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Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

 

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If you aren’t familiar with Edelman’s Trust Barometer project, you should be. I can’t think of any other organization out there that has been able to peel back the layers of trust in the business world as effectively.  (If you know of other work I should be looking at, please leave a link in the comments.) Anyway, I want to share some of their findings here because understanding them will help everyone build and grow better companies. This isn’t just a PR topic. It affects everything: Brand management, communications, operations, retail, customer service… everything.

First, the checklist. Below is a graphic that shows 16-trust building attributes every organization needs to be aware of (and gauge). It looks like this year, Edelman added categories (what they call trust performance clusters): Engagement, Integrity, Products & Services, Purpose, and Operations. I can’t poke a hole into this. It’s solid.

Edelman Performance-Clusters

Since I am as much a fan of best practices, brand strategy and change management as I am a fan of data, insights and infographics, you can imagine how stuff like this makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.

Here’s another piece of the Trust Barometer project: shifts in trust around the world year over year (YoY). To be clear, the graph does not illustrate consumer trust in the countries listed, but rather how consumers in each of these countries tend to trust companies, media, government institutions and NGOs. (If you think of it as a sort of cynicism graph, the US, the UK, Germany and France are a lot less cynical about all four sectors today than they were a year ago. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s a good sign.)

Edelman Slide6

Edelman’s Trust Barometer report for 2013 is summarized really well in this video. (If the link below doesn’t play, click here.) It’s less than 3 minutes long and packed with a ton of really fascinating info, so keep your finger near the pause button. And no, I wasn’t paid by Edelman to push their report or say nice things about them. I ran into this yesterday on the Facebook. I was impressed by it and thought it was well worth sharing with you guys.

What’s particularly fascinating to me:

1) Tech companies seem to inspire the most trust and banking/financial institutions the least amount of trust.

2) Leadership and corporate culture are cited as the primary causes of corporate wrongdoing. (And rightly so.)

3) Globally, CEOs have less than a 50% approval rating. Only 18% of people expect business leaders to tell the truth, and 13% of political leaders to tell the truth. That is execrable.

What it means: a) we have a global leadership problem, and b) people are no longer blind to it. If that shouldn’t trigger a wake-up call, I don’t know what will.

Interestingly, people tend to still trust institutions far more than the leadership of said institutions. In the US, for instance, 50% of people trust business institutions, but only 15% trust their leadership. That’s a  35 point gap. When it comes to government, those numbers fall to 38% and 10% respectively, for a gap of 28 points.

Our trust in people – particularly in those who should be our leaders – is eroding. Fast. This is a major problem and it needs to be addressed. And no, cool Superbowl ads and cosmetic rebrandings won’t fix this. It’s a deeper problem and it is going to take serious, grown-up, deliberate work to fix it.

The only thing I wasn’t super impressed with was the “diamond of influence” and the media clover leaf thingamajigs at the end of the video. It isn’t that they are wrong (they aren’t) as much as they attempt to fix a leadership problem by addressing an operational problem. To use a medical analogy, it’s a little like trying to cure someone’s brain tumor by enrolling them in a social graces class. The solution just doesn’t match the problem.

Here’s a thought: Before you can address changes in operational models, you have to address the gaps in leadership that are the root causes of said operational problems. For instance, if you focus first on working with the organization’s leadership on baking the 16 attributes of trust into their vision for the company and then operationalizing them, maybe you have something that might work. Then and only then do you bring in the diamond and the clover leaf – to address the how of your why and what.

Always match the right solutions to the right problem. Otherwise, your business solution runs the risk of being little more than the corporate version of a cargo cult: a lot of mimicking and parroting, but absolutely no hope of generating real results. If you have a leadership problem, address that. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t skirt the issue. Address it and fix it. Start with an audit of your organization, using the 16 trust attributes as potential areas of improvement.

Food for thought. Discuss.

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Looking for straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space? pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. (Go to smroi.net to sample a free chapter first, just to make sure it’s worth the money.)

And if English isn’t your first language, you can even get it in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Martin Luther King - photo by Flip Schulke/Corbis

Today in the US is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Whether you choose to make it a day of reflection, a workday like any other or just a day off, take a few minutes to consider the man, his legacy, his wisdom and his sacrifice. He isn’t just a name and a footnote in history. He was a man with a family and dreams and hopes of his own. And if it hadn’t been for an assassin’s bullet, he might still be alive today. (He would have turned 84 last week.)

It boggles the mind that he was only 39 when he was killed.

Management lessons from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (Jan 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968):

Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and the unborn could do it no better.

Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

The time is always right to do what is right.

All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.

The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody. Not a few men who cherish lofty and noble ideals hide them under a bushel for fear of being called different.

The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We must use time creatively.

A nation or civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.

Courage faces fear and thereby masters it.

MartinLutherKingJr2 b

Happy MLK day, everyone. 🙂 Oh, and this too:

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Testing a dual Inauguration search query in the Tickr Command Center beta here if you want to check it out. (Remember to click the tab at the top of the Tickr screen to access the full 4 screen menu.)

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Looking for straight answers to real questions about value, process, planning, measurement, management and reporting in the social business space? pick up a copy of Social Media R.O.I.: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization. The book is 300 pages of facts and proven best practices. (Go to smroi.net to sample a free chapter first, just to make sure it’s worth the money.)

And if English isn’t your first language, you can even get it in Spanish, Japanese, German, Korean and Italian now, with more international editions on the way.

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Here are a few lessons Gaius Julius Caesar might have taught us were he alive today.  He ultimately met a pretty brutal end, but until that point, the guy was so successful that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the titles “Czar” and “Kaiser” come from the name  “Caesar.”)

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is 100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

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Want to help improve business through your digital programs? Pick up a copy of Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization. It was written to teach managers and executives how to build and manage social media friendly business programs and incorporate social technologies and networks into everyday business operations. The book is divided into four parts: social media program strategy & development, social media program operationalization, social media program management, and best practices in measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, fix that too. No bullshit. Just solid methodology and insights. It makes for a great desk reference.

(Now translated into a bunch of languages including German, Korean, Japanese and Spanish.)

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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Today, instead of talking about social media, brand management, internet bubbles, who does what well and who does what poorly, let’s just talk a little bit about leadership. Corporate leadership, that is. Why? Because every single problem and dysfunction holding back an organization stems from poor leadership. Every. Single. One. Without exception. Hiring executives with obsolete skills to build new business models, not understanding how to properly leverage social media, getting dragged into a botched IPO, promoting risk-averse managers to leadership positions, expecting that the $10M a year you dropped on Facebook advertising will sell $100M worth of cars… That sort of thing.

Instead of doing all the talking, I will let people with a whole lot more experience than me give you some tips about how to become a better leader. Great stuff that transcends the typical leadership quotation mill.

Anne Mulcahy – Former CEO of Xerox

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot – and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn’t happen if you don’t work at it. You’ve got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It’s not just good-looking presentations; it’s letting people ask the tough questions. It’s almost got to be done one person at a time.

There’s not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people to create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

Stories exist at every level of the company. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum – people sense that they’re able to do good things. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

I communicate good news the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is always to to use the opportunity to talk about what’s next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

Margaret Heffernan – Author, The Naked Truth

Nothing kills morale like a staff’s feeling helpless. This often plays itself out when there are rumors of a new strategic shift or a major personnel move, or worse, when the papers are littered with bad news about your company. A big part of boosting morale is about constructing a haven of logic that offers individuals shelter from any storm. At its most basic, leaders have to communicate their awareness of business conditions and place their plans in that context. Each time [a CEO outlines] a future that comes true, he demonstrates his own competence and reinforces trust.

The happiest people aren’t the ones with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. At least some of this has to derive from work. The purpose of a business, then, must be explicit and go beyond boosting the share price or fulfilling some bland mission statement. People want to believe that they are part of something meaningful. The sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or revolutionary, merely credible and anchored in values.

Purpose is achieved through goals, and the acid test for any leader is defining the appropriate ones. Too small, and celebrations soon ring hollow. Small goals breed cynicism. But too-big goals produce helplessness. Although it can be temporarily thrilling to rally around a big corporate slogan like “kill the competition,” the reality is that employees can’t do it alone and they can’t do it quickly.

Alignment between corporate goals and personal development has never been more critical. The more unpredictable the outside world, the more urgent the personal quest for self-determination. What employees look for in leadership is a sense that their personal journey and the company journey are part of the same story. When these goals aren’t aligned, employees tend to whine with others, eager to share their sense of anger and injustice, polluting morale. The only way to combat this and get back on track is proper feedback. Give employees the tools to influence their own fate.

Get a life. Keeping morale high is like being on a diet: It requires constant effort and is never over. New ideas, stimuli and motivation come from all around you. It’s the larger life, after all, that gives purpose to the climb.

Alan Deutschman – Senior Writer, Fast Company – writing about how IBM builds new businesses

Look for opportunities that can become profitable [billion-dollar] businesses in five to seven years. You’ll probably find them by talking to customers rather than to brilliant researchers in the labs, who are are looking further ahead.

J. Bruce Harreld – IBM

You want to celebrate failure because you learn something. You need some level of security to say ‘I screwed it up,’ and be comfortable that you won’t be fired.

Marcus Buckingham – Author, Break All The Rules

Turn anxiety into confidence. For a leader, the challenge is that in every society ever studied, the future is unstable, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear – to define the future in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate, charming or brilliant. What they must be is clear – clarity is the essence of great leadership. Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions we must take, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

See? Told you these folks know what they’re talking about.

Thanks to Fast Company‘s March 2005 issue for providing much of today’s content. (My collection is… extensive.)

Cheers.

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Social Media ROI – Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in your Organization isn’t a social media book. It’s a business management book, and it focuses on social media program strategy, management, measurement and reporting. If your boss doesn’t yet have a copy, time to fix that. If everyone on your team doesn’t yet have their own copy, what are you waiting for?

CEO-Read  –  Amazon.com  –  www.smroi.net  –  Barnes & Noble  –  Que

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The more I watch Gordon Ramsay‘s UK-based shows, (not just Kitchen Nightmares but The F-Word as well) the more I notice similarities between the types of problems that plague struggling restaurants and the types of problems that plague struggling businesses. The problems are always the same (and by default, the solutions as well). Here are four of the most common parallels I have found exist between what I have watched him deal with on his various shows, and what I run into in the business world:

1. Without exception, poor leadership is at the heart of every business problem.

The Navy SEALs have a saying: “There are no bad boat crews, only bad leaders.”

They’re right.

We are social animals, like bees, ants and wolves. In order to function properly in crises, we need a leader. Forget about the notion of flat organizations for a moment, and of theoretical “everyone is the boss and no one is the boss” ideals. Sure, it’s a nice thought and in some instances, that sort of perfectly flat structure can work. But eventually, circumstances will call for leadership. Why? Because for better or for worse, we are wired that way. In crises, we crave structure. Without it, armies cannot function on a battlefield, restaurant kitchens cannot function, businesses with more than 5 people cannot properly coordinate purchasing, inventory, marketing, budgets. Someone has to own certain functions. Someone has to steer the ship. Someone has to say “let’s do it” and “no, we aren’t going to do that.” Someone has to be lead the way.

Look at the US. Free country, right? And yet its citizen willfully elect leaders, give them the power to make policy decisions that will affect every aspect of their lives, from the amount of taxes they pay to what they are allowed to smoke in their own back yards. Instinctively, human beings know that without leadership, without an authority structure, there can be no organized society, no functional organization, and perhaps more importantly, no forward momentum.

Look at any stalled organization in the world, from a small mom & pop restaurant in Devonshire to a nation the size of the US: Stagnation, uncertainty, lack of direction, these always stem from an absence of clear leadership. It doesn’t matter whether the catalyst for the problem was a new restaurant opening down the street or the economy or a hurricane. Obstacles and challenges are just part of the landscape. What you do to get through (or around) them starts and ends with adequate leadership.

Watch enough Gordon Ramsay shows and you will notice a universal constant: Every restaurant in trouble has a leadership problem. The owner might be too busy trying to be everyone’s friend in the front of the restaurant to actually run his business, or the chef might be an incompetent bully. It doesn’t matter. Whatever problem exists stems from that. Dirty bathrooms, brought-in food, rancid meat in the fridge, lousy service, burnt desserts. Leadership. Or a lack thereof.  The same is true of every other type of organization and business: A boss who skirts his responsibilities and expects things to happen on their own isn’t leading. He is just playing a part.

If a new hire sucks at their job, whose fault is it? (Who hired them? Who hired the person who hired them? Who hired the person who hired the person who hired them?) If a project team is stalled and things aren’t moving forward, whose fault is it? Who owns that project? Who is holding them accountable?

Who sets the example? Who makes sure things get done? Who makes sure things are done right? Who sets expectations for the entire business? Who is in charge here?

Before an organizational dysfunction can be resolved, hierarchy has to be clearly reviewed for imbalances. Leadership at every level has to be established, starting from the top. Leadership has to be clarified, expressed and put into action. Not just once per month or quarter, but every moment of the day.

