Thoughts on Leadership

“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.

Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.

People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.

Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.

Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

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Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker

What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?

In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?

There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.

Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.

Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?

Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.

To Merge, or Not to Merge

Recent mergers within the payments industry have many wondering what’s next. In reading several blog posts, news publications, and LinkedIn articles, I see industry professionals scratching their heads and asking “what’s to gain from these mergers?”

Companies acquire or merge for 3 primary reasons – to gain market share, acquire talent, or round out a product gap – this includes technology. I suspect that the recent mergers have been driven by pressure from within the industry to achieve size and greater scale – hence share. The market share play becomes the focus of mergers when the other two reasons are lacking from the equation.

Imagine if two Pharma companies that both produced ibuprofen merged, what would they gain other than greater share? However, if one of those companies produced a ground breaking Alzheimer’s medication you now have a new entity that is potentially more valuable given its broader reach and product offering. So the question to be answered is what specific gaps and gains will be addressed by these recent combinations. And here’s a hint….the answer can’t be “operational efficiencies” which is simply code for saying the plan is based upon squeezing cost out of the business to drive short-term financial results.

Let’s also not forget the #1 reason for combo failures – cultural misalignment. Synergies that look great on paper still must be executed by human beings…those same human beings that have been living with, and in, specific cultural norms for a period of time. People often underestimate what’s required to combine companies – to combine cultures. What if the U.S. and Mexico were suddenly merged together into one country?  Just because it works on paper doesn’t mean it will actually take hold…heck we struggled to figure out NAFTA let alone something grander. Cultural differences are too significant to underestimate.

This will not be the last combination. Corporate decisions tend to revert back to our childhood days of playing musical chairs…no one wants to be left standing without a seat. Unfortunately these mergers are not addressing the key problems the payments industry is facing – a dynamic buyer, global sellers, legacy technology, and infrastructure dilemmas. How these four things can be best brought together is the idea, or solution, the market requires. These transactions clear the path for smaller, more nimble players to answer this question and disrupt what has been an industry slow to change and innovate. In the end, the buyer holds the most powerful vote to determine what is most valued.  My belief is they will continue to vote for more choices for easier and secure ways to make their purchases.  This vote will be given to those agile enough to listen to the need and place the creation of a new customer experience as the #1 priority, versus clinging to the belief that bigger is better.

A Thought on Empathy

Life is about perspective. It’s how we experience situations and the lens through which we view things…good, bad, or indifferent. Empathy is a powerful attribute for us all. Being able to relate to each other is what makes human beings…human.

I just watched the movie The Forgiven starring Forest Whitaker and Eric Bana. This movie is based on real events that took place in S. Africa. It is incredibly moving and serves as proof that it is possible – even under the worst circumstances – that we can all find common ground, forgive when needed, and find a positive path forward. Rarely have I seen something so powerful in a film.

#Empathy

#Coaching

#Selfimprovement

#SelfAwareness

Is different enough?

Without a doubt there is a conversation happening with marketing teams around the globe as I write this post trying to nail down differentiators. The more aggressive marketers might even be searching for “core differentiators” as if being different isn’t enough. Now we have to be different right down to our core.

Different is not good or bad. It’s not valuable or invaluable. Different is just, well, different. Who places a value on whether different is worth something extra, or worth something less?

Identifying your differences – or core differentiators – is a complete waste of time, money, and effort without first truly understanding your potential buyer. After all, who are you trying to appeal to with your differences?

Instead companies tend to begin on the inside rather than outside. Meaning, we tend to take the path of least resistance. Sitting in a conference room pontificating on why we’re different, and how much better we are than others does not get the job done. No. In fact, putting yourself in the market to truly listen to your buyers, and becoming vulnerable is what leads to innovation and disruption. Companies that do this well have no interest in being right….just in getting it right.

Does your buyer want different? What if all they want is better? Perhaps no one wants to relearn something entirely new. Perhaps all the buyer wants is for the “thing” they are currently using, to work better, or perform better. How do you know? Have you asked them? Have you asked enough of them to have a dependable sample size? Have you truly listened or did you embark on that research with a predisposition or set of biases? Were you tempted to skew the results to fit what you have in place?

In my book The Customer Mindset; Thinking Like Your Customer to Create Remarkable Results, I share an easy to implement process to map your buyers journey, starting with engaging your buyers and ultimately solving for the “so what?”. Yes, different can be better. The question is how much better, and does your prospective buyer care enough to pay for it?

When you look at your core differentiators, don’t forget to ask yourself (and your team), “so what?”

Business – it’s all personal

Business exists to serve peoples needs. It doesn’t matter if you work for a B2B, or B2C company. Somewhere downstream in the process, is a consumer who is making a decision to buy a product or service you make, or contribute to making.

Business is very personal. Only people can care, a business cannot. A business may be a culmination of caring people but by itself, a business is nothing more than an idea. People bring ideas to life. People bring passion to their work and workplace. People bring thoughtfulness and caring for one another and a community. That all happens with people. A business can only serve as a conduit to deliver what the collection of these people express.

When I hear “it’s not personal, it’s just business”, I would say, it’s all personal. People give their most valuable asset they have to a business…their time. With that time they could invest it elsewhere to generate different returns. With their families, with other businesses, other ideas, other objectives. It is a trade-off. Yet once that trade-off is made, an individual is committing themselves – their person – to the business. This is how business gets done, and it becomes very personal.

Empathy is a key emotion to bridge the gap between business and personal. Why? Because time is the only thing that binds us all together. We all have a set amount of sand in our hourglass. When it’s gone it’s gone. Take some of your sand, and use it with others at work to demonstrate that you hear them, you understand their challenges, and you have ideas to share that can help them. By doing this you add value. And while no one can put more sand into anyone’s hourglass, we can all put a little value into each other’s lives…in, and outside, of business.

Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.