Friday, 25 June 2010 20:00

Taken by fierce

The world of business books sees a good deal of churn. A title that tops the best-seller lists one month may be outdated less than six months later. To endure, a book requires a timeless subject that is explored with solid insight and evergreen wisdom. Author and leadership development expert Susan Scott accomplished this daunting task with “Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life, One Conversation at a Time.” The 2002 release, revised and updated in 2004, edges closer to the pantheon of business classics with each year. In this interview, Scott speaks candidly about the book’s core principles and how the project became part of a healing journey for her.

One of the tenets of your book comes from a speech by author David Whyte who said, ‘The conversation is the relationship.’ What are executives missing when it comes to understanding this idea?

Whyte’s idea is the core of everything we teach executives. An executive’s most valuable currency is not IQ. It’s not the ability to build a really cool PowerPoint, analyze a case study or read a spreadsheet. An executive’s most valuable currency is each relationship, the emotional capital. If an executive fails to win people’s hearts, he or she will lose their hands and their heads, as well.

You focus at one point on messages that are loaded with destructive responses, such as sarcasm, exaggeration or bringing up old baggage. How hard is it to combat these habits?

It was [a battle] I had to fight within myself. One of the principles of ‘Fierce Conversations’ is to take responsibility for your emotional wake. I used to be told in my early days as a manager that, ‘Your message is right on, but your delivery leaves a lot to be desired.’ I used to think, in my hubris at that time, ‘Well, if I’m too strong for some people, then that’s their problem.’

Finally, I realized that the constant in the difficulties was me. I was forced to ask myself, ‘What is it about the tone of my voice and the passion with which I speak that communicates something to someone that is painful for them?’ I realized I had to get clear with my intent. I had to ask myself, ‘What was my intent in these conversations?’

How often do you refer back to your earlier experiences when discussing the book?

All the time. I was giving a talk at the ASTD (American Society for Training and Development) conference in Chicago and someone asked during Q&A, ‘What were the things that caused “Fierce Conversations” to come into being?’ There were two things: One was the end of a long-term marriage where I had to walk away. I realized years later that I walked away simply because we were unable to have the conversations that desperately needed to take place.

It wasn’t just [my husband]; it was me, too. The other experience was a number of breakthroughs with the CEOs during my time with The Executive Committee. At the end of all of our meetings, part of the solutions that we devised for that day’s set of problems always involved future conversations with others.

It was a very passionate experience for me to write the book because I was writing out of my own pain but also out of my excitement because I felt I was writing my way toward something that felt far more meaningful to me than anything I had experienced before. People who’ve read the book feel like they know me, and they do. Most people who write a book or speak with passion chose that topic because it’s a topic that they themselves wanted to get better at or learn more about.

Published in National
Monday, 26 October 2009 20:00

Losing to win

Author Ralph Heath is one person who couldn’t be happier that corporate life is still filled with difficulty. His new release, “Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big,” is a compact study of why human beings need the experiences that are often their most distressing moments.

Disappointment, rejection and defeat are obviously never easy to accept. It is in the refusal to accept these setbacks that the seed of success is watered and germinates. Success, for all of its shining glory, contains little from which anyone can learn. This lesson is one that the media continually speculates is lost on each new generation of workers who enter the workplace.

As the founder of Ovation Marketing, Heath’s personal experiences with failure provide some of the most important content in the book. It is always comforting when reading a particular business title to know that the author is willing to divulge personal stories to support his or her point. This act humanizes the author and prevents his or her words from reeking of arrogance.

Heath’s ups and downs during his time as head of Ovation are the key to his credibility. Executives will quickly come to trust his advice because they will see the mistakes from which his lessons were learned.

Heath’s tenure with Ovation provided another hidden benefit: It made him an excellent writer. While the less discerning eye may gloss over from one business book to the next, executives who appreciate sound advice delivered in memorable words will greatly enjoy “Celebrating Failure.” It’s obvious that the hours Heath spent constructing the perfect piece of copy to fit a particular product gave him a keen sense of how to convey a message. Each chapter of the book unfolds in a short narrative, with Heath often using moments from the expanse of his life as the vehicle to illustrate an important bit of wisdom. In one instance, he tells readers about the decision-making process used by a group of his cycling friends before they select the route for a Sunday bike ride.

