheese they found in that specific spot. But when someone moved their cheese, as the electorate is doing now, the cheesebound members whine and struggle to maintain their identity instead of taking action to find new cheese. In his book Johnson says, “Old beliefs do not lead you to new cheese.”

    Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are like the first two characters in Johnson’s story. Neither define themselves by the old cheese in the old location. They went looking for and, to the surprise of their party leadership, found new cheese. Johnson says, “Movement in a new direction helps you find the new cheese.”

    Small business owners should watch the clinic that the Democrats and Republicans are putting on this year on the wages of being cheesebound. Like the electorate, customers are moving cheese and shifting paradigms all over the marketplace. You cannot afford to become cheesebound.

    Write this on a rock … Blasingame’s Law of Business Love: It’s okay to fall in love with what you do, but it’s not okay to fall in love with how you do it.

    4 Power Questions That Will Cultivate Your Leadership Tree

    Most agree that there are many traits of a true leader, including: highly competent, professional, visionary, trustworthy, instill confidence, good communicator and, of course, courageous.

    But great leaders have three other qualities that further set them apart.

    1. In the 21st century marketplace, the prime devotion of leaders is to their people because they know it’s through engaged, high-functioning teams that their “bottom line” goals are achieved. If you can deliver on this trait, you’ll be more likely to accomplish your professional and personal goals.
    2. The most successful and beloved leaders I’ve known had another trait that’s sometimes overlooked: They mentored their people to become leaders. Great NFL coaches like Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Tom Landry and Bill Parcels became legendary through the subsequent performance of the coaches they mentored. It’s called the Coaching Tree. Whose names will be on your Leadership Tree.
    3. This quality has two parts that are as inextricable as the sides of a coin: 1) They’re devoted to asking questions; and 2) they listen.

    Number 3 is so important that I want to offer four cardinal questions that will help you become a legendary leader and build your own Leadership Tree. The first two are from my friend and Brain Trust member, Chester Elton, co-author of “What Motivates Me.” The last two are mine.

    How’re you doing?
    Chester says this isn’t a drive-by question. It’s a look ’em in the eye, “I’ve got time to listen” question. The setting has to be where the leader can be “in the moment” with the other person. And answers are not pre-supposed – might be about their job, their aspirations, or their personal life. Great leaders care about all of that.

    How can I help?

    Chester says this question creates a safe environment. A mentor once told me, “If you’re in trouble in your job, don’t go down by yourself. Get me involved early and let me help you get out of trouble.”

    What do you think?
    I call this the Leader’s Power Question and it produces two kinds of fruit: 1) few things cultivate the illusive engagement factor more than when the boss asks the opinion of an employee; 2) valuable information almost always spouts.

    What did we learn?
    I call this the Leader’s Magic Question, and it may be the four most important words in management. Surely redemption is the most human behavior a leader can demonstrate. And the most powerful mentoring moment happens after a team member makes a mistake taking initiative and the leader says, “Okay, now we know what happened,” then redeems him with: “What did we learn?” Powerful!

    Write this on a rock … Become a legendary leader with your own Leadership Tree.




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