Until you fix the leadership piece, nothing else matters. You can pump funding into the organization, give them new equipment, new marketing, 25% new customers overnight, it won’t matter. 2 months from now, the same problems that existed before the upgrades will still be there, and they start at the very top. Either the wrong person is steering the ship, or that person doesn’t really have what it takes to be there. Tough decisions ahead.

Things a leader has to be able to do on their own:

– Give every action purpose.

– Articulate vision into strategy.

– Transform strategy into action.

– Get employees to completely commit to their responsibilities.

– Make employees want to give their absolute best.

– Stand for something. (It inspires loyalty.)

– Lead by example.

– When something isn’t working, step in, roll up sleeves, and fill the gap in the chain.

– Show people who don’t want to be there the door.

– Give people a reason to be proud of what they do, no matter how far they are from the C-suite.

– Choose work over golf.

– Take a pay cut before laying off good employees.

– Take responsibility for every failure.

– Understand that delegation is only a short walk from abdication.

– Give truth a platform, no matter how inconvenient it may be.

A leader in denial isn’t a leader. He’s a drunk driver pretending to be sober, driving his car and everyone in it into a ditch.

2. Passion is the fuel of excellence. Whether tanks run on full or on empty, this is the stuff that’s in them.

Fuck “motivation.” Motivation comes and goes. I can motivate a team of salespeople with a cash bonus. I can motivate a bored subordinate with the threat of being demoted or fired. I can motivate someone with a kind word or a pat on the shoulder. Sure, motivation is needed at regular intervals, but at some point, if people don’t learn to motivate themselves, “motivating” people in an organization becomes a full time job.

Those inspirational posters and smarmy motivational calendars with their quotes of the day, rip them down, walk out into the parking lot and set them on fire. They’re shit. Not only do you not need them, they’re holding you back. They’re teaching you that motivation comes from cliché wisdom and that it can be purchased like a get well card. If you have passion for what you do, you don’t need someone to motivate you. The minute you start believing it, the minute you start putting your faith in “inspirational” products (and that is precisely what they are), is the moment you decide to let go of your own future.

I was asked not long ago to give a motivational speech to a team of executives. The mere notion of this blew my mind. A motivational speech? Me? It isn’t what I do. And to deliver this “speech” to people who make an incredibly good living working for a successful company when millions of people can’t find jobs seemed all the more absurd. I told the event manager that I had no idea what to say to these people, that I am not a motivational speaker, that he had the wrong guy. But the more he explained the predicament they were in, the more I felt like I needed to find some way to help them, even if it meant finding a way to “inspire” them.

This was new territory for me. My first instinct was to drag them by the ear to a soup kitchen or a social services office and tell them to take a good look, then thank their lucky stars that they had the option of needing someone to help them become motivated. I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Why did these “leaders” need someone to infuse them with motivation? It pissed me off. Fortunately for everyone, I got over it.

Long story short, I didn’t give them a motivational speech. Instead, I taught them how to do stuff. I laid out some of the puzzle pieces for them and, together, we put them together. Then I showed them how to finish the puzzle on their own. I gave them something to do and gave them a reason to do it. I removed “motivation” from the equation completely. The motivation came from doing things that yielded results. In other words, we did the work that needed to be done.

The point being this: If I have to motivate someone to do their job every day, why are they here to begin with? Teach someone how to make a living doing what they love (or to give them a reason to love what they do for a living) and you will never have to motivate them again. Ever.

Watch enough Gordon Ramsay shows, and you will start to notice that many restaurateurs in trouble suffer from a certain form of defeatism and apathy. Sooner or later, if Gordon asks them the most pitiful question in his repertoire – “what happened to you?” – they will admit that they have “lost their passion.” They’ve gotten so caught up in the details, in the negatives, in the seemingly challenges of their profession that they have forgotten how to love it. If he can reignite that passion, they stand a fighting chance. If he can’t, they’re done. The restaurant won’t survive.

There is no gray area here. Passion vs. no passion. Success vs. no success. (And by ‘success’ I don’t just mean a fat paycheck.) It isn’t rocket science. The two are indivisible. The more child-like and visceral the passion, the higher the octane, the farther it will drive you, your project, your idea, your company.

There’s an honest conversation that needs to happen between a boss and an “unmotivated” employee (or between a consultant and a client), and it centers around passion. The question is this: Why are you here? “The pay is good” is an honest answer, but it is not a good answer. Same with “beats the hell out of working at Orange Julius” and “Too many content strategists and social media gurus in the marketplace already.”

Imagine asking your spouse “do you love me?” and having her answer “you make a good living, I feel financially secure, and I like living in our house.” Good luck building something worthwhile out of that. It isn’t so different in business.

If you don’t understand what someone is passionate about, you don’t really know them. Sure, when you hire them, you can take a look at their resume and see where they have studied and worked, but you have no idea who they are. Too many companies hire resumes and CVs, bullet-list snapshots of someone’s past. Not enough companies hire people based on who people are and what they are passionate (and not passionate) about.

A few years ago, I was asked to hire someone for a newly funded position. For the next few months, I found myself suffering through a battery of applicants, each one more full of shit than the next. They wanted the job because of the pay and security. No one wanted the job because it was interesting or fulfilling (at least to them). I remember one woman in particular, when I asked her what she was passionate about, giving me this for an answer: “I am really passionate about people.”

What does that even mean?

I asked her. She nervously repeated her answer: “I am really passionate about people.” I asked her to elaborate. She had a hard time. Finally, she managed to articulate what she meant: “I love helping people, making their day, making them smile.”

“And you want to cold-call SMBs all day and try to sell them software?”

Wrong job for her. Wrong direction. She was never going to be happy doing this. She would be burned out inside of six months, desperate for a new job somewhere else.

Remember the Navy SEAL saying about boat crews and leaders? Here’s the detail that makes it work: SEALs are all volunteers. They want to be there. BUDs‘ (the grueling series of training evolutions during which future SEALs are selected from a pool of volunteers) primary purpose isn’t to train. It is to test. Not to test in terms of scores and aptitude, mind you, but to push volunteers to ask themselves how much they are willing to endure to do the job. If anyone isn’t truly passionate, desperately passionate to be there, they will allow themselves to fail or they will ring out. If all they want is the prestige of displaying the trident on their pretty uniform, they won’t make it. The selection process is designed to weed out the volunteers who are there for the wrong reasons. The real reward for surviving another day isn’t status or high pay or prestige. It is more pain, more hardship, more discomfort. How much are you willing to bleed for what you are passionate about?

Official US Navy Photo

While the SEAL example lies on the extreme edge of the spectrum when it comes to pursuing your passion, the principles it illustrates apply to every occupation in the world. Yes, you can be passionate about being a fry cook. Yes, you can be passionate about picking tomatoes or being a cashier or shoveling turkey shit on a farm. It’s a mindset, nothing more.

Here’s another little secret: Whatever you end up doing, whatever profession you end up pursuing, it’s going to be hell. Being a Navy SEAL isn’t about jumping out of helicopters and being movie-cool. It’s about freezing your ass off on the butt end of the world and going days without sleep or food. It’s about enduring hardships and discomforts that no other human being would be crazy enough to put themselves through. It’s miserable. Likewise, being a writer condemns you to a life of psychological and emotional hell. Whatever self doubts you have, multiply that by a thousand and you still won’t come close to understanding how difficult it is to sit there day after day and fill up blank page after blank page. It doesn’t matter what the job is: Actors, musicians, copywriters, photographers, salespeople, product managers, engineers, chefs, firefighters, EMTs, if they’re worth a damn, they all bleed for their passion. They suffer for it every day.

The more passionate you are about something, the more you are going to give up for it, the more it’s going to make you bleed. And here’s the key to it all: The more you’re willing to bleed for it, the more you will. It’s just how it works.

Last night, I was watching an episode of the F-Word (Season 5, episode 5) in which the UK’s two best local Thai restaurants went head to head in a 3-course contest. One of the two chefs, Chef Patria, talked about what she does. Check it this out.

Here it is on Youtube if your device can’t read BBCAmerica’s video. Fast-forward to 3:23 and listen to how Chef Patria talks about what she does.

“I cook with my love, my care, my passion. Everything, my heart, I put into every single dish.”

Fresh ingredients. A passion for perfection. An obsession with quality. It isn’t just a job. It’s a calling.

Is she an extreme case? A woman who has no time for a husband, children, a life outside of her work, whose last day off was Easter a year ago, who only sleeps 5 hours per night? A dragon lady whose energy in the kitchen would probably drive away 99% of foodservice workers in the US?

Yes. She is an extreme case. And that is precisely why she is exceptional at what she does. Does she truly need to work that hard 24/7 to be as good as she is? Probably not. But she loves what she does so much that she chooses to go all-in. This is commitment. This is passion. This is what complete commitment to one’s art looks like.

The world’s best fighters train and work that hard. So do the world’s best surgeons, athletes, musicians, actors, artists, and warriors. Why? Because distraction is weakness. Distraction is resistance. Anything that doesn’t strengthen them in their craft makes them weaker. For people in pursuit of excellence, working at it 8 hours per day then going home amounts to 1/3 commitment. To them, being 1/3 as good as they want to be amounts to engineered failure.

How hard are you training to become the best at what you do? How hard is your boss working at being the best at what he does? (Or should I be asking about his golf game instead?)

Later in the show, when Gordon jokingly asks chef Patria if she is as demanding with men as she is in the kitchen, her answer is simply this: “No compromise.”

Her restaurant wins the day’s contest and jumps to the top spot in the overall competition.

No compromise.

If you truly love doing something, doing it half-assed doesn’t cut it. You want that Superbowl ring? Work harder. No compromise. You want 6-pack abs by next June? Work harder. No compromise. You want to make consumers choose you over the competition? Work harder. No compromise. You want to be the best CEO the planet has ever seen? Work harder. No compromise.

That’s passion. Passion knows no middle ground. There is no such thing as a warm flame. It is either hot or it is out.

The death of passion in any business, from a small restaurant in Devonshire, UK to a global super-brand means the death of forward momentum, the death of quality, the death of every single competitive advantage fought for in the past. If you cannot reignite passion in a company’s leader, nothing else you do will yield results. Just like a chef who isn’t passionate about food can’t make a restaurant be successful, a CEO who isn’t passionate about what he does cannot make his company kick ass.

3. Sugar-coating the truth is for suckers.

tomfishburne.com

When a ship is sinking, every minute counts. This means that every interaction counts. Why sugar-coat the truth? Why perpetuate belief systems that have led to mediocrity or failure? If product quality sucks, it sucks. Say it, own it, try it on for size. Find out what it feels like to have allowed a crappy product to hit the market under your watch.

Remember when you were in school and you came home with a D- or an F when you didn’t apply yourself? Remember when you lost the game because you didn’t train hard enough or give your teammates 100% oeffort? There’s a brutal honesty that comes with keeping score. More empty seats than customers at your restaurant: That’s your way of keeping score. Bad reviews in the newspaper or on Yelp!: That’s your way of keeping score. Stalled market share quarter after quarter: That’s your way of keeping score.

When I ran track in high school, that quarter-mile oval was the ultimate arbiter of my dedication to the team. The clock doesn’t lie. When I was on the rifle range in Lorient, my groupings on the target didn’t lie.  You’re either getting faster or you aren’t. You’re either hitting your mark or you aren’t. There’s no sugar-coating on the field of battle. You succeed or you fail. You win or you lose. That’s it.

If half the fun of watching Gordon Ramsay’s shows is to watch him rip restaurants apart and yell at incompetent chefs, the real value of his apparent meanness is this: Gordon Ramsay isn’t there to make people feel good about failure. His objective is to fix restaurants in trouble. You don’t do that by wrapping the cold hard reality of failure in a blanket of warm euphemisms. If something sucks, it sucks. If something rocks, it rocks. Honesty, even when it comes across as being brutal, forces people who are living in denial to face the truth. is it a shock to the system? Yes. It is meant to be.

To many TV viewers, it seems that Gordon Ramsay is nothing but a loudmouth, pretentious asshole. The reality of it is that he has figured out that success and positive results are infinitely more valuable to confidence, self esteem and professional pride than platitudes and bullshit. In that context, sugar-coating bad news only prolongs mediocrity, failure and pain.

You want the good news or the bad news? The bad news is, your business sucks because of you. The good news is, you can turn it around, but you are going to have to take responsibility and start giving a shit.

That’s reality, and if it needs to be brutal, then it needs to be brutal. Deal with it.

If your job is to carry out orders, you’re off the hook. But as a consultant, as a therapist, a coach, an officer, a chef, a food critic, a leader, you don’t help anyone by injecting the truth with little white lies. Is it often the politically sound thing to do? Yes. And if your job, your next promotion or your contract is more important to you than actually doing your job (assuming your job is to fix a problem), then fine: cover your own ass and become part of the problem. On the other hand, if you are passionate about what you do, if you want to see real results, if the interests of your client or boss or peer supersede your own (and they should since you are being paid to look after them), then you have to be willing to risk ruffling feathers and pissing people off. Your job, believe it or not, is to do your job. If the client can’t face the truth and wants to fire you, then guess what? Let them. It’s their company going down in flames, not yours.