While this may seem trite fodder for a business book, the tale opens the portal to an enlightening discussion of control and how executives wield it. One of the main complaints executives have when reading a business book is that the author was unable to hold their attention. Heath deserves praise for understanding the power of story as a means to capture attention and the necessity of brevity in maintaining attention. “Celebrating Failure” features short tales that readers can quickly read and ponder over for hours afterward.

Failure comes in many shades and Heath’s book does its best to touch on a veritable rainbow of examples. He takes readers through the finer points of management, communication, leadership and innovation. The chapters on communication are particularly relevant to business leaders, particularly those whose employees frequently deal with the public.

Some of the best stories are the ones in which Heath describes an experience he had as a customer, and then rewrites the script to demonstrate how the interaction should have occurred.

For anyone who has ever spent the moments after a meeting thinking, “What I should have said was …” — “Celebrating Failure” may contain a few examples that will help inspire improved forethought.

Failure is not an easy subject to broach with business leaders. Heath is taking a bit of a risk in tackling the subject because it implies that those who read his book are willing to admit that they, in fact, fail from time to time. For those executives who may be somewhat skittish about allowing the cracks in their armor to appear, “Celebrating Failure” is a great tutor. It provides the much-needed reminder that achievement is forged in the fires of failure. If one can stand the heat, the result, like “Celebrating Failure” itself, is pretty impressive.

Celebrating Failure: The Power of Taking Risks, Making Mistakes and Thinking Big By Ralph Heath

Career Press ©2009, 191 pages, $14.99

(ISBN 978-1-601-63064-3)

Published in National
Wednesday, 26 August 2009 20:00

A history lesson for leaders

Steve Forbes never intended to write one of the more intriguing business books of 2009. In fact, he was more interested in something to read. While browsing in a Naples, Fla., bookstore, he came across a tome on Carthaginian general Hannibal, famous for crossing the Alps to invade the Roman Empire, written by John Prevas. Forbes’ favorable review of the book in his magazine led Prevas to ask for the publishing magnate’s contribution to an upcoming book on historical figures and leadership. The resulting contribution turned into an outright collaboration in the form of “Power, Ambition, Glory: The Stunning Parallels Between Great Leaders of the Ancient World and Today … and the Lessons You Can Learn.” Smart Business interviewed Forbes to get his perspective on the lessons history can provide to today’s leaders.

What parallels do you see between the destructive power of the ego of Alexander the Great and the financial crisis of 2008?

It’s human nature. You become a successful leader and you begin to think you know what you’re doing. You think you’ve got it and clearly others don’t. My father (late publisher Malcolm Forbes Sr.) liked to say that if you think you’ve arrived, you’re ready to be shown the door. What happens with these leaders is that they lose the sense of proportion. Their radar goes rusty, and they begin to think they can do whatever they want to do. They don’t think of themselves as living gods, as Alexander or Caesar did, but they certainly come close to it in ambition.

Is there a way that today’s leaders can discover their own blind spots before something hits them?

Recognize that one person can’t do it all. You have to have a team. You have to be willing, painful though it may be, to get feedback. One of the things Augustus Caesar did, after seeing what happened to his uncle, Julius Caesar, was to make it a point to consult people. He knew, human nature being what it is, he could go down that power path. It’s like an addiction, a drug addiction, the intoxication of having supreme power. With leaders, recognize what your shortcomings are and put together a team where you can get feedback. The nice thing about business is if you’re not doing something right in the marketplace, it will let you know pretty quickly.

It appears the book’s underlying theme is the ultimate importance of character. How does it play such an important role in history and leadership?

Character is that seemingly intangible quality that enables people to trust you. A good example of it was Xenophon (a Greek aristocrat turned warrior). He was a young guy going along for adventure during one of these secession wars in Persia. These (Greek) mercenaries had backed the wrong horse and suddenly found themselves surrounded. There were 10,000 of them cut off from the world right inside Persia, ready to be annihilated.

Xenophon rose up and said that they didn’t have to accept a passive fate of death. He knew they could get themselves out of the situation. Subsequently, he also knew when to be out in front in terms of leadership and when to pull back. He earned their trust by how he comported himself and how he made decisions. … So, when crises rose up that could have cost him his life, he avoided the death penalty more than once because he had earned their trust.

