Planting Seeds of Leadership

Growing up, I was fascinated by the self-propagation design of the milkweed plant.

A pod full of parachute-equipped seeds matures and swells. At the right time, it bursts open and the seeds take to the winds, creating new plants wherever they may end up.

As with so much that surrounds us. Oaks begin their career as acorns – perhaps a seed buried and forgotten by a busy squirrel, now growing into a mighty presence in the forest.

Leadership Chat was never meant to be an oak. It was destined only to be a means to spread seeds of leadership.

I look out the window here in my office and see our lovely red maple shading our deck. There are still a few helicopter-shaped seeds hanging on today, but mostly, that time has passed. Seed-time is short, then it’s on to watering, fertilizing, pruning, and (eventually) harvesting and propagating.

There is very little that you can build in 140-character bursts once a week on Twitter. What you can do, however, is spread seeds of thought, and challenge old ideas, and kick off new friendships. Ideas and inspiration can take wing on digital networks and land on waiting soil. That’s what on-line chats are best for.

After a year-and-a-half of hosting Leadership Chat, Lisa Petrilli (the best co-host a person could ever ask for!) and I have decided that our time for planting seeds in this format is done. We each have new opportunities and ongoing responsibilities that demand time and attention. Yet we look back with tremendous gratitude for the friendships, the community, the new initiatives that have grown out of this modest little experiment.

We’ve had the privilege of welcoming many guests to share their wisdom and experiences: from well-known public figures like Carrie Wilkerson, Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis, and John Jantsch to other insightful authors such as Les McKeown, Keni Thomas, Angela Maiers, and Becky Carroll. We discussed and debated Male/Female Roles, Hubris, Loyalty, Decision Fatigue, Vision, On-boarding, Emotions, and many other topics covering quite a range of human experience.

But, above all, we’ve enjoyed each others’ company and support. Hopefully we’ve all learned a few things along the way, things that we’re putting into practice right now (and will continue so to do).

Of all those who have supported the Leadership Chat community, I want to especially thank the quiet man over in the corner, Mack Collier, who has been a pillar of encouragement throughout this entire time, even when lurking on Tuesday nights with his Dr. Pepper. And the privilege of not only collaborating with Lisa Petrilli, but building an enduring friendship, has been for me the greatest result of participating in Leadership Chat.

This Tuesday, May 29th, is Graduation Day. Let’s spend the time discussing what we’ve learned in the past 18 months or so – not merely head knowledge, but real-life hands-on leadership lessons. How have you changed and become more effective? In what practical ways? We look forward to being with you during our final edition of LeadershipChat (8 pm ET on Twitter – hashtag #LeadershipChat).

Image credit: Wikipedia

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

>> LeadershipChat: Transitions

The Ultimate Competitive Advantage

You can have boundless energy, a really hot product, great pricing, solid staff, and a top-of-the-line Lexus in the CEO parking space, and still go down in flames.

If you want to succeed (long-term) as a leader, as a business, as a consultant – really, as a person – then there’s one thing you absolutely need to have. One huge advantage. And it’s something that we can ALL acquire. Clear vision.

It can be a process getting to 20/20 clarity – sometimes, a lot of “doing” is what gets you to better “seeing” – but when you know who you are, what you want, what your core competencies are, what your differentiator(s) are, and how to express all that – you’re way ahead of the game.

I have pathetic uncorrected vision – my glasses have always been pretty thick (yes, I still have Lasik envy – maybe someday…). Without clear sight I won’t recognize obstacles, or see opportunities; I’ll just bump into stuff. Have you seen a lot of businesses that behave like that? I have. They’re not on a well-defined course because the destination isn’t clear, nor is the pathway to get there.

Success starts with clear vision at the top – leaders who know what rabbit trails to avoid because they can see the destination, and they have a reasonably clear roadmap.

For quite some time, Kodak had a well-defined place in the market, and a successful business model. But when digital began to upend the need for film, it soon became evident that this company did not have a clear vision of how to re-make itself, how to navigate in a rapidly-evolving world that was doing a complete market makeover. Or, as discussed in last week’s chat, there’s Yahoo. What’s their vision? Does anyone know?

On the other end of the size scale, I see someone newly-laid-off from a client company who has hung out his/her shingle as a consultant, without a single differentiating anything in the company message. “We just do the usual stuff, so hire us” might as well be the company motto.

Will Work For Food may get you a little cash flow for a while. But a far clearer understanding of what you will work for – and why – is the ultimate competitive advantage.