Here’s a little lesson I’ve learned over the years: The moment you allow yourself to get sucked into a clients’ dramas, their inner complexes, their excuses, their dysfunctions, you have effectively ceased to be of any use to them. Your value as a consultant, as an expert, as an advisor, is now zero. The moment you start playing that game, you’re done. You have become part of the problem. You have become a paid, willing accomplice in that organization’s eventual destruction. Congratulations on your new role. The twelve year old you would be so proud to see what you’ve become.

You have to be willing to be blunt. If the only way honesty will get someone’s attention is to deliver it brutally, then you have to find the courage to be the guy who delivers bad news to the CEO without embellishing or minimizing the bad news. That’s your job. If you don’t have the huevos to do your job, you don’t belong in this line of work.

And if you’re a business owner, a manager, heck, an adult in the process of screwing up and you can’t handle reality, it’s time to reevaluate a lot more than the discomfort of this moment. Thick skin comes with the territory. If you can’t effectively deal with criticism, especially when it is on the nose, maybe leadership is the wrong career path for you. If someone who knows better than you tells you what you are doing wrong, shows you what you are doing wrong, and then teaches you how to do it right, shut up and listen. If the comfort of little white lies is weakness, outright denial, especially when it becomes institutionalized, is career suicide.

Here’s the lesson: The faster you get to the truth, the clearer your perspective of where you are and where you need to go will be. It’s that simple. Anything that slows down or otherwise hinders that process is a liability. Get rid of the bullshit. Cut to the chase. The more painful and unpleasant it is to hear, the more valuable it is to you and your organization.

4. Competence is key.

It isn’t enough to be a critic and point out what’s wrong with a business. Anybody can do that part. Once you identify the problems and make the brass understand what is wrong with their operation though, you also have to know how to fix them. That doesn’t just come from reading business books and looking stuff up on Google. You have to be competent. Eminently competent, even. You can’t just glimpse what the solutions might be. You have to be able to show them, explain them, teach them. You have to know what works and what doesn’t, what hurdles the client will have to overcome before they can implement them, what tools they will need during that process, and how they will gauge their progress during their transition.

Theory might be great on paper, but you need to be able to show people how to get shit done.

One of the things Gordon Ramsay does in every show is teach restaurants in trouble how to do things they don’t know how to do. Note that he doesn’t leave his “clients” with a strategic brief or a findings report. He doesn’t just recommend that they revamp their menu or that they improve the quality of their dishes. He gets in the kitchen and teaches their chefs things they need to learn how to do in order to move forward. He shows them stuff that works, stuff he knows will work because he’s used it before.

Competence here makes all the difference in the world.

What can a 23-year-old consultant with no business management experience teach an executive team about effective change management? What insights into cross-functional social business integration can an SEO blogger-turned-social-media-guru provide a Fortune 500 COO? The benefit of… theory?

Contrary to popular belief, attending a webinar doesn’t make you an expert. Neither does attending 18 webinars. Neither does paying $13,000 for the privilege.

Having stayed “at the Holiday Inn last night” doesn’t make you an expert in anything either. (But okay, the commercials are funny.)

Just like a food critic isn’t necessarily qualified to be a chef, a consultant who can’t shift from talking to demonstrating isn’t necessarily qualified to give advice to anybody.

Competence, defined in only 6 words, boils down to this: Don’t just tell me. Show me.

Who do you want teaching you how to clear a bunker: A guy who read about it in a book, or the guy who has 5 years of combat experience and personally cleared dozens of enemy bunkers? Who would you rather have teaching you how to land airplanes in emergency conditions: A guy who read the manual, or the test pilot who actually performs emergency landings in all sorts of emergency conditions to learn what really works and doesn’t work? You get the point. Competence and experience go hand in hand. Talent alone isn’t enough.

Consultants need to be competent. Head chefs need to be competent. Restaurant owners, bodyguards, accountants, auto mechanics, surgeons, marines, airline pilots, parachute instructors, chemists and CMOs have to be competent. Even social media directors have to be competent. Brains, creativity and imagination matter. When it comes to innovating, nothing beats the combined forces of imagination, curiosity and perseverance. But when it comes to making things work, nothing beats experience. Nothing takes the place of being competent.

Strange as it may sound, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares may be one of the best examples of how businesses succeed or fail, and why. Take away the setting (restaurants) and apply the themes and lessons of every episode to other industries and settings, and they work: Poor leadership, the slow death of passion, cultures of denial and the erosion of competence. Everywhere you go, you will find the same thing: The Post Office, your local bank, your favorite software company, a global superbrand, the local steakhouse. Each of these four factors will kill a business, any business, faster than you can say “no customers.” And while Chef Ramsay’s unorthodox style (unapologetically pointing out key problems, confronting those responsible, breaking them down, then dragging them – kicking and screaming – towards resolution) might seem inappropriate for “the real world” of business, while his body language and choice of vocabulary and confrontational style may seem out of place beyond the shock-happy world of reality TV, the guy is spot on. He isn’t there to apply lipstick on a pig. He knows that a new menu and fresh signage won’t be enough. He is there to perform an emergency intervention, to turn a failing business around in a week.

Imagine that: A week.

With only a week to turn things around, your timetable for change is accelerated. There’s no time for reflection, for endless meetings, for brainstorming sessions, for PowerPoint tennis matches week after week after week. Things have to happen now. The time for bullshit, for excuses, for fear, for misplaced ego trips is gone. With an accelerated timetable, everything gets concentrated into what matters most: Getting things back on track. Getting things right. If necessity strips away excuses, urgency strips away bullshit. That’s what makes his shows so fun to watch and his management style so fascinating. It’s a crucible, a concentrated version of what many of us do over a much longer time-frame. Every episode is a case study in personal dysfunction, operational dysfunction, and in the process of getting things back on track. As corny as it often is, it is still brilliant.

So ask yourself: How would your business hold up to Gordon Ramsay’s scrutiny? What would be the effective range of your excuses? How willing would you be to put aside wounded pride, accept his recommendations, and make things right today?

Why aren’t you doing this now?

Whatever ails you, whatever challenges your company faces, I hope this helped, even a little bit.

Cheers,

Olivier

*          *          *

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On madness, models of failure, and the mythology of past successes

I have been thinking a lot about success and failure in business this past week, and about behavioral patterns and common cultural factors I invariably find in organizations that breed either one outcome or the other. I will dive deeper into this topic over the coming weeks, but for now, today, I want to show you something. Something that, at first glance, I found funny. Not knee-slapping, LOL-inducing haha-funny, mind you. Something funny yet tragic, because it illustrates not only the stupidity of the way some organizations cling to anachronistic models of failure, but the absurdity of it in its whole.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but let’s just say that what I received today, what prompted this post, made me wonder about the sanity of the person who thought it wise to send it to me. And this made me think about why some managers insist on never letting go of strategies and tactics which they know don’t work.

Point #1: Knowing full well that a method, tool or model no longer yields the desired outcome (assuming it ever did), some organizations will continue to bet on it, in the hopes that the laws of the universe will shift in the night and miraculously turn a completely ludicrous project into success.

The partial email I will share with you may make many of you chuckle, as I chuckled when I read through the first few sentences, but in truth, there really isn’t anything funny about it, and here’s why: As extreme as this example of stupidity may seem, the principles which guided the hand of a business to drive this campaign, to assign resources to it (writers, staff, computers, software licenses, chairs, desks, office space, electricity, lights, etc.) are no different from the principles that guide tens of thousands of companies to also cling to their own proven methods of failure.

That organizations, then, would cling to such ill-advised models in the face of logic, in the face of common sense even, I can almost understand. Not every organization or department is helmed by the sharpest mind of its generation. I get that. But more shocking to me is that this type of absurd behavior – this level of abject stupidity when it comes to discerning between effective and ineffective models – occurs in face of facts, and by that, I mean hard data and history, ignored, pushed aside in favor of a mythology of past successes.

Let the notion sink in for a moment. Mythology of past successes. The myth that the organization was once successful, and the further notion that the methods it employed then, if employed now, will restore it onto its successful path. A past success, mind you, that more often than not only exists in the minds of those who cling to its dream, therefore invalidating the very methods which they so revere.

Point #2: Imaginary past successes and glories are potent illusions – they aim to set the stage for future ones after all – but as poisonous and lethal as memories of painful lost loves: Embellished over time by the mind’s gentle healing hand, polished to a high sheen that grows brighter in magnificence with every passing year.

A man, in the embrace of weakness, can find himself trading the inconvenience of reality for the comfort of such an illusion, and as the mind is trained to do in order to help us survive tragedy, begin to turn the pain and reality of failure into something seemingly beautiful and pure. Faced with the prospect of further failure, facts go out the window. Reality seeks to be disproved. The mind begins to look for safety and comfort.  All that eventually remains is the legend of “the good old days,” and the notion that a higher power (even in the form of abstract “business cycles”) will come and make things right if only one perseveres in holding on to the past long enough.

Fisher Kings, organizational dysfunction, and engineering cultures of failure

This is something a C.E.O. told me years ago, when he and I were discussing the future of his company: “This is how we’ve always done it. It’s always worked for us. We’re not about to start doing it differently now.”

Except it hadn’t worked in twenty years, everyone knew it – as I suspect he did as well – yet there he was, defending the sanctity of a model that had already begun to fail a full generation ago and showed no promise of deliverance whatsoever. Embattled and failing, the company yet refused to let go of a past it had turned for itself into legend. Religion, even. This man, this grown man, clung to the safety of a myth of success the way an anxious child in the face of uncertainty clings to the hand of his mother.

The reality of the company’s past “success,” (the basis, in his mind, for the inevitable return of fortune as foretold by his internal narrative – the myth he created for himself over years of wishful thinking) was that the company had never, in fact, been all that successful. It had struggled, as all companies do, for market share, for growth, for loyal customers. What success it had enjoyed for a time had been hard-earned and modest at best.  There had never been glory. There had never been true sustained market leadership. The man sitting across from me was operating under a spell of denial which he had – over time – infused into his organization. The Fisher King retold.

One doesn’t have to be clinically insane to act like a madman but this one, afflicted as he was by his fears, by his bitterness, by his anger, by his own inner demons of self-doubt and shame, in retreating into a world of make-believe, was in fact acting like a madman: Working against all reason and common sense. Rather than steer his ship to warmer waters and favorable winds clearly discernible just ahead, he chose to keep to the murky, brackish waters he now believed had once been a glorious ocean. He painted himself the C.E.O. of a successful company, whose brand would someday regain dominance. A dominance to be regained again as its birthright, or so the tale went inside his head. This in spite of inaction, of denial, of stupidity and a surprising level of arrogance.

The places we allow ourselves to drift to and die, out of fear and out of shame. Both one and the same.  (If you hate your job, consider this a tap on the shoulder: How long do you intend to wait there in misery?)

This was the company I had been hired to rescue. I almost did, but only almost. I don’t always succeed. I managed to drag it back from the brink, to show them the way, even to pave it for them, but the last step, they had to take for themselves: Making the decision to change. To let go of their ghosts and commit to a fresh start.

Not everyone, though, has the courage to unfurl their sails.

The Greek perspective, and methods of failure

If I were an ancient Greek, I would talk about fear and anxiety in terms of spirits and possession. Not spirits as in demons, the way we think of them now, but the spirits of love, anger, hatred, fear, cowardice, envy… Emotions given life and will and power over our lives by us, their willing vessels.

The Spartans believed that blood lust in the middle of battle, for example, was possession – and something to avoid at all cost. Despair can be possession. Fury. Jealousy. Terror. Love. Enthusiasm. Every type of feeling can take us over. Overwhelm us. Crimes of passion are the result of possession. Brawling with fans of a rival football team is the result of possession. Understanding this is understanding something about human behavior, not just 3,000 years ago but today as well. Perhaps especially so.

We yet have much to learn from the Greeks.

Looking at human behavior from that perspective, whatever spirit possessed this man, this unfortunate C.E.O., I have met many times since. Different offices, different cities, different letters on the doors and the lobby walls and the business cards, but always the same madness. The same visceral need to create then cling to myths of success, and along with them proven methods of failure: Decisions and actions that led to their ship remaining in irons, year after year, in the false safety of a cove that in fact had become its grave. Cultures of failure start here. In this manner. Engineered by the dysfunctions of an individual ill-suited to lead an organization.

When mediocrity and failure are hailed as glory and success, take a bearing: Relativism doesn’t apply to victory. It only serves to paint defeat into something more palatable. It is the fuel of denial. Flipping success and failure on their heads so that one suddenly becomes mistaken for the other is madness as well.

Point #3: Failure in organizations, in business, in projects and campaigns isn’t always the result of luck or fate or circumstances. Sometimes it is (though I would caution against looking at obstacles and challenges, even the most seemingly insurmountable odds as anything but opportunity), but just as often, failure is engineered, constructed from within, given birth to and shaped, fostered, nurtured, encouraged and fed daily – like a creature.