We see it in modern times with A.P. Giannini who created a great company like Bank of America. He was a man of character. He never took more than $50,000 per year in pay. Even adjusted for inflation, it’s small potatoes compared to [the salaries] you saw on Wall Street during the lead up to the financial crisis. Character is trust. It’s the hardest thing to win and the easiest thing to lose.

Published in National
Sunday, 26 July 2009 20:00

Rising from the economic ashes

If someone wants to read a book to improve his or her golf game, the person is likely to look up a title from a champion golf pro. When it comes to overcoming adversity, authors J. Barry Griswell and Bob Jennings are the voices of authority. Griswell, in particular, forged ahead despite numerous personal and professional setbacks. His years of tireless effort earned him the Horatio Alger Award, which is given to individuals who attain success despite a difficult background. Griswell teamed up with friend and co-author Bob Jennings to pen “The Adversity Paradox: An Unconventional Guide to Achieving Uncommon Business Success.” The pair offered insights to Smart Business on how to turn rough seas into smooth sailing.

You discuss components of human capital in the book; can you explain the importance of introspection?

J. Barry Griswell: In the book, we talk about five human capital components, and without question, the most important and the one that contributes to the others most is introspection. It’s that ability to look deep inside yourself and to look at the situation and make something out of it and to find out why things have happened and what you can do to move forward. Introspection is really the alchemy that helps you make a bad situation into something good, and it’s really a key to befriending adversity.

Bob Jennings: Certainly, in the business world, companies have evaluation processes, but they are, at best, one mirror. The mirror is your most important tool for doing introspection. You really need to have a lot of those so you can triangulate where you are, where you’re going and how fast you’re getting there.

This book references dealing with adversity through the concept of ‘And then some.’ How will that help in a difficult environment?

BG: I think it’s incumbent on all of us to take a positive view. When you have adversity come at you, you have two choices: You can wallow in it (and) be a pessimist. You can go off and hide for months, not accepting the reality of it. Quite frankly, some people do that. However, the real way to handle adversity is to do it with a positive attitude, accept responsibility for what component you might have had in the problem, (and) then move on and take action. Do that action with ‘And then some.’ I think we’re coming to grips as a country with the adversity that we face right now.

What about those individuals who can’t stop looking in the rearview mirror at past difficulties?

BG: One reality we have to keep in mind: Out of every adversity comes opportunity. In many ways, these opportunities will not present themselves unless there is adversity first. People need to get used to [examining] adversity when it comes. What are the opportunities? What are the positives? Stop looking back. Looking back at the way things used to be will actually inhibit you from finding those opportunities.

Why is now the perfect time to embrace adversity and grab opportunity by the throat?

BG: Humankind, business and individuals cannot reach their potential without going through difficult times. I think what we’re faced with right now is a godsend. We had excesses in the system. We were consuming too much. We weren’t saving enough. We were taking too much risk. We didn’t have the right regulations. People were operating under greed. All of those things had to come under control, and I don’t think they would have come under control incrementally. I think a big bang needed to happen to get people’s attention. We’re going to be better off as a result of going through this. A lot of opportunities are going to be found.

Published in National

Philip Kotler and John A. Caslione have seen it all in the worlds of strategic marketing and management. Through booms, busts, inflation and recession, the pair have separately observed and guided businesses during good times and bad. So they decided to join forces and create a book to help leaders guide an organization through any situation, catastrophic or otherwise. What’s interesting is that they began writing
Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence” shortly before the global financial crisis got underway.

Caslione answered some questions for Smart Business about the “Chaotics” management method.

‘Chaotics’ mentions 10 common innovation mistakes. Why are businesses prone to making these mistakes over and over?

A lot of [bad behavior] comes from a point of trying to dramatically reduce costs. [Businesses] do it in not a surgical or thoughtful way and not looking at it in respect to the current business model and how the business model is evolving. One of the biggest victims of cost-cutting mistakes is innovation. ... The companies that have historically done the best are the ones that (continue) to innovate. They’re not missing a beat. They are subscribing to the philosophy of ‘save the strong, lose the weak,’ by losing fringe programs. They cut those out immediately. But when it comes to their core programs, innovations that have been planned for quite awhile, they continue on with those.