Join us tonight (May 22nd) at 8 pm ET as we discuss Clarity in Leadership during #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Be sure you give a good read to the prep post written by my talented co-host, Lisa Petrilli, Every Leader’s Achilles Heel (great image on the blog post, btw!). We look forward to an enlightening conversation during The Fastest Hour on the Internet.

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

>> LeadershipChat: Transitions (yes, we are winding down LeadershipChat after this month!)

Connection Pinball

Scanning my usual set of columns in Hootsuite this morning, I wondered, “Is there a blog post here – just looking  at these people?”

In my DM column I saw Liz Marshall and Terry Starbucker. Yep, there was a story.

You see, I met Terry in our early days of blogging – probably 2008, at the famous Blogger Social ’08. Our friendship had little to do with my business at the time (which was and still is focused on pharma), but we were both blogging on marketing and business topics, and we hit it off.

In 2009, I made my only appearance at SXSW, mainly to chaperone my oldest son, who was interested in film (and, hey, what’s not to like about a father-son adventure to Austin?). Being disillusioned with a lot of the panels, I spent a fair amount of time in the Blogger Lounge, where, serendipitously, I ended up at the same table with Liz Strauss. We hit it off, too.

Terry and Liz insisted that I come to this rather small conference in Chicago called SOBCon the next year. It wasn’t in my pharma sweet spot, but I was still trying to find my place in the marketing/social media/entrepreneur world as well, and I liked the idea of a more intimate gathering of status-quo-breakers. So I went.

There I met Lisa Petrilli, also visible in my HootSuite columns today. And, Anthony Iannarino, Danielle Smith, Sean McGinnis, Angela Maiers – all visible front-and-center this morning on Twtiter, all met for the first time at a SOBCon event (2010 or 2011). Because LeadershipChat was born out of a collaboration between Lisa Petrilli and me that started at SOBCon, a whole other fleet of close connections has also been developed. And as I expand out of pharma into a new endeavor, it’s people like Carol Roth and Greg Hartle and Lou Imbriano and Jeannie Waters and Liz Marshall and Sara Goodman and Jesse Petersen and Becky McCray and Alli Worthington and Fred McClimans and Brandie McCallum and Sam Fiorella and Meghan Biro and Patty Azarello and Jeff Shuey and Phil Gerbyshak and many others who are my supporters, and cheerleaders, and brain trust.

All of this grew out of LeadershipChat and SOBCon.

Which grew out of becoming friends with Liz and Terry.

Which leads to the moral of the story. Make great quality connections, cultivate those relationships, and be ready.

It may seem a bit like a pinball game at times, but you cannot and will not lose when you make friends with great people!

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

Seeing 20/20 in 3-D

A little while back, I got new prescription glasses. And there was that moment, putting them on, when I realized what it is like to see 20/20 again. All of us who wear contacts or glasses know that wonderful feeling.

The slow drift toward unclear vision often goes unrecognized until someone fits us with a new pair of lenses.

The fact is, clear vision is not an option. Whatever other investment I may forego, I will always spend the necessary funds to see clearly – because that is foundational to everything I must do! Amazingly, however, few of your competitors will do so. That’s why clarity can become your strategic advantage.

When I work with you on a Clarity Therapy session, we’re looking for a 20/20 vision for you or your company. We’re interested, not merely in creating a tagline, but in discovering your purpose.

If you’re going to differentiate yourself in the marketplace, you need to have a crystal-clear message and identity. This unfolds in a 3-D process:

  • DNA – during the first part of Clarity Therapy, which involves a lot of free-flowing Q&A, we’re digging deep to find your professional DNA – uncovering your drives, your gifts, your strengths, your dreams.
  • Direction – next, we explore options, figuring out ways that your differentiating individual/company qualities could optimally succeed in the marketplace.
  • Distillation – finally, we take all these themes and condense them down to 4 elements of expression to position you in the minds of customers: Offering, Message, Story, Analogy.

In less than a day, you’re seeing 20/20. In 3-D. You’re not throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks (what’s the ROI of that??). You’re taking charge with a roadmap that’s clear.

It’s a great way to win in business!

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Words With Baggage

While facilitating a workshop on vendor/project management with a client yesterday, I felt compelled to emphasize that one of the keys to communication between two parties (say, client project manager –> vendor project manager) is realizing that words carry baggage. And I do not speak of “baggage” here pejoratively, as we often do, but simply descriptively.

There is the dictionary definition of a word or phrase. Then, there is the meaning and significance embedded in our minds, which is attached to an (accurate or not) personal definition, past experiences, images, people, issues, etc.