The truth of failure, true failure, is that it lies not in circumstance but at the intersection of weakness and method. In the weakness that drives some men to shun the fight and the challenge which are the price of both success and victory, and to instead embrace illusion, relativism (characterized by endless strings of excuses) and the type of insanity that makes them act against their own best interest: Ignoring facts. Declaring success when none exists. Continuing down a clear path of failure. Adopting failure as a method.

Symptoms vs. Disease: Digging beneath superficial absurdity to find its cause

However extreme the following example may seem to us, scores of companies insist on clinging to equally ridiculous and completely ineffective methods of conducting business, albeit not quite as spectacular in their awfulness. Yet… outside of execution – or the manifestation of this type of nonsense, as seen below – compulsive adherence to methods of failure is in no way different in its path to what led to this example, and remains equally absurd.

Here it is, the first paragraph from an email like millions of others just like it, which we consider spam, yet someone, somewhere considers marketing:

I sincerely ask for forgiveness for I know this may seem like a complete intrusion to your privacy
but right about now this is my best option ofcommunication. This mail might come to you as a
surprise and the temptation to ignore it as frivolous could come into your mind, but please
consider it a divine wish and accept it with a deep sense of humility. This letter must surprise you
because we have never meet before neither inperson nor by correspondence, but I believe that,
it takes just one day to meet orknow someone either physically or through correspondence.

Ridiculous? Of course it is. It’s spam – and bad spam at that. But you know what?  The company that paid for it thinks this works, that this utterly ludicrous bit of email content is the best way to get me to click on a button or surrender personal information. And while we laugh at the stupidity of it, wondering in the backs of our minds what kind of manager or business owner would believe, in this day and age, that something like this is a method of success, it is in no way different from a manager or business owner in Kansas City, Charlotte, London or Chicago believing that their own brand of ineffective, outdated, business development method will somehow yield better results than it has until now.

Point #4: The absurdity of embracing methods of failure is not measured by the depth of stupidity characterizing their execution – like really awful copy, as seen in the above example,- but rather by the fervor with which failure-blind managers cling to their own delusions in spite of everything they know.

It’s tragic.

I don’t say this lightly. It is soul-crushing to see professional men and women – not organizations but human beings of flesh and blood, like me – so blinded, so possessed by layer upon layer of bullshit that they are no longer able to tell up from down, right from wrong, smart from stupid. Confused and lost in the wilderness of a world that has outpaced them, they cling to a made-up version of it, one they can feel comfortable and safe with, even if it doesn’t actually exist.

In this world, what they know, what they believe, even if it is completely absurd, holds more truth for them than the reality they refuse to accept. This shielding mechanism, this search for comfort and security in an idealized version of the past, of the “good old days,” makes every new idea alien and dangerous. A threat. They begin to regard progress at best as suspect, and at worst as a betrayal of their “ideals.”

In the same way that children invent for themselves imaginary worlds in play, adults sometimes invent for themselves worlds in fear. We see this with religion and politics, with extremism. We also see it in the business world: Some of these adults apply this mechanism to their professions, often with dreadful consequences.

When I hear a C.E.O. scoff condescendingly at Social Business, aiming to belittle and ridicule it as “something the kids do,” something legitimate businesses don’t need, a waste of time, a fad, a pile of crap, I don’t feel frustration anymore. I feel pity. Pity for the man, pity for the organization, pity for its future. Hell, I feel sadness because I know the fear that lives at the heart of the attitude that nurtured the opinion behind the comment. More importantly, I know instantly that the organization “led” by this person is crippled by methods of failure. And because the pattern of such dysfunction doesn’t deviate all that much from company to company, I can start mapping it out on paper without having to hear another word.

Point #5: When you understand a leader’s weakness, you know how his organization is failing.

Organizations that shun rather than embrace progress, whose default position is to embrace new ideas in meetings but somehow never manage to implement them, organizations that refuse to acknowledge or enable change from within or without, these organizations are all the same. Every single one. Identifying them is the first step. Understanding them follows. Beyond that, expect a bumpy ride.

Word to the wise: Not everyone is cut out to be an agent of change. If you can visualize your career, imagine the path of least resistance. Now imagine the complete opposite. More often than not, change is war.

Time to revisit the definitions of insanity and failure

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action over and over again, expecting a different result each time.

I disagree.

Perseverance, then, would be insanity. Tenacity also. I reject that definition. Conditions change: The same action repeated enough times can and often does yield different results, and we intrinsically know it. From adaptation to probability, we know that results may vary. We put it in fine print on just about everything.

The exact same spin of the ball in a game of roulette will have it land on a different number each time. The same lotto numbers played week after week will yield a different relationship to the winning numbers arrived at elsewhere. The same degree of effort on the field of practice will result in physical and mental changes over time. And so it goes. Because conditions vary, repetition in the face of failure alone does not constitute insanity. What I propose instead is this, that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same action you know cannot yield the desired outcome over and over again, expecting a different result.

Insanity is deliberately choosing a method of failure over a method of success (or even an infinite range of experimental methods) because in spite of all logic, it fits within a world view -an ideology – borne out of anxiety and false nostalgia rather than experience and reality. THAT is insanity.

Failure – systemic failure, that is – is engineered. It is built from the ground up, much like success, one broken brick at a time.

Point #6: Just as surely as a culture of success can take root in a company (Zappos, Apple, BMW, Google, and many more) a culture of failure can take root as well: Characterized by internal dysfunction, the utter absence of loyalty among its staff, low morale, a poisonous work environment and an absence of fire and passion even at the helm, cultures of failure are tough to turn around. And you know what? they are as tough to rescue as a drug addict who, while begging for help, still clings to the needle and the gutter as if his life depended on it. It’s heart breaking.

What I do: Light, shadow and the need for both

Helping businesses succeed is often a lot of fun. It can be easy. You come along at the right time, get to know them well, give them a little push, and there they go: Back on track, rocking it out. Those are the good ones. The ones that make me feel like a million bucks. The ones in which everyone clicks and has fun. It doesn’t even feel like work. I secretly wish that all of my clients were like this, but I know that this is weakness as well. For every perfect client, I need an imperfect one. We all do. We wouldn’t be professionals if all we did all day constituted play.  We wouldn’t learn much. We wouldn’t improve. Delight is possession as well.

Just as often, helping a company succeed begins by teaching its management to stop failing. To stop mistaking mediocrity for success. To stop acting against their own self-interest. In some cases, the process boils down to dragging them out of their predicament, kicking and screaming the whole way. I’ve been insulted, threatened and even fired by clients who promptly offered to re-hire me the next day, only to fire and rehire me again. I’ve endured abuse at the hand of awful little children in adult bodies. What I do isn’t always pretty. It is intervention, pure and simple.

Dealing with a C.E.O. or manager possessed by the form of madness we’ve discussed today is no different from dealing with an addict fighting for his soul.

Point #7: Whatever we like to call “personal demons,” they destroy businesses too. As surely as what brought about a mid-life crisis can destroy a marriage or career, so can it shatter a business. It isn’t something we talk about much, but we should.

We can’t not talk about this. Companies don’t get fixed. Companies don’t win or lose. People do. What I end up doing, more often than not, is fixing people. Helping them find their way and be whole again.

Bad marketing and bad business decisions often find their roots in more than incompetence and accidental human error. In order to make sure they don’t happen again – or never happen at all – you have to go a little deeper than that. “Best Practices” are only the surface. Stopping there isn’t enough. You can’t stick to the edges and hope for the best. Sometimes, you have to go deep. Sometimes, you have to go all in.

What has been on my mind lately: Some clarification before we continue

I’ve been giving this and a dozen other related topics a lot of thought this past week, and how my chosen profession fits in all of this. How experience, knowledge, talent and insight have led me to become not only an advisor and educator, but also now a confidantz and a friend to individuals who don’t understand why their companies are stuck, unable to move forward as quickly and fluidly as they know they should. The human element to it above all questions of processes and best practices and clever ideas. How important to me this has become. The problem with becoming emotionally vested in something like this, in trying to effect real change, is that it consumes you. Theres no way around it. You have to let it.

While it sometimes seems that my job consists of coming up with cool ideas and helping companies divine insights from the fog of business, the reality is that I am more often than not a therapist. A business therapist, one might say, but there is no such thing: A business is a dream brought to life by a company of men and women who form its limbs and organs, and whose love for what they do is its lifeblood.

When I am called upon to help a company, an organization, a business, I end up helping people. Why? Because every dysfunction at the root of a problem with a business invariable finds its own roots in a personal dysfunction – sometimes, clusters of personal dysfunction.

In order to do what I do – and do it well – you have to be ready for that. You have to be ready to know when to bear the weight of it all, and when not to. You have to know your way around the human mind and the human heart. You have to know exactly what to do when someone with a serious problem tries to draw you into their drama. It can be emotionally exhausting. This line of work is not for everyone.

And I guess that is why I don’t like to call what I do “consulting.” Now I know why the term never sat well with me: “Consulting” is only a small portion of what I do, just like R.O.I. is only a small aspect of what I help shine a light on. Calling myself a consultant just doesn’t work. I don’t yet have a name for what I do, and I’ll admit that it’s a bit annoying.

I am telling you this because over the course of the next few weeks, I may write more about the role that human nature plays in adopting “best practices,” pursuing excellence and creating cultures of success than I have before, and I want you to know where all this is coming from, why these topics even matter, and how I came to want to discuss them from this unusual perspective. My mind is behind the curtain this week. Under the surface. I am looking directly into the nature of leadership, courage, curiosity, insight and the spirit of victory, which are at once timeless and very specifically connected. And if we are going to make any headway, it’s time we stopped focusing so much on the superficial aspects of business and brand management, and turned our attention to some pretty core elements without which Twitter, Facebook and all of the things we love to discuss here and on other blogs are little more than salon chatter.

And I hope this helps give you a tiny little glimpse into what makes me tick, why the way in which I approach certain topics might seem a little different from other blogs. Ultimately, everything comes down to people: Understand people, and you understand everything. It’s where every one of my blog post begins. At the core of every discussion we have here about brand management, Social Media, communications, R.O.I., etc. is human behavior in all its reality and relevance.

More to come.

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The unfortunate yet necessary business of getting punched in the mouth

You learn a lot about yourself during your first fist fight. Especially when you know for a fact that the other guy is going to mop the deck with your face just because he can.

And that’s just the thing: It’s one thing to get into a fight you’re pretty sure you’ll win. It’s another completely to get into a fight even though you’re pretty sure you’ll lose, and still find the courage to stand your ground and see things through.

Close your eyes and hold that thought. We’ll come back to this in a sec.

Okay, so I know… this may seem like an odd topic for a blog that deals mostly with brand management, social media, business strategy, etc., but as I found with my “21 things” blog last week, there is a deeply human side to making inspired business decisions that we need to start focusing on a little more (not just here – in general). Why? Because business decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. People make these decisions. Human beings, with good days and bad days, filled with courage and plagued by cowardice, swelling with passion and weighed down by apathy. People as imperfect and flawed and riddled with self-doubt as you and I. Yes, the Steve Jobs, Jack Welches, Henry Fords, Walt Disneys, Bill Gates, Richard Bransons and Julius Caesars of the world are just as human as the rest of us, with their own problems, their own doubts, their own insecurities and their own challenges to overcome. But one of the things that separates them from the majority of people is their willingness to step forward even when the odds are squarely against them, and risk taking a very public and humiliating beating if things don’t turn out as they had hoped. But even they can come to a professional impasse if their “education” along the way skipped the essential rite of passage known as the boyhood brawl.

The first thing you probably need to get from this post is this: Because decisions cannot be divorced from the people who make them, who we are as human beings impacts those decisions at least as much as what we do professionally: A CEO is a role, not a personality trait. A general is a rank, not an emotional profile. A manager is a job description, not an indication of natural leadership. In other words, don’t let the cover story fool you: a title printed on a business card doesn’t reflect an individual’s ability to lead, inspire and show cunning any more than the size of their bank account or the make of their car.

What does a title really tell you about someone? If you live within a regimented corporate or military culture, it tells you something about where they stand in the pecking order and what power they yield over you and others, but that’s really about it. In matters of leadership, courage, integrity and mental fortitude, a job title doesn’t really tell you a whole lot about someone’s mettle. More to the point, a job title doesn’t tell someone a whole lot about themselves and what they are capable of when the chips are down.

The importance of dangerous tests and contests

Back in not-so-ancient times, boys were routinely tested as they grew up: Going into the woods alone for the first time. Climbing the tallest tree. Swimming across the river. Diving to the cold dark bottom. Catching your first fish. Killing your first fowl. Standing your ground against the older village or neighborhood kids. Tribal rights of passage. By the time a man reached adulthood, he knew exactly who he was. He knew his own strengths and weaknesses.

And the rest of the community did as well.

Via regular social tests and challenges, stars rose, stayed stagnant, or fell from grace. There was no hiding from it. The pecking order in human communities was always in flux, with the smartest and strongest leading, and others following, hoping for their chance to prove themselves someday and improve their position.