Another mistake that frequently gets made during tough times is to discount prices. Explain why adding value is the best alternative to cutting price.

As soon as you start to cut prices, you’re training the marketplace to negotiate first on price and not on value. Underlying this, there’s an even more dangerous message. During difficult times, when we start to discount the prices of our core products and services, we’re basically implying two things to a customer: No. 1, when he or she paid the full price, he or she was being a bit foolish. We’re saying, ‘You didn’t have to do that, we just made a profit.’ No. 2, once the recession is over, we’re going to jack prices back up to higher levels and the presumption is that the customer will pay it again. That doesn’t sit well with any customer.

Your core products, you don’t discount. You can bundle, (and) you can add additional value around that to keep the price the same. What the smart companies are doing is they’re having separate offerings. They’re saying that this is a value offering that will sit side-by-side with our primary offering. There will be certain savings aspects that will be implicit in the value offering, and it will be at a lower price. The customers and the consumers that want to look for a lower price and still have reasonably good quality will opt for the value-offering portfolio. Then, when they feel comfortable financially, they can migrate to the higher-priced standard offering.

‘Chaotics’ instructs executives to see change firsthand. How should they approach this direction?

There are eight components to the ‘Chaotics’ management system, and the first one is to have an Early Warning System (EWS). EWS has been around for years. We have them in meteorology, in business, in many fields. Where we’ve gone with the Internet and real-time communications means that we’ve got to have our feelers out there. We’ve got to increase the number of early-warning touch points. We have to enhance the number of stakeholders as part of our sphere of influence beyond the traditional foursome of customers, employees, management and shareholders. We have to include some of the soft cues and start to see trends before they even become trends, when they just start to emerge. From this, we can create scenario planning.

How to reach: www.chaoticsstrategies.com

Published in National
Tuesday, 26 May 2009 20:00

See through the storm

Author Ram Charan is not much for idle chit-chat, and he doesn’t mince his words. His books, such as “Know-How,” “What the Customer Wants You to Know,” and his latest, “Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty,” are direct, to-the-point action plans for companies that need change and need it fast. The world’s current financial situation provides an ideal opportunity for Charan to do what he does best: shake things up. He answered questions about the need for C-level executives to be visible as well as why businesses should look past the recession and think about future success.

You talk about a leader’s need to increase his or her frequency of control during a crisis period.

Why is this important?

The most important part for leaders in the era of uncertainty is to have information. Information needs to come where the action is. It needs to come unfiltered to the person so that the person can understand what’s happening. The control here does not mean micromanaging. Control means to be able to know what is happening in the ‘battle theater’ without the [organizational] layers interfering. That information is supplied by feedback. What is working? What’s not working? The difference in a recession is that if you miss the beat, the penalty can be very high.

Transparency is an issue that frequently comes up. How does it relate to both a leader’s internal and external audiences?

Transparency is a disinfectant. It simply means getting your facts together and making them known to the right people. From here, their ideas will grow and transparency will help reduce uncertainty. If people don’t have information, they often engage in commiseration.

You mention the need to understand the cost of one’s customers. Are there still companies that assume that every customer is a good customer?

Intellectually, most people understand that not every customer is a good customer. It’s what’s happening in the company’s actions that’s the problem. There are different silos within different departments, and as the actual customer final price comes to the fore, you’ll see discounts here and there. Create internal mechanisms and internal networks to see for each customer what is the net price and what is the operating margin.

Explain the meaning behind ‘hands on, head in’ and why leaders need to make this their personal mission during this crisis.

The first part, ‘hands on,’ means leaders really ought to be where the action is in their companies. Be visible and communicate. Get out of your office! Make some decisions. Don’t take too many coffee breaks and go off to off-site meetings. The ‘head in’ part refers to thinking about the future. Think clearly. ... Think beyond it.

Some leaders think it is necessary to virtually cut out R&D during a time of economic uncertainty. How would you answer this tactic?

I think you can look at it this way: Anybody who is hunkering down, looking to save the company money, costwise … and does not build the company for the future is heading toward disaster. CFOs, CEOs, whoever, they need to allocate resources, however small, that continue to build the company for the future. Building for the future lies in innovation. Innovation is a people thing first and a dollar thing second. If you don’t have enough dollars, find partners. For creative ideas to be shared, you must engage people in the idea of building the company for the future.