These meanings may have quite a bit of emotional freight, or conceptual misunderstanding, attached to them. So in dealing with project management, NEVER assume that everyone understands words the same way. Define. Discuss. Put it in writing. Do not leave it in the verbal ether, and discover 3 weeks down the road that even though it sounded like there was agreement when words were spoken – there clearly wasn’t (as the project begins to go off the rails).

We all want to assume that people think the way we do, and know what we mean. But if you sit 5 people down in a room and throw out a word or phrase, you may be the surprised at the variety of meanings – and reactions – that come back.

Over lunch with my boys this past Sunday, I threw out a hot-button word in our society and we had a rich discussion around what it does and doesn’t mean. The hardest part isn’t the ability to go to Dictionary.com and look up an explanation. And while there is a skill and art form to applying logic, that also isn’t the most difficult element (as important as it is). The real challenge is the emotional intelligence to grasp that words can have meaning way beyond those aspects of sheer accuracy.

Some words set off a cascade of reactions because of the baggage that travels with them. Miscommunication can result even when we think we’re being clear. And one of the dangers of social media is that we’re forced to use a paucity of words, often without supporting context. Throw in a polarizing political climate and the mix can be quite volatile.

I love the communication that is enabled through digital networks, though not as much as the face-to-face version. But sometimes, I fear that when we think we’re playing Words With Friends, we forget that we are using Words With Baggage.

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

LeadershipChat: Transitions

Markets change. Companies change. Circumstances change. And leaders transition in and out of their roles.

How is this handled? What are the upsides, the downsides, and the pitfalls of leadership transitions? That will be our topic of discussion for LeadershipChat this week.

In and of themselves, transitions are neither inherently good nor evil. They’re simply a fact of life. The reasons for them, and the way they are handled, make the difference between a positive and negative experience. Sudden transitions due to scandal or sub-par performance can rock the boat temporarily, but may lead to a better future in time. A well-planned and orchestrated succession of power is always the ideal, but even that doesn’t guarantee success. Let’s talk about the successes and failures we’ve seen, and the lessons learned.

—————

This topic of Transitions is timely for another reason. Lisa Petrilli and I launched LeadershipChat in October 2010, as a collaborative venture to build community, create discussion around leadership issues, and see how we could use the (then emerging) Twitter chat format to expand our networks. It has been a labor of love, and, by all accounts, a great success; the relationships spawned between members of the LeadershipChat community have been a source of wonder and joy.

However, in recent months, it has become clear to both of us that our professional lives are evolving in ways that make it impossible to continue hosting a weekly chat. Therefore, at the end of this month (May 2012), we’re going to wind down LeadershipChat. Lisa and I both began to wonder this year if LC had served its purpose. Over dinner in Chicago recently, we talked about how our decision to start up LC was conscious and purpose-full, and that at some point between, say, the next 8 minutes and 80 years, we were going to need to make a conscious decision about its continuance. Within 8 minutes of further discussion, we smiled knowingly at each other. It was time to retire LeadershipChat and move on to other endeavors.

So, after this week, there will be 2 more Tuesday night editions of LeadershipChat. The finale, on May 29th, we’ll call Graduation Day. We’ve chatted a lot, but as we all know, there’s a lot of “doing” ahead of us! We are grateful for the many who have supported this endeavor and participated so enthusiastically in LeadershipChat over the months. And I, in particular, am grateful for Lisa Petrilli, and the strong friendship we’ve established through this joint venture. A large amount of work behind the scenes has gone into orchestrating LeadershipChat, and I can’t imagine a more wonderful partner than Lisa (even though we’ve only seen each other IRL a total of 3 times!)

See you Tuesday night, May 15th at 8 pm ET, for The Fastest Hour on the Internet – LeadershipChat!

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Chicago-style Leadership

>> I Went to SOBCon 2012 And All I Got Was…

Business Mist = Business Missed

We’d fondly like to think that our potential clients – and even we ourselves – have a clear, 20/20 view of our professional offerings and message. However, the case is almost always more like this:

The fog of information overload in the minds of customers, the greyness of unclear positioning, the vaguely familiar sounding competitive bullet points – all of it adds up to being easily forgotten when the opportunity is at hand. Business Mist means Business Missed.

A lot of dollars and time can be spent marketing and advertising, but if the message is unclear, the investment is futile.

Instead, we need to create this for our customers:

Whatever else you do, this should be first. Without clarity, you miss opportunities. Clear enough?

___________

Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Be Narrow-Minded

>> You at the Crossroads

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 153 other followers