Only now, it seems that such personal tests, the ones that cemented not only reputations but confidence, self respect, courage and wisdom have fallen mostly by the wayside. Just for the record, graduating from kindergarten is not a rite of passage. Landing a 20% off coupon isn’t either. Neither is unlocking a fifth level prestige badge in COD Modern Warfare 2 on X-Box Live.

Here’s an observation. It isn’t a judgment. Just an observation: None of the people I have ever worked with or worked for while I was in the corporate world had ever been in a real fight. None had ever fought back when the bully shoved them in a locker or stole their lunch money. None had ever stepped in to help someone being mugged. None had ever finished a fight that some drunk jerk forced on them or one of their peers. And… coming from France – a country where little boys haven’t yet been taught that getting into the occasional fisticuff is a sign of deplorable behavior – I found this both surprising and unfortunate. Not because I find fights to be particularly edifying (I don’t enjoy them a whole lot, especially since I am not Chuck Norris), but because fighting – which mostly amounts to dealing with fear, confrontation, pain and the social pressures not to quit or lose – has been part of young mens’ “education” for tens of thousands of years. Like it or not, fighting each other is baked into our DNA. Men need these types of experiences in order to move from childhood to adulthood. Sport can be a decent substitute for some time, martial arts as well, but ultimately, nothing can truly take the place of actual combat. By creating an entire generation of men who have never experienced the fight or flight gauntlet of a knuckle duel, I am not certain that we are properly preparing young men for the types of mental and emotional challenges required of them in high stakes leadership positions.

Asserting yourself in a business meeting, negotiating a settlement, managing a takeover, speaking to investors, presenting to a crowd of bloggers and journalists, convincing banks to back your next venture, these things don’t go well unless you have a certain level of quiet confidence about you, the kind of confidence that frees your mind to get the job done rather than worry about whether or not you’re up for it.

Reassuring the American people that the country is safe, customers that it is still safe to bank with you, drivers that your cars won’t accelerate out of control and explode, investors and employees that your company is still a sound bet, and the public that you have the oil spill under control can’t be left to folks who haven’t tested themselves to find out what they are really made of.

Remember Michael “Brownie” Brown, the guy in charge of FEMA during the Katrina crisis? His impeccably pressed, perfectly white dress shirts? Not a hair out of place while the people of New Orleans drowned and starved to death? Nice guy, I’m sure. Smart too. Probably great with the whole IAHA Arabian horse thing, and corporate luncheons and country-club brunches, before being appointed to lead the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Except… Wrong guy for the job. Why? Hmmm. You tell me.

Now put a military officer – especially an Iraq or Afghanistan combat veteran – in his place to do the same job and see what happens. My bet: Night and day. The difference between both men? One made a point to put himself through the gauntlet time and time again. The other, not so much.

Rites of passage matter. They matter a lot.

Fight Club is only a novel. This is real.

If I am starting to sound like Fight Club’s Tyler Durden, so be it. There is a reason why Chuck Palahniuk’s novel struck a chord when it came out. As much as the novel itself may be an unapologetic exaggeration of the death of masculinity in modern times, its message is dead on target. And the impact that a generation of untested men in leadership positions has already had on the corporate world may be in great part responsible for some of the trouble we are in: Enron. Wall Street. The massive oil spill in the Gulf: All arrived at by decisions made by not by incompetent men, but rather untested, socially and emotionally incomplete men.

Think this is a stretch? Possibly. But consider that mid-life crises tend to happen to men riddled with complexes and self-doubt. Far more than an overcompensation or an indulgence brought about by professional success. Any decent Jungian psychotherapist can explain the link between mid-life crises and a common mother complex in men: Adult in form but not in heart. Boys whose bodies grew up but whose souls didn’t. The erosion of significant, terrifying, often violent rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, particularly when it comes to my gender, is a problem that doesn’t only impact divorce rates and Porsche sales in the US, but also the business world and the economy as a whole: A man who isn’t whole cannot effectively lead. He is a Fisher King, an impotent, lame-duck regent whose wound infects his entire kingdom and drags it down with him. When captains of industry are drawn drawn from among the ranks of untested men rather than those who can and should lead, the system breaks down: Exploration, experimentation and progress come to a grinding halt. Strategic planning takes a hit. Appearances begin to overtake substance. Nepotism prevails. Good old boys networks take root. Mediocrity, hypocrisy and corruption begin to poison corporate and political cultures. The safety of artificial comforts replaces strife. Warm cocoons of denial begin to form and thicken.

There is something missing in a man who hasn’t pushed himself far beyond what he thought were his own limits. Something we look for in leaders. Something without which our faith in a man cannot ever be truly realized. We all felt it in the school yard. On the playing field. In boot camp. And yes, in the board room. A phony is a phony. The real deal, however, walks wrapped in the knowledge of who he is as a man, because at least once in his life, he walked deep into the dark recesses of his cave and found what really lurked there.

Growing up in France in the 70’s and 80’s – and having been raised in a family of combat veterans and citizen soldiers – making it to adolescence without a few black eyes and busted knuckles wasn’t an option. Not that I was pushed to go looking for fights, but let’s say that certain circumstances were occasionally brought up around the dinner table as acceptable reasons to find out what I was made of. For many little French boys, playing cowboys, cops and musketeers wasn’t just play. It was preparation for an inevitable school yard confrontation that would determine much about the types of men they would later become.

A quick word about the French and silly stereotypes

Not that the French fight a lot or win a lot of wars, or anything. Aside from the Foreign Legion (mostly composed of foreigners at that) and a few key Police and military units, French culture isn’t exactly known for its warrior spirit. The Gauls were pretty solid warriors, but the Roman legions dealt with them in the end. Twice in the last century the Germans cut through our borders like a warm knife through butter. So yeah, sure, we invaded England back in the day, we’ve had bloody revolutions, and Napoleon helped us unlock our very own bloody conquests badge on Foursquare, but in general, the French are relatively well-behaved anti-violent people. Even our soccer fans are pretty tame compared to England’s. We also aren’t particularly fond of violence in sports and entertainment (Americans, in contrast, like their sports and movie heroes to be full-contact – while tennis doesn’t exactly require helmet and shoulder pads). We don’t really like guns. The French, as people of the world go, are not high up on the socially violent list.

Yet, in sharp contrast with many of my American peers who grew up on violent entertainment and a glorification of rogue warrior tales, my childhood and early adult years were not without incident. Starting with a few kids at my school trying to work the pecking order to their advantage to street thugs in downtown Brussels looking to score my wallet, from angry boyfriends looking to save face to drunk French soldiers aiming to prove themselves by knocking out a few sailors, I’ve had to deal with unfortunate contests of the knuckle-to-face variety a number of times. Before I go on with my tales of clumsy hand-to-hand combat, let me make it clear that I didn’t always prevail. I am not Jean Claude Van Damme. Quite the contrary. My roundhouse kick is weak. My karate chop is clumsy. My punch often misses the mark. So by default, the lessons in this post have nothing to do with winning or beating the odds. We’re talking about something else altogether today.

Which brings us back to that mouthful of blood thing. You learn a lot about yourself, shaking off the pain of a punch to the mouth. It’s a simple fight or flight reflex: Stunned and dazed, your blurry surroundings spinning around you, searing pain flashing across your face and a dull ache spreading deep into your skull, you are at once confronted with two conflicting emotions: The first – back off and hope the punishment is over. The second – get back on your feet and feed the other guy a Royal McKnuckle-with-Cheese sandwich out of principle, even if it earns you another trip to the cold, hard deck.

Fight or flight: DNA, tens of thousands of years of evolution, and the importance of not running away

Fight or flight. It’s a simple choice. And, as my friend Ben Schowe would say, “it’s just science.”

In terms of personal tests, this goes well beyond the simple (yet grueling) act of surviving boot camp, completing your first 5K, passing the bar, or completing an Ironman triathlon. In fact, in a very real way, getting into a fist fight teaches you as much – if not more – about yourself as summiting Everest or swimming across the English Channel.

Why? Because there is a huge difference between walking to the sidelines and running from a fight. You can quit Ranger school. You can quit an Ironman. On a mountain top, you can stop and turn back to base camp. But walking away from a fight once the first punch has connected, that’s a very different thing. It’s fight or flight in its purest form. It’s the difference between a dog baring its teeth and having another go at some melee carnage… or lying on its back with its tail coiled up between its legs.

In war, you can hold your ground and engage the enemy or you can throw down your guns and run away. Same thing. Except for most people nowadays, at least in the Western world, war is something other people get paid to deal with. It’s something that happens overseas and on TV. There’s no draft anymore. Violence is being erased from “civilized” civilian society. It has become entertainment. A stylized fantasy. You get to see the moves and hear the sounds, but you don’t get to feel the pain. And yet the pain has something to teach.

Like I said, you learn a lot about yourself during your first fight. And your second. And your third. What you learn is – what you learn first, anyway, is – whether or not you have any real fight in you. When that first punch in the face hits you and your eyes flash just as what feels like a brick flying at 500 miles per hour turns the entire front of your skull into a flaring, throbbing strobe of pain, you get your first glimpse of who you are. Before you even land on your ass, your brain is already trying to decide if you will simply lie down and hope the fight is over, or spring up and hit the guy back twice as hard and see how he likes it.

What my first fight taught me

I remember my first fight vividly: Second grade. Parc Monceau. The biggest kid in my class decided he was going to use the smallest kid in the class (me) to cement his Alpha status for the school year. Words were exchanged, shoves ensued, and next thing I know, we were rolling around in the dirt, scraping our knees and elbows, trying land a solid hit on the other. Planting a solid punch at that age would have surely ended the fight – to the delighted cheers of our classmates – and would have secured immediate popularity for whomever emerged victorious. As it turns out, neither one of us did. But the other kid, desperate to break free from the scuffle, accidentally head-butted me in the face, knocking me clear off him. I remember hearing the ugly thud sound of his skull bouncing off my cheek, my head snapping back, and my little French behind landing squarely on the hard-packed dirt. The other kids immediately fell silent and stared at us to see what would come next. I tasted blood in my mouth, from where I had bitten my tongue. I was surprised by the taste… And by the fact that I was more excited than scared.

Up until that moment, I had imagined that being on the receiving end of a head-butt would be the worst thing in the world. Yet there I was, realizing that the other guy wasn’t as strong, as mean, as dangerous or as invincible as I thought he was. And, equally important, realizing that perhaps I had more of a fight in me than I originally thought. Fighting back tears of pain and fear, I got back up, swallowed a mouthful of blood, and threw myself at him. Though he was a lot taller and bigger than me, I tackled him and knocked him to the ground. The rolling around and wild kicking and punching resumed, but before either one of us could land a solid punch, the fight was broken up by our teacher. We were both sent to the principal’s office – the dragon-like Mme Gomez – and sat there for about fifteen minutes before she finally called us in.

Those fifteen minutes were invaluable: The entire time, not once did the other kid dare return my stare. After a quick inspection of my knuckles and clothes, and after having pondered what punishments would follow both at school and at home, I looked over at him and caught him quickly blinking away. Feeling that I was still staring at him, he didn’t look up again. It was at that moment, not before, that I realized I had won the fight. Not because I had beaten him, mind you – I hadn’t. What I realized was that, for me, the real fight wasn’t against him. It was against myself: Fight vs. Flight.  Flight lost. I wanted more. Test passed.

From then on, I knew I would never again be too afraid to stand my ground. That moment of clarity is something I have taken with me into every difficult, stressful situation since.

Going through something like this, as simple as it may seem, is a defining moment in a man’s life, and one that far too many boys today never get to experience, to their own detriment, and that of society as a whole when they eventually join the workforce.

To this day, I don’t remember a thing about what the principal had to say or what my punishment was. I grinned from ear to ear the rest of the day, beaming with pride and excitement at the realization that there was more to me than just pretend courage. Later, what I remember from being walked to my mother’s car by my angry teacher wasn’t the fear of punishment or the embarrassment of the public escort, but the looks of awe I saw in the other kids’ eyes. Still grinning at my scowling mother after my teacher explained what had happened, I hopped into her Autobianchi and told her my side of the story: He started. It wasn’t my fault. I was only defending myself. He got what he deserved. I took a skull to the face and it still hurt a lot, but it was okay. She lectured me all the way home, but I know that behind the stern threats of being sent to Jesuit boarding school if I couldn’t behave, was a quiet pride that I hadn’t punked out. Later that afternoon, my father  inspected my swollen black eye, obviously amused by the entire incident, and probed me for details until my mother reminded him that the brawl wasn’t something to be proud of. Yet it was, and all three of us knew it.

The kid never bothered me or any of my classmates again. I don’t even remember his name anymore. It doesn’t matter.

Contests of this type happened again over the years, each one teaching me a little bit more about myself, until I graduated to the more subtle and underhanded type of political combat favored by many corporate types.