What is your personal outlook on the financial crisis right now?

I want people to be optimistic. Go through the storm. My view today is that we’ve seen the worst as far as the financial system is concerned and the economy is going to lag behind until it catches up.

Published in National
Saturday, 25 April 2009 20:00

Enough is more than enough

Enough: True Measures of Money,

Business, and Life By John C. Bogle

John Wiley & Sons, ©2009, 276 pages, $24.95 (ISBN 978-0-470-39851-7)

When business troubles are getting out of hand and many of the financial institutions that once supported our economy are crumbling around us, it helps to have a voice of reason among the many wild-eyed speculators and harbingers of doom. Today, one voice that rings loud and true above the tumultuous events that have many people worrying about the future and fretting about the past is that of John C. Bogle.

Many people have recently become aware of Bogle because he was one of the few voices of reason that predicted the dire consequences of rampant irrationality in the financial sector early in the game. Long ago, Bogle was calling for a change in behavior in the financial industry. Now that many banks have failed and the economy is deep in recession, many people realize that Bogle was right. Today, he is more than the founder of the Vanguard Mutual Fund Group, president of its Bogle Financial Markets Research Center and one of Fortune magazine’s top four “Investment Giants” of the 20th century. He is also a strong leader at a time when strong leaders are needed most.

Throughout his latest book, “Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life,” Bogle calls for accountability where very little has recently been found. He also reminds executives to embrace the values of the past that were once the foundation of the United States’ Founding Fathers that helped them build a strong and vibrant country.

A system built on trust

“Enough” does more than simply point out the rampant greed that threatens to destroy the financial system and corporate environment that is vital to the world’s prosperity. It reintroduces the concept of enough to everyone who might have forgotten its importance while struggling for more and more of what they believe will bring them the fleeting success they chase. Bogle explains that a lack of understanding about “what enough is subverts our professional values” and undermines “a system that should be built on trust.”

To find this elusive enough, he explores the concepts of money, business and happiness by focusing his insights through the lens of reason. He also polishes his words and wisdom with thoughts from dozens of other brilliant minds, past and present. From Socrates’ beliefs about the value of virtues, truth and the “improvement of the soul” to the more contemporary concerns of Warren Buffett’s partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger, about the anti-social effects of making money, Bogle captures a broad wealth of adaptable knowledge.

The foundations of happiness

Bogle also explores the foundations of happiness that can help executives reach that balance and truth before they break the bank. He reminds us that happiness stems from autonomy, staying connected to other people and exercising competence with our talents. Along the way, he points out that money is not on this list due to its transitory nature. By describing himself as a successful person who has discovered the secrets of enough by recognizing what is truly important to him, Bogle provides a healthy example.

While “Enough” turns one man’s amazing story of financial and personal success into a guidebook to a more satisfying life, it offers more than a memoir about a life well lived. “Enough” also presents a clear understanding of the fields of finance, money management and leadership that is tempered by wit and wisdom from across the ages that puts it all into perspective while leading the way forward for anyone willing to take Bogle’s enlightened idealism to heart.

Published in National
Friday, 26 December 2008 19:00

Closing the Innovation Gap

The New Age of Innovation by C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan

The Times of London named Prahalad “the world’s most influential management thinker” in 2007, and he applies all of his skills to his collaboration with technology expert Krishnan. The authors guide readers through creating innovative solutions that put the individual customer as the focal point. Process management, supply chain issues and technical systems are all discussed to help companies make a transition to forward-thinking strategies. Prahalad and Krishnan give readers the tools necessary to compete in the flattened global marketplace.

McGraw-Hill, 278 pages.

Outside Innovation by Patricia B. Seybold

In today’s marketplace, a company may dictate a product’s initial use, but customers frequently provide more innovative uses once the product is released. Tapping the enthusiasm of customers is at the heart of Seybold’s work. She helps readers merge their product innovation efforts and tie them directly to the eventual satisfaction of the customer’s needs. Seybold’s decades of experience in customer-focused business strategies are reflected in her precise, results-driven writing.

Collins, 412 pages.

The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman

With stories from some of today’s most innovative companies, Kelley helps readers break away from the nay-saying that kills fresh thinking. New roles such as the anthropologist, the cross-pollinator and the experience architect are defined and combined to defeat the might of the popular devil’s advocate. The book serves as a revelation to leaders who are attempting to pull their teams out of a cycle of stagnation and negativity.

Currency/Doubleday, 273 pages.

Innovation renovation

How the bottom line has knocked profitable innovation from the core of many companies

Where have all the innovators gone? Fortunately, that’s a question that has not yet been raised about the supply of creative entrepreneurs in the United States. The U.S. is well known as a fertile breeding ground for brilliant ideas and masterful execution.

That reputation is now in peril, says Judy Estrin, author of “Closing the Innovation Gap.” The same nation that produced game-changing products and services in virtually every sector of the economy could go the way of the dinosaur if it doesn’t correct the forces that threaten its extinction.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, Estrin explains.

Much like our physical environment, which relies on a complex web of dependent relationships, innovation needs the right proportions of policy, funding, education, leadership and culture in order to sustain itself within what Estrin refers to as the “innovation ecosystem.”

When we were right

Enlightened national leadership made possible the prodigious technological advances of the mid-20th century by nurturing the core values of questioning, risk taking, openness, patience and trust, says Estrin. Positive payback came in the form of such successes as space research and NASA, powerful telephony think tanks like Bell Labs, and that legendary semiconductor incubator, Silicon Valley.

Where we went wrong

By the ’80s, economic pressures took hold, skewing these core values so that companies began to worship a new master, the bottom line. Long-term goals were the norm of research in the ’50s and ’60s, Estrin explains. Now short-term goals are the rule, and companies once run by scientists and technologists who understood their core business are being run by professional managers with little sense or respect for their companies’ products and services.

Today, our national research community is suffering from neglect, she says. Applied research that focuses on practical or useful applications has its place but not to the exclusion of what is known as basic research.

Why it matters to you

Raised by scientists who encouraged her love of science, Estrin has repeatedly made Fortune’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business. Using that background, she talks knowledgeably and intimately about the early days of Silicon Valley, since she lived there as a student at Stanford University, then became a member of the iconic Zilog Corp. and eventually co-founded three technology companies.

While Estrin states that she doesn’t want to be an alarmist, she provides enough evidence that should make even the most casual readers pause. With so much media attention focused on global warming, unstable financial markets and a war happening every day somewhere around the globe, the issues she examines are often relegated to the back pages of newspapers, if they are printed at all. Thanks to her exhaustive research skills, evident in the huge list of interviewees published at the end of her book, readers of “Closing the Innovation Gap” will grasp that Estrin’s observations are not just based on personal musings or scant anecdotal evidence. She has repeatedly gone to the mountain where some of the most brilliant innovators live, returning with a powerful warning that only the tone-deaf could choose to ignore. When the rubber meets the road, Estrin says, it’s all about creating conditions once again for sustainable innovation that we can proudly bequeath to the next generation.

Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy By Judy Estrin

McGraw Hill ©2008, 254 pages, $27.95 (ISBN: 978-0-07-149987-3)

Published in Cincinnati
Saturday, 25 September 2010 20:00

Don’t just communicate, connect

Whether your audience is one or 1,000, there is more to successful communication than checking to see if your audience is listening. Expert communicators find ways to connect with the person or people to whom they are speaking. Connecting with an audience involves finding common ground, building a bridge to understanding and, most of all, putting the focus on everyone but the speaker. Leadership expert and best-selling author John C. Maxwell has spent decades honing the skills needed to connect with an audience. In this interview, he discusses his new book, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently,” and how leaders can make much-needed connections.

The idea that connecting is really all about others sounds simple enough. Why is it such a difficult point for people to understand?

First of all, we’re selfish. I’m selfish! The natural tendency is for all of us to say, ‘What’s in it for me?’ That’s just who we are as people. That’s why I think connecting has to be intentional, because connecting is not about me. It’s about others. As a young communicator in my middle 20s, it dawned on me that, for a period of time as a young leader, I was trying to get people to connect with me and catch my vision.