Leadership from the outside-in: Understanding the mechanics of the pecking order

Here’s the thing, and be sure not to underestimate the potency of the metaphor: We are all either lions or lambs. Men walk into a conference room, a basketball court, a bar, a gym, the first thing they do is size each other up. Hierarchies are established before anyone takes the initiative to speak. Body language, stress hormones, eye contact and behavior help determine the social order in a matter of minutes if not seconds. Before the lions begin to fight for the top spot, the lambs aremarked and set aside. Few of us ever talk about it, and for many men, the process is completely subconscious, but it happens everywhere men go. This has probably been going on since long before we lived in caves.

Care to see a fine example of the process? Watch the first twenty minutes of Ronin, John Frankenheimer and DavidMamet’s tale of trust and betrayal among intelligence operatives. In any group of men, a pecking order must be established before the group can function. Though the process now takes into account job titles and artificial leadership, lambs are not lions. A leader in title only is a liability to himself and the group he is responsible for.

Riddle me this: How can you earn the trust and respect of a company of professional soldiers if even one of them thinks he is more qualified than you to lead them all? If he thinks he is a better soldier, a better leader? Stronger, faster, tougher?

While you ponder the question, here’s something to think about: How is a group of men in uniform any different from a group of men in suits? Each culture may emphasize certain leadership qualities differently, but the principles are the same: If a leader is imposed on the group rather than arrived at by mutual selection, then the leader must prove his worth, or his tenure is doomed from the start. If the guy in charge, when sized up by the rest of the men in the room is found… wanting, you are looking at a dangerous level of inevitable dysfunction that will result in disaster somewhere along the road.

The weakest guy in the room can’t be the leader. Regardless of what his business card says, it just doesn’t work that way. You can’t get rid of thousands of generations of evolution just because we’ve decided to trade spears for pens and caves for cubicles. It may seem silly, but it’s also true and well worth acknowledging.

The true value of a mouthful of blood

I know this is going to sound strange, but a CEO who has put himself through the gauntlet – whether it was a fist fight, a combat tour in Iraq or a wrestling match against a great white shark knows how to be fearless in the face of uncertainty. He can look his competitor in the eye, say “bring it,” and mean it. He can look at an economic crisis as an opportunity to prevail against adversity and cement his company’s reputation by taking market share rather than merely hoping to hold on to what it has.

A man who has the confidence to stand his ground in the face of adversity, a man who has learned the value and excitement of fighting for something he believes in, a man who knows that no amount of pain or fear will weaken his resolve, this kind of man can lead any company away from defeat, towards success.

The guy who has never been punched in the face doesn’t yet know how tough he is. That man doesn’t know if he should get up or beg for mercy when his lip gets split. He doesn’t know what he is made of yet. Take him by surprise, upset his routine, put him in the hurt locker, and he sits there wondering what he should do next. He sits there stunned, gagging on a mouthful of his own blood, wishing he weren’t in so much pain. For precious seconds, he hesitates, not yet knowing what to do. Indecision: The antithesis of leadership.

The CEO, the Senior VP, the Director of this and that, untested, are all liabilities. Lamb playing at being lions.

The truth of it is this: What you learn fighting off bullies in your childhood, learning to stand your ground and take real hits comes back to either serve or haunt you later in life, when faceless enemies set their sights on your endeavors. Knowing that you can overcome physical adversity and survive your fear of the unknown arms you with the ability to make intelligent decisions in the heat of the moment. It teaches you to keep a cool head when everyone else panics. It teaches you not to retreat unless you absolutely have to, but to instead make your way through the storm and find calmer waters waiting beyond it.

The real beauty of it is that once the people who look to you for leadership realize that this is the type of leader you are, they will follow you anywhere. Their loyalty, their dedication, their support will be assured. And that, when it comes to building strong brands, isn’t something you can either buy or do without.

So parents, teachers, law enforcement personnel and passers-by, consider this: Next time two little boys decide to brawl, don’t stop them right away. Let them throw a few kicks and punches. Let them sort it out on their own, even if only for a few seconds. What they discover about themselves in those short, precious, terrifying moments could help shape them into formidable leaders someday. I know it sounds pretty weird, but trust me: They need to put themselves through it, black eye, mouthful of blood and all.

Cowards make lousy leaders. Give your kids enough space to learn not to be.

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Continuing the series started a few weeks ago with Bette Davis, here are some lessons that a bright dead personality could teach us were they alive today. This week: Gaius Julius Caesar – a guy so successful in his time that his last name became synonymous with “Emperor”. (Point of note: the term “Czar” is a contraction of “Caesar.”)

Here what Julius Caesar might talk about if he could speak at #Likeminds, #Ungeeked and #SxSW today:

1. Six inches of point beats two feet of blade.

The Roman legions conquered most of the known world using javelins and the standard issue short-sword called a Gladius. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, the gladius was a stabbing weapon, not a hacking/slicing weapon. Compared to long swords and battle axes wielded by barbarian hordes, the gladius seemed a child’s weapon: Short and dagger-like, not particularly good at slicing. Yet its six inches of stabbing point beat its longer, scarier counterparts in battle. Why? Because the Roman legions were trained to use it properly.

What the Roman legions knew (and the barbarian hordes – including my own people, the Gauls didn’t) is that flailing wildly with long, heavy weapons forces you to commit too much to each attack. Swinging a heavy weapon opens up your guard just long enough for a legionnaire to thrust his gladius from behind a wall of shields and take you down. Not to mention the energy efficiency of a quick thrust vs. a wide swing. Legions used less energy in battle than their ill-trained counterparts, which allowed them to fight longer, thus giving them the ability to win against 2:1 and sometimes 3:1 odds.

Sometimes, the difference between effectiveness and failure lies in how expertly a tool is used. Bigger and better doesn’t guarantee success. Fluency and expertise in the use of very specific tools, however, can turn an apparent disadvantage into a win. A well trained operator with a simple  tool can be much more effective than a less well trained operator with an expensive, more impressive tool. Never take training, focus and discipline for granted.

2. People want to be led, not controlled.

While Julius Caesar was in command of his legions, he was hailed as a hero. His men would have followed him anywhere (and did). Why? Because he led them to victory and glory.

When he returned to Rome after defeating his rival Pompey, Caesar tried to rule Rome as a dictator. That didn’t work so well. In shifting from leadership to absolute control, he stepped over a line that the people of Rome – and even his closest allies – refused to cross with him. The result: Julius Caesar was assassinated by a group of senators bent on making an example of his death to any future would-be dictators. The lesson: Leadership = good. Control = bad.

Leadership implies direction. It promises a better tomorrow. It engages and fascinates and inspires. Control, however, is a crushing weight on liberty that no man ever accepts freely. Control breeds resentment and hatred. It fosters discord and revolution. Be aware of the difference and how your leadership/management style is perceived by the people under your charge. Aim to lead, never to control.

3. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”

A) Everyone loves a winner. The ingredients of leadership may be a brew of courage, vision and intelligence, but its flavor and appeal are the wins. It isn’t enough to be a leader. You have to prove it again and again by pulling off some key victories. Winning gives you something to talk about. Not winning means you should talk less and work more.

B) Brevity goes hand in hand with clarity. It doesn’t get much clearer than “I came, I saw, I conquered.” Even in twitterland, that leaves you more than enough room to add a hyperlink to a PDF that elaborates on such a succinct report.

4. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

Books are nice. They’re a start. But at some point, you have to DO the thing. You have to build the business. Grow the business. Win market share. Outpace your competitors. Recruit the best minds. Create the culture-changing products. Fix the accelerator glitch. Stop the giant underwater oil leak. Rejuvenate your brand. Redefine your market. This stuff isn’t theoretical. You have to roll up your sleeves and learn the hard way what works and what doesn’t.

Julius Caesar learned soldiering with the rank and file of the Roman legions. He fought in the front lines, shoulder to shoulder with legionnaires. He slept with them, ate with them, drank with them, marched with them and bled with them. Had he not spent years in the trenches doing the work himself, he would not have been the military leader he became. “Experience is the teacher of all things.”

The subtleties of experience trump the best theoretical education in the world. Books will only get you started. You have to go the other 90% of the way through hard work. There’s just no getting around it. If you can’t learn how to be a race car driver by reading books, you certainly can’t learn how to lead an army of run a business that way either.

As for Social Media “certifications,” forget about it. Training (even what I can teach you at Red Chair events) will only get you so far. The only way to get good at something is to do it, and do it and do it until it becomes second-nature. Experience trumps instruction.

Say it with me, out loud so the whole class can hear you: There are no shortcuts.

5. “Cowards die many times before their actual deaths.”

Be bold. Take chances. Don’t hide. Every time you don’t speak up in a meeting, every time you let some jerk at the office take credit for your work, every time you hold off on releasing a product or green-lighting a bold campaign, you are building your house with faulty, weakened bricks.

Winning, being successful, beating the competition isn’t achieved by playing defensively. Every win is a succession of decisions that imply risk and take courage. Likewise, every failure is a succession of decisions marred by fear and cowardice. Learn this.

The same rules apply to your online presence: If you want to find your voice in the blogosphere and on the twitternets, have the courage of your convictions. Speak your mind, even if what you have to say may earn you a few frowns. It is easy to feel pressured by some well-followed “personalities” to keep your mouth shut or not speak against the grain. Don’t let yourself be intimidated. Your opinion is as valuable as theirs, and your point of view just as worthy of expression. Being blackballed by a handful of self-important bloggers isn’t the end of the world. Better to know who your friends and enemies are than to live in fear of retaliation. Speak your mind. Find strength in courage.

Build your house, one courageous decision and action at a time.

6. “I had rather be first in a village than second at Rome.

Some folks are just happy to be there. Others are okay with being top 5. Others yet are content to be #2. Leaders don’t fit into any of these categories. They want to be #1. It’s a personality trait, nothing more. It can’t be faked or learned. You’re either this type of person or you aren’t. Bill Gates wasn’t interested in being #20, so he started Microsoft. Steve Jobs: Same story. Sir Richard Branson: idem. The great leaders of history, whether in antiquity or in our time all share a similar personality trait: #2 is not an option.

Same thing with companies and brands: Would you rather be #1 in a niche market or #3 in a broad market? Which holds the greatest value? Ask Apple where they went with that. Ask Microsoft where they went with it. It isn’t a question of which is the better choice. The question is more personal: Which is the better choice for you?

Note: Incidentally, in the world of Social Media platforms, there is no #2. You’re either #1 in your category, or you are on your way out. In this world, velocity and scale win.

7. “It is not these well-fed long-haired men that I fear, but the pale and the hungry-looking.”

The competition is the hungry kid with an idea, ambition and nothing to lose. Thirty years ago, they were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Five years ago, they were Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Evan Williams. Who’s next? Who will crush Big Advertising? Big Web? Big Print? Big Software? Big Consulting? Big Energy?

If you’re the industry leader, don’t look to your biggest competitors. Instead, look to the kids with the brains, the vision and the huevos to redefine your category and make you obsolete. Likewise, if you’re one of those kids, don’t let the big dogs intimidate you. If you have a better idea, fight for it. Make it happen. Don’t settle for what’s comfortable. Fight. The old guy playing golf with his CEO buddies every other day, he’s given up.

In the long run, my money is always on the hungry young wolf, not the fat one taking a nap in the sun.

8. “It is better to create than to learn! Creating is the essence of life.”

It is better to be a pioneer than a student. Go where no one has gone. Until Julius Caesar marched into Gaul and made it a Roman territory, it was a wild and savage land Rome feared would never be tamed. He had a vision of what could be, and he made that vision a reality.

Henry Ford had a vision. So did Walt Disney. So did the United States of America’s Founding Fathers. So did Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz (yes, I know, he wasn’t the original founder, but he was the one who made Starbucks “Starbucks”), Bill Bowerman, and Branson. Every brand of note, from the Roman Republic to The Beatles focused on creating and building, not just on learning. Learn all you want, but then do something with what you’ve learned. Contribute. Create something of value. Even if it is just a #chat, an idea, a YouTube video, a blog post, a presentation or an app. Create something. Anything.

9. Ask everything of your people, but reward them like kings.

The men who served in Julius Caesar’s legions and survived to the end retired wealthy. Never forget whose work really made you successful. Your employees, your friends, your business partners, your customers… Everyone who contributed to your success deserves more reward than you can afford. never lose sight of that. Executives who treat lowly employees like cattle are epitomes of stupidity and arrogance. In sharp contrast, executives who treat every employee with respect and gratitude are all win in my book. Strive to be the latter, and don’t skimp on rewards. Look a little further than the proverbial gold watch when trying to reward loyalty. Rise above institutional apathy. Yes you can.

Same with twitter followers and blog readers. If they buy your book, if they come see you speak, if they help you in any way, take the time to do something for them. Strive to give back more than you receive.

10. “The die is cast.”

Make decisions. Live with those decisions. It’s that simple. Once you’ve committed yourself and your business to a course of action, to a play, to a tactical path, you’re committed. The time for doubt or indecision is gone. Stay the course and brave the storm. It’s all you can do.

Leadership isn’t for everybody. It takes nerves of steel, sometimes. It’s hard on the soul.

When you fail: Accept responsibility for the failure, learn from it, dust yourself off, and try again. No need to dwell on what you can’t change. Focus on what you can change.

When you succeed: Reward your people and give them all the credit. Don’t stop and rest, though. When you’re winning is when you should keep advancing. Winning is100%  about momentum. Never forget that.

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I agonized for a few days over what kind of brilliant advice I should share with you on this 1,000th post since the launch of the BrandBuilder blog before finally realizing that no. 1,000 is no different from 999, 1,001 or 356. So no more pondering, no more worrying about writing an epic post (the time for that will come again in due time), and no more waiting around for inspiration to strike. Today, instead of talking about social media, brand management, who does what well and who does what poorly, let’s just talk a little bit about leadership. Corporate leadership, that is.

And instead of doing all the talking, I will let people with a whole lot more experience than me give you some tips about how to become a better leader. Great stuff that transcends the typical leadership quotation mill.

Anne Mulcahy – Former CEO of Xerox

In a crisis, you have the opportunity to move quickly and change a lot – and you have to take advantage of that.

Change doesn’t happen if you don’t work at it. You’ve got to get out there, give people the straight scoop, and get buy-in. It’s not just good-looking presentations; it’s letting people ask the tough questions. It’s almost got to be done one person at a time.

There’s not a lot of room anymore for senior people to be managers. They have to be leaders. I want people to create organizations that get aligned, get passionate, get really inspired about delivering.

Stories exist at every level of the company. Whether it was saving a buck here, or doing something different for customers, everyone has a story. That creates powerful momentum – people sense that they’re able to do good things. It’s much more powerful than the precision or elegance of the strategy.

I communicate good news the same way I do the bad news. I thank people and make sure they feel a sense of recognition for their contribution. But the trick is always to to use the opportunity to talk about what’s next, to pose the next challenges. Where do we want to go? How do we want to build on it?

Margaret Heffernan – Author, The Naked Truth

Nothing kills morale like a staff’s feeling helpless. This often plays itself out when there are rumors of a new strategic shift or a major personnel move, or worse, when the papers are littered with bad news about your company. A big part of boosting morale is about constructing a haven of logic that offers individuals shelter from any storm. At its most basic, leaders have to communicate their awareness of business conditions and place their plans in that context. Each time [a CEO outlines] a future that comes true, he demonstrates his own competence and reinforces trust.

The happiest people aren’t the ones with the most money but those with a sense of purpose – a sense that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. At least some of this has to derive from work. The purpose of a business, then, must be explicit and go beyond boosting the share price or fulfilling some bland mission statement. People want to believe that they are part of something meaningful. The sense of purpose doesn’t have to be grandiose or revolutionary, merely credible and anchored in values.

Purpose is achieved through goals, and the acid test for any leader is defining the appropriate ones. Too small, and celebrations soon ring hollow. Small goals breed cynicism. But too-big goals produce helplessness. Although it can be temporarily thrilling to rally around a big corporate slogan like “kill the competition,” the reality is that employees can’t do it alone and they can’t do it quickly.

Alignment between corporate goals and personal development has never been more critical. The more unpredictable the outside world, the more urgent the personal quest for self-determination. What employees look for in leadership is a sense that their personal journey and the company journey are part of the same story. When these goals aren’t aligned, employees tend to whine with others, eager to share their sense of anger and injustice, polluting morale. The only way to combat this and get back on track is proper feedback. Give employees the tools to influence their own fate.

Get a life. Keeping morale high is like being on a diet: It requires constant effort and is never over. New ideas, stimuli and motivation come from all around you. It’s the larger life, after all, that gives purpose to the climb.

Alan Deutschman – Senior Writer, Fast Company – writing about how IBM builds new businesses

Look for opportunities that can become profitable [billion-dollar] businesses in five to seven years. You’ll probably find them by talking to customers rather than to brilliant researchers in the labs, who are are looking further ahead.

J. Bruce Harreld – IBM

You want to celebrate failure because you learn something. You need some level of security to say ‘I screwed it up,’ and be comfortable that you won’t be fired.

Marcus Buckingham – Author, Break All The Rules

Turn anxiety into confidence. For a leader, the challenge is that in every society ever studied, the future is unstable, unknown, and therefore potentially dangerous. By far the most effective way to turn fear into confidence is to be clear – to define the future in such vivid terms that we can see where we are headed. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety, and therefore clarity is the preoccupation of the effective leader. If you do nothing else as a leader, be clear.

Effective leaders don’t have to be passionate, charming or brilliant. What they must be is clear – clarity is the essence of great leadership. Show us clearly who we should seek to serve, show us where our core strength lies, show us which score we should focus on and which actions we must take, and we will reward you by working our hearts out to make our better future come true.

See? Told you these folks know what they’re talking about.

Thanks to Fast Company‘s March 2005 issue for providing much of today’s content. (I have quite the collection.)

Cheers.

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Snake-oil 2

Part 1: Return on Incompetence

Here’s a flash of obvious: When most of us don’t know how to do something, we typically know that we don’t know how to do it.

Let me illustrate: As much as I would love to be an F-18 pilot, I don’t know how to fly an F-18 (or any aircraft, for that matter). As a result, you don’t see me walking around in a flight suit  pretending that I am an F-18 pilot.

More to the point, you don’t see me advertising my services as an F-18 flight instructor.

For the exact same reason, you don’t see me trying to sell services as an ice-carving, cat wrestling or underwear-modeling instructor. Why? because when most of us don’t know how to do something, we have a) enough sense and personal integrity not to pretend that we do, and b)  enough professional acumen not to pretend that we are qualified to teach it.

Yet this line of logic (and basic sense of professional ethics) seems to escape a disturbingly large group of people who evidently have latched-on to Social Media as an easy meal ticket  – one to be earned, in many cases, on the backs of people and companies who don’t know any better.

To add injury to insult, most of these would-be Social Media “experts” aren’t even good at masking the fact that they have no clue what they are talking about. You would think that they would at the very least grasp the most basic building blocks of social media… like the fact that a Twitter follower, a Facebook fan and a YouTube subscriber are essentially the same thing, but evidently, even that simple of a concept escapes some of these folks. In far too many instances, they don’t seem smart enough to realize how little they understand about a discipline they claim to be experts in.

Yet these are the people who increasingly find themselves advising companies around the US as to how to build, integrate, manage and measure social media programs.

Now, those of us who actually do this for a living and take it seriously can spot these posers a mile away, but how are unsuspecting executives supposed to? To the uninitiated, anyone with a neat sounding social media measurement formula and a whiteboard presentation can sound like they know what they’re talking about. (If you had never seen what gold looks like and a self-proclaimed expert came along with a bag of yellow dust and told you it was gold, why wouldn’t you believe them?)

More often than not, the otherwise innocent combination of inexperience, ambition and lack of professional accountability are to blame. But in far too many cases, an unhealthy blend of raw opportunism and… economic conditions  have given rise to a mob of social media snake oil salesmen. Whatever the causes may be, it worries me to see how quickly both dangerously inexperienced amateurs and deliberate hacks alike have taken over the “social” management business with their special brand of complete nonsense.

Perhaps more troubling: Very few among those of us working hard to build up this discipline are speaking out against bad practices and obnoxious BS from this unscrupulous crowd.

Look, leadership isn’t just about thought leadership. It isn’t just about being pioneers or evangelists or mavens. It certainly isn’t just about getting the accolades and the followers and the invitations to speak at conferences.  Leadership is also about responsibility. And we have a responsibility to keep our community and this field as ethical, professional, and free of BS as we can.

If leaders in this field don’t stand up for its integrity, who will?

28-tweets-later

Return on Inaction:

The reality is that the hijacking of Social Media by hack jobs isn’t happening in a vacuum: Every instance of an agency, firm or consultant promising results and delivering a goose egg makes it that much less likely that their  clients will put their trust in a social media adviser again, genuine or not. And rightly so.

To outsiders, there is no difference between a Chris Penn (who knows his shiznit) and a Joe Shmoe (who couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag if Twitter drew him a map), and that is a big problem: Anyone with a little bit of SEO savvy can have his/her bogus methodology pop up at the top of Google searches. And if no one calls him/her on the BS, there will be no indication anywhere that what s/he is selling is complete nonsense.

Case in point: How many companies have already fallen for misguided methodologies like these? (I use the term misguided since as far as I can tell, their authors seem to have developed these methods in good faith.)

Social Media ROI Calculator no.1. (Go here for the analysis.)

Social Media ROI Calculator no. 2.

Social Media ROI Calculator no. 3.

Bogus Social Media ROI measurement methodology no. 327.

And then there’s  this conversation on LinkedIn. Count how many of these folks are consultants. Tell me that level of widespread confusion and ignorance about the mechanics of Social Media doesn’t open the door for abuse and nonsense on a large scale.

We can do better.

If you believe that the hacks and misguided amateurs will eventually go away on their own, you’re wrong. Why would they? The money isn’t bad, the opportunities are growing and there is still virtually zero accountability in this line of work. Every other company is looking for a social media expert to teach them how to either develop, integrate, manage or measure social media, yet the vast majority of business execs couldn’t tell a true professional from an agency flunkie with a Facebook account. You do the math.

We’re going to be on the wrong side of that growth curve for while unless we start establishing standards for the industry. And I mean sooner rather than later.

How Not To Measure Social Media – Part 2

Here is Part 1.

Below is another example of social media nonsense passing for expertise. I don’t want to make any assumptions about anyone’s motives in this specific case, so to be fair, it’s probable that whomever put this together genuinely thought that the thinking behind the equation and methodology was sound. There is no reason to think that anyone at Digital Royalty was trying to make a quick buck off unsuspecting clients when they developed this. (My guess is that they mean well.) But the fact remains that the people behind this thing don’t understand either Social Media or program measurement well enough to teach either. And that’s the danger: Regardless of people’s intentions and motives, bad methodology is bad methodology no matter how you look at it. And bad methodology quickly turns into bad business for everyone involved.

But don’t take my word for it: Watch the video and make up your own mind. (Watch carefully because I’ll have questions for you afterwards.)

And here is the “equation” referenced in that video:

DigitalRoyaltymetrics

If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

Rather than listing out all of the flaws in this methodology and equation, let me ask a few questions that outline some of my key concerns. You can try to answer them yourselves or go straight to the answer/comment. You choice. (These were questions I asked the author on her blog post. They remain unanswered.)

1) Why do FB fans and Twitter followers fall into the volume column but YouTube subscribers fall into the engagement column?

Twitter followers, Facebook fans & friends and YouTube subscribers fall into the same category. They should be in the same column. (The “reach” column – not featured in this methodology.) Reach is neither hot nor cold. It’s a hard metric.

Demonstrating a lack of understanding about something as basic as this throws up a bright red flag right off the bat.

2) Why do frequency and reach apply to volume but not engagement or conversions? (Warning: This one may hurt your brain, so feel free to skip ahead.)

Assuming that Volume and Engagement are relevant categories/columns, (and that’s a very big if) Frequency and Reach would apply to both.

Let’s take a step back and look at the definitions of Frequency and Reach:

Frequency is a measure of how often something happens. (An activity, a transaction, etc.)

Reach is a measure of how many people you can touch. To use Amy’s own ecosystem terminology, reach is the number of people who live in your ecosystem.

A subset of reach is how many people within that ecosystem you actually touched or engaged with for a particular campaign.

Once you realize that, you start to see how the concept of a volume column is a bit shaky: You would have to include “reach” as an element of the “volume” column even though they are basically two words describing the same thing. See how this makes no sense?

But I digress.

Based on this model, Frequency (of interactions) should also show up in the engagement column: (How often do you engage?) Likewise, Reach would manifest itself in the engagement column in terms of how many people were touched/reached through… engagement.

If a Conversion column exists, then Frequency also applies to it: Frequency of conversions = how often conversions happen. (Or transactions, for that matter.)

Regardless of how flawed your method may be, this is simple, basic, common sense stuff that can be plugged in properly IF you understand it.

The lack of basic understanding of reach and frequency raises another red flag.

3) What does “actual activity and action” mean?

Transactions? Website visits? Who knows? Knowing what you’re talking about matters. Letting other people what you’re talking about matters too. “Actual activity and action” doesn’t mean anything.

Another red flag.

4) The size of your “ecosystem” = Reach. How can reach fall into both the cold and warm columns?

The size of an ecosystem is the definition of reach.  Calling something two different things doesn’t actually make it two different things. (This doesn’t happen when you know what you’re talking about.)

Having the same element appear twice in the same equation is bad math.

The red flags keep popping up.

5) Return on Influence = Adding 3 web analytics values to sentiment x reach (again)? Seriously? That’s the equation?

Before we dive deeper into this, the equation needs more work, starting with the fundamental flaws I already outlined.

Once you’ve revamped the basic elements of the method and equation, you have to then understand how the pieces fit mathematically (assuming they even do). Throwing a bunch of unrelated values together does not constitute serious social media measurement.

6) What unit of measure do you use? If it’s a “return,” what are we talking about? What does the number mean? What is it in reference to?