One day I realized, I’ve got to turn this around. I’ve got to get in their world. I’ve got to think about them and what they’re thinking about and what they need and how to help them. Every morning I ask myself two questions: Who can I add value to today, and how can I do it? And every evening I ask myself: Did I add value to someone today, and how did I do it?

The reason most people do not connect is they do not understand the focus and the intentionality that is required to connect with others. I’ve watched other people that connect well, regardless of profession, and I can tell you that this is 100 percent fact: It’s not a principle that usually works. It does work. Everybody I know that connects with people, they do so because they’re thinking of others first.

You mention that control is a barrier to finding common ground. What advice can you give leaders about relaxing the need for control?

They need to ask themselves a very simple question: Do I want to have my way, or do I want to have the best way? If I want to have my way, I need to power up and use control. What I’ve known about those types of leaders is the fact that the only reason people follow them is because they have no choice. Now, that’s not leadership and that’s not connecting. Compliance is certainly not leadership and it’s certainly not connecting. The best leaders, the best connectors, what they seek immediately is common ground.

If I were sitting down with you today and you and I were wanting to connect, I would find out as much about you as I could. I’d ask questions about you and I’d find out something that you and I have in common. What I teach in the book is very simple: If you want to take people to higher ground, you have to first find common ground with them.

When you and I have something with which we agree or that we both love or that’s important to us, I can build off of that. I can now begin to connect with you. But I’ve got to find common ground first. Many, many people make the mistake of finding their own ground and being comfortable with it. They’re not willing to go beyond their fence and they’re always trying to bring people into their yard and go find a yard in between the two of them.

Everyone Communicates, Few Connect: What the Most Effective People Do Differently

By John C. Maxwell

Thomas Nelson ©2010, 288 pages, $25.99

Published in National
Friday, 25 September 2009 20:00

Learning to keep it real

It’s been proven repeatedly throughout the last 50 years that times of economic hardship are often when the next great company is born. This is a principle that author Jim Champy attributes to the disruptive nature of new business models. While the old guard struggles to maintain its position, a new business with fresh ideas and a unique presentation can break through and rise to the top. What goes unseen, however, is the drive and determination to make the climb.

Smart Business recently got some thoughts from Champy on his latest book, “Inspire,” and what the best firms do to keep customers coming back.

Can you talk about the deeper connection between a business and its customers that has developed over the past several years?

Customers today are looking for value in a different form. They want to buy products and services from companies that are consistent with the customer’s own values. I was struck while doing the research for ‘Inspire’ with how companies are really engaging customers at a value level. I write in the book about a company called Honest Tea, a company whose name represents the kind of honesty and authenticity that it attempts to represent. It connects with its customers at a values level. There are many customers today that want more than just a superficial relationship with the companies with which they’re doing business.

In ‘Inspire,’ you state: ‘Make sure your message is authentic and represents who you really are.’ What is it that causes businesses to fall short on this promise?

There are several principles of authenticity that you have to practice to avoid this trap. The first is that authenticity must pervade everything you do, from formulating the product to your relationships with your own people to your relationships with customers and suppliers and, more broadly, how your company operates.

Second, being authentic requires having a set of principles about transparency. You need a willingness to be transparent. In some sense, you have to be so pure that you’ve got to be willing to put everything you do out there so customers and the public can see what you do. If you want to be committed to a higher sense of purpose, you also have to be committed to being very transparent. I also believe that companies really have no choice today other than to increase their degree of transparency.

Finally, from a marketing perspective, whether you have a higher purpose or not, customers define in their minds who you are and what your company stands for. You can put advertising out there to capture the interest and attention of your customers, but they decide for themselves and they broadcast it on the Internet.

You note that it is possible to commercialize an idea that comes from a higher sense of purpose. How do you reconcile that to people who feel companies are either for-profit and bad or not-for-profit and noble?

Let’s not forget that there are also companies that sit right in between; they’re for-profit, but they are also very noble. I think there are multiple private-sector companies that have this high sense of purpose. The Honest Tea example is one where the company is profitable and it makes decisions based on profitability but still is highly respectful of its suppliers. They are highly respectful of the people in India and the Asian subcontinent that grow these teas. Honest Tea is highly respectful of everything that it puts on its label in terms of content. You can attach a very high sense of purpose to what is a very simple product or service, but you better be true to that sense of purpose.

Published in National
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