If the equation is supposed to create an influence index, then it doesn’t need a unit of measure. Just call it a Social Influence Index (SII) or whatever you want, and you’ll be fine. Whatever number the equation spits out is your “score”. Fair enough. There is nothing scientific about it, but you can probably get away with it.

But if you are going to call it “return on X,” you need a unit of measure. In real Return on Investment, you distill the investment in time, human capital and other resources to $$$. The “return” on that investment therefore is calculated in $$$ as well. Money is the common unit of measure.  The ROI equation gives you a ratio of money invested to money earned. The same rules apply here: If this is to be a “return on influence,” what unit of measure is used to calculate that ratio of return?

Without a clear unit of measure, you cannot calculate “return” on something. Basic 101 stuff. Learn it.

7) If “warm” data is “intangible and hard to measure,” why is it part of the equation to begin with?

Either it’s soft data and thus anecdotal or it is hard data and it can be used here. You have to pick one. You can’t claim that “warm” data is intangible/hard to measure and then add it to your “equation”. This is not a gray area.

Data isn’t cold, warm or hot. There’s only reliable data and unreliable data.

8) (Just added) Why does the equation on the board not match the equation in the graphic?

I knew something else about that equation was bugging me, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Yet it was under my nose the whole time:

In the video, the “cold” half of the equation is interpreted as (Page Views x Visits) / Time Spent

In the graphic, the “cold” half of the equation is interpreted as (Page Views x Visits) + Time Spent

Which is it? Do we divide by Time Spent or do we add Time Spent?

(Thanks to @AnnaObrien for pointing it out.)

Incidentally, Frequency is not defined either in net page views or net unique visits either…

… And most of the KPIs explained early in the video seem to completely vanish…

… but by this point, who cares.

I could go on and on and on, but you get the picture: At first glance, the equation and the methodology look solid to the average person: Clean graphics, columns on a whiteboard, buzzwords we’ve all heard before, the promise of a digital agency backing it up, etc. Because the video and equation has already been posted on a variety of sites that fail to ask basic stink test questions by people who don’t know what flaws to look for, it makes its way to the top of search queries. Before you know it, complete nonsense goes mainstream and passes for real methodology because of three things: Decent packaging, Search, and confirmation of validity by other non-experts who barely skimmed the material.

Ca-ching.

This is how real Social Media expertise gets hijacked, and how Social Media management – as a discipline – loses credibility in the business world before it even gets a chance to prove its worth.

Last words:

This stuff isn’t just going to go away on its own. It’s great to see some folks in the Social Media management community speak out against this kind of BS, but they are the exception rather than the rule. At some point, the incessant retweeting and arse-kissing has to start making room for more relevant and responsible behavior: Call a cat a cat. When you see BS, don’t just look the other way. Call it out. Ask real questions. Put people to the test. That’s what leaders do. That’s what professionals do. We can’t keep allowing remedial BS to invalidate the real work being done in this space by those of us who actually care about it.

Rant over.

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nuclear-explosion

Let’s go over a few things:

1. Social Media is good for you, you know it, and you know why.

2. Social Media alone can’t save your business, but you know that your business can no longer be a market leader without an effective presence in Social Media.

3. Without resources to put behind a social media program or practice, you’re nowhere. It’s kind of like trying to drive  a car without gasoline. Sorry. It isn’t going to happen.

4. Without capital, you can’t put resources behind your Social Media program. So… you have to be able to justify that expenditure. That investment.

5. In order to be able to justify an investment in a Social Media program (from your boss, your client, your peers) you need to understand how to show the value of such a program to their organization.

6. Hits on your website, banner ad clickthroughs, impressions, KPI and whatever other types of measurement your marketing people love to throw at you are nice, they’re important, but they don’t justify a whole lot. They’re a lot like hugs: Everyone knows hugs are nice, but they don’t pay anyone’s salaries and bonuses. You have to take that game a little further.

7. The P&L is not an arcane accounting document. It is where business decisions are put to the test. Every business manager on the planet watches it daily. If you have never been responsible for one, at least get familiar with its mechanics and importance.

8. If you want to justify a budget, a program, a salary, a raise, a bonus, show your boss and your client how your idea will generate more revenue, more dividends or more cost savings. Or how it already has. That will ALWAYS get more priority than schemes to get attention or earn hugs. Money is not an abstract notion. You could get lucky and never be asked to tie your activities to financial impact, but that’s no excuse not to learn how to do it.

9. If you are not able to do this, if you cannot justify the value of a Social Media program, practice, presence or endeavor, the budget you needed to make it happen will go to something else. Like email blasts, efficiency consultants, or that new executive bathroom your boss has really been jonesing for.

10. If you cannot convince your boss or client to invest resources, time and faith in Social Media, they (and you) will get left behind by those of us who can and do. (And I assume you don’t want that.)

11. There are solid measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and case studies being developed right now. They will pave the way for very, very VERY good things. If #10 (above) resonated with you, you probably want to learn from them so you can apply them to your business. Hence my proposal to SxSW ’10.

12. The nonsense and B.S. need to stop. They really do. For everyone’s sake.

You have a choice: You can continue to ignore the topic of Social Media measurement and R.O.I. Best Practices and pretend that talking about web conversions and the influencer index and brand lift will keep things going (which they won’t), or you can get serious about this stuff, learn how to do it right, and be a hero with every company you work for for the next ten years.

Your choice.

If you want to learn this stuff, if you want to bring this discussion to the table, please vote for my session at SxSW asap. The voting ends on Friday at midnight, so I really need you guys to act now.  Spread the word, show people my latest  R.O.I. presentation if you have to… whatever works. It’s up to you. Know that if the session doesn’t get enough votes and isn’t accepted, I am 100% fine with that… But it would be a shame: The sooner we put the R.O.I. “discussion” to rest, the sooner we establish these best practices once and for all, the sooner we can get back to doing more important work.

If you haven’t voted yet, click here now, and thanks in advance. Pass it on. 😉

(You guys rock, by the way!)

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“Making it work” : Lessons from the real world of “do or die.”

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

Call them cliche, but those sayings about finding the silver lining and making lemonade when life hands you lemons, they aren’t just hot air.

When I was in the French Fusiliers Marins, the unspoken motto, the underlying mission imperative was always “make it work.”

The intelligence is wrong? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

The insertion routes are compromised? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

You got dropped 15 miles off target? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

Nobody ever had to say it. Nobody ever had to bark the order. From day one of training, it was pounded into us:

Make it work.

Make it happen.

Find a way.

(If you don’t, people will die.)

The first officer I served under, 1st Lieutenant Rannou, had a saying: “There are no problems. Only solutions.”

He was right.

Sometimes, everything just clicks and works perfectly the first time. You don’t have to do a thing. You might as well be on autopilot: From start to finish, your project, your law suit, your surgery, your product launch, your hostage rescue mission, your ad campaign, your theater production, it all goes well. The planets are aligned. The cosmos is on your side. Everything goes so smoothly that you wonder if you aren’t dreaming.

Most of the time though, things don’t go your way. The unexpected happens. Gremlins. Ghosts in the machine. Flies in the soup. Whatever. The cosmos has a way of throwing obstacles your way at the most inopportune times.

That’s just a given.

A butterfly beats its wings in Buenos Aires, and a week later, your stamp machines in Taiwan are down for a month.

A health crisis in East Africa forces the cargo ship carrying the first shipment of your brand new product to spend three extra weeks at sea.

Your new boss is an self-serving imbecile.

Or in the case of teammate Jay Hewitt (photo above), you lay your bike down going 30mph at mile 51 of a Half-Ironman distance triathlon.

What do you do?

No… really. What do you do?

Murphy’s law isn’t an anecdote. It’s an engine of predictability. Use it.

Let me take a quick break from the full list of mishaps and just say that – in case you hadn’t guessed – skin + gritty pavement + speed don’t feel great.

Imagine getting thrown out of a car moving at 30mph, wearing nothing but your underwear.

Not fun.

Now imagine brushing yourself off, getting back on your bike, finishing the ride as fast as you can, switching out the cartridge in your insulin pump, and then completing a very fast half marathon.

Why? Because no matter what happens, there’s still a finish line to cross. A reputation to preserve. A project to complete. A movie to finish shooting. A new product to launch. An essential part to manufacture.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a military officer, a product manager, a movie director, a chef, a fashion designer, a newspaper editor or a CMO. This is something you can be absolutely certain of: Though sometimes, everything will click and flow smoothly as if by divine intervention, most of the time, obstacle after obstacle will get between you and your goal.

Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it whatever you want. It’s just life.

And in real life, shit happens. No matter what you do, something almost always goes wrong.

The more complicated or ambitious your endeavor, the more likely it is that obstacles will find a way to get between you and that golden finish line. Expect that. Plan for it. Train for it.

Heck, embrace it.

You might as well.

Still, I notice that most people freak out when their plan goes awry. They panic. They lose their cool. They suddenly find themselves feeling… lost. They make everything come to a grinding halt while they regroup.

Why?

Poor planning. Lack of training. They didn’t take the time to plan for failure. They didn’t think to come up with contingency plans.

Most of the time though, it just comes down to one simple thing: Lack of experience.

So for those of you who don’t quite know how to manage cool, crazy, ambitious projects, here’s a little bit of advice:

The Ten Basic Rules of Project Management

Rule #1: Never expect things to work right the first time. (If they do, great.  Just don’t expect them to.)

Rule #2: Expect everything to take at least twice as long as you know they should.

Rule #3: Expect the unexpected.

Rule #4: When everything is going well, worry. (You probably missed something.)

Rule #5: Find out what doesn’t work before your customers do. (That’s what prototypes are for.)

Rule #6: You learn more from how and why a product fails than how and why it works the way you expect it to. (So push your prototypes to failure as often and in as many different ways as possible.)

Rule #7: “Design By Committee” never works.

Rule #8: Trust your instincts.

Rule #9: Listen to the people who will use your product. Their opinion matters more than anyone else’s.

Rule #10: Have fun.

Why experience matters: A simple list.

Back to Jay: Jay has crashed in races before. Jay knows how broken bones feel. Jay knows that even with no skin on his shoulder, he can keep racing. He’s been there. He’s done that. He has already faced and concquered pretty-much every obstacle in the book when it comes to endurance racing. As a result, when problems happen, his resolution time is almost instantaneous. He doesn’t have to spend thirty minutes wondering if he’s badly hurt or just in pain. He doesn’t have to seek professional advice. He doesn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of anything. Knowing where he stands allows him to make the right decision in the blink of an eye: Keep going.

Experience builds confidence. Experience breeds forethought and insight. Experience takes doubt, uncertainty, and fear out of the equation. Jay knows that if he crashes, he can probably still finish the race. He knows how to fix a flat. He knows how to repair a broken chain. He knows a dozen ways to fix problems on his bike or with his body, and the ones he doesn’t know how to fix, he can probably improvise if need be.

There are no problems. Only solutions.

Simple enough.

More often than not, projects that appear to have gone smoothly from the outside didn’t go smoothly at all. Every day brought a new hurdle. Hundreds of fires had to be put out. Thousands of split-second decisions had to be made. Course adjustments. Quick fixes. A folder-full of improvised solutions. Personel changes. Vendor replacements. Timeline adjustments. Budget attrition. Whatever. The list never stops growing.

That’s how it really works.

Perfect illustration: Below is Jay at the finish. From the right side, he looks fine. His injuries are out of sight. He looks like a guy who just breezed through a Half Ironman the way most of us breeze through a Taco bell drivethrough.

To an outsider, a bystander, he had a flawless, fun race.

To someone with inside knowledge, he finished despite a horrible bike accident that could have cost him a whole lot more than another medal.

He crashed. He got up. He quickly assessed the situation. He got back on his bike. He finished the race. He added the experience to his knowledge bank.

He made it happen.

If that doesn’t perfectly illustrate the way a project is driven forward, I don’t know what does.


Project manager. Triathlete. Adventure Racer. Creative Director. Platoon Leader. Customer Service Rep. Design Engineer. Toolmaker. Sous-Chef. Football Coach. It’s all the same.

Project/Program Managers are wired differently. Hire and promote with that in mind.

Great project managers aren’t just natural multi-taskers. They’re also natural strategic masterminds. Improvisation kings (and queens). Crisis jugglers. Fearless creative acrobats. Their job (their nature) is to constantly find and implement solutions to problems, foreseen and not. Their job is to embrace hurdles and obstacles, because each one brings them one step closer to their goal. They thrive on making things happen. The more untraveled the road, the better. The more complex the gameboard, the better.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to a) do that kind of work well, and b) love every minute of it.

It isn’t for everybody.

Excuses and blame don’t exist in our little world. Neither does bullshit. At the end of the day, there’s only what you did and what you didn’t do.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

For most people, that’s not a good thing…

…and for some of us, that’s when the real fun begins. (And we do like our fun.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

(Hat tip to Tamsen McMahon/@tamadear at Sametz Blackstone for pointing out that this should be a manifesto and not a primer)

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