Becoming a Small-Business Engineer

Pop the hood of any company and you’re looking at an engine – a power source that drives the business forward. When it comes to leading businesses in a networked world, perhaps it’s time to re-think what constitutes the most efficient and powerful engine.

That’s what we’ll be talking about Tuesday, April 10th as we welcome small-business expert and entrepreneur John Jantsch as our guest host for LeadershipChat (8 pm ET every Tuesday night on Twitter). John is the author of the well-respected Duct Tape Marketing blog, a top on-line resource for small businesses.

So, how should we view the engine of business in a digitally networked world? And how do we become better “engineers”?

One aspect that takes on heightened importance is referrals. John’s most recent book, The Referral Engine, is devoted to this topic. An enlightened leader will be sure to structure his/her company to maximize the power of networks in order to generate referrals (note: this subject is near and dear to my heart, as my primary business is a trusted-referral network). But what does it mean to be “refer-able”? John will share some insights during the chat, and we hope that you will share yours as well!

We’ll also talk about priority management – be sure to read the prep blog post on this topic (Why Leading on Purpose Must be Your Priority) by my lovely co-host, Lisa Petrilli.

Creating an opportunity network –  a business-expanding human web which will open new doors – is a vital way that an entrepreneur or small business leader can more rapidly create sustained growth. This requires a different kind of mentality in the leader, a different view of how to build a business. Join us as we explore this timely topic, at 8 pm ET (use the hashtag #LeadershipChat – you can use a Twitter client like TweetDeck or HootSuite, or just log into Tweetchat). By hanging out with the brilliant folks in the LeadershipChat community, you’ll be sure to expand your network as well!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Four Questions for your Future

Open Doors

When you start talking about social media in the business world, you quickly begin to bump into the ROI question (and if you do, get the insight you’ll need from Olivier Blanchard and buy his book, Social Media ROI).

ROI matters. But for many individuals, consultants, entrepreneurs, small businesses – and yes, even larger businesses – that’s not the only measure of value. There’s another factor to weigh in the balance.

Is this activity likely to produce new opportunities? Potential referrals? Broader awareness? Open doors?

Much of what I – and many others – do via social networking is driven by this long-term view, which is based, not on immediate hard returns of dollars-tied-to-specific-efforts, but by what we might call natural human and marketing principles.

Building deeper human bonds with quality people will, in ways both direct and indirect, lead to increased business opportunities. Do you believe this? I do. And I think it’s true for the solopreneur as well as the biggest brand. That means networking – whether the digital/social variety, or good old-fashioned pressing the flesh (note: I believe in both, together).

An example from my own experience: #LeadershipChat on Twitter. Very little direct revenue has come to the co-hosts (Lisa Petrilli and me) for all the time and effort we’ve put in. HOWEVER – the expansion of our networks, the quality contacts with some very influential people, the collaborations that have occurred, not only for us, but among others in the community – these are worthwhile returns, and the future opportunities yet to come as a result of this initiative will, I’m quite convinced, impact business on multiple levels.

I will trade immediate resources of time and effort for open doors tomorrow and next year. Not only for me, but for others.

Speaking of LeadershipChat, this coming Tuesday (April 10), we’ll welcome John Jantsch, Mr. Duct Tape Marketing himself, talking about referrals and small-business marketing in a networked world. Join us for some new thinking, new network contacts – and, who knows?, maybe some new open doors!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Customers Walking Past You

>> Four Questions for your Future

The Four-Eyed Leader

“Four eyes!”

For many of us that grew up with less-than-stellar vision, this chant brings back less-than-stellar memories of being heckled for having an additional pair of lenses in front of our face.

But, the truth of it is, we all see the world through a set of lenses. Everything is filtered through a prescription unique to us – our worldview.

To make the philosophical simple: behind our words and actions we find our attitudes. Our attitudes are shaped by our worldview. And our worldview is an outgrowth of our first principles – the core beliefs that we have adopted.

Some people say that what we believe doesn’t really matter, as long as we’re sincere. I couldn’t disagree more. You may sincerely disbelieve in the law of gravity, but that isn’t going to prevent your fate as you launch yourself off a cliff.

What we believe determines how we view people, how we view life – and how we lead. You may try to put on a costume of leadership-correct actions, but ultimately, your worldview and beliefs will come to the surface.

So what are my core beliefs about optimal leaders? Here are a few:

1. An effective leader should be marked by positivity. Leaders need to inspire others forward. Negative people sap energy and discourage progress.

2. An effective leader should be realistic. Years of life and experience – successes and failures – will shape a leader into someone who isn’t filled with fantasy about people and progress.

3. An effective leader should be interdependent. Lone rangers and arrogant egomaniacs usually go off the rails at some point (or at many points). The leader makes the team AND vice-versa.

4. An effective leader should be restless. Any team can always do better; any business can find expanding opportunities. The leader needs to push forward continually.

There are many other beliefs – about people, business, life, money, even God – that will strongly impact how we lead. Here’s one disqualifier, however – if you believe, as Mohammed Ali used to proclaim, “I’m the Greatest!” – then you’re probably not ready to lead yet!

Join us at 8 pm ET April 3 on Twitter to discuss this LeadershipChat topic – bring your ideas and your questions (and be sure to read the prep post, Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical for Leadership, by my lovely LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli). We look forward to welcoming you to the lively and diverse LeadershipChat community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff for Clarity Therapy

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> The En-visioners

>> We Do This (and this, and this, and this…)

Does Your Business Need a Lieutenant Commander?

Having just finished the biography of Steve Jobs (by Walter Isaacson – HIGHLY recommended, by the way), I am struck with the amazing combination of vision, strategic thinking, and operational excellence that percolated inside that brilliant soul.

Alas, his people skills were famously lacking, which the book discusses quite honestly. But Jobs was not content with painting pretty pictures of the future. He was obsessed with execution – with making things happen, and happen with envelope-pushing excellence.

There aren’t many like Jobs, are there? And that’s why we’ll be discussing the problem of visionary leaders who have trouble executing during LeadershipChat tonight (8 pm ET on Twitter – use hashtag #LeadershipChat).

The man who currently runs Apple, Tim Cook, was hand-picked by Steve Jobs to be his successor. This was not some random choice out of the air – Cook had proven himself time and again as a great operations guy, including during the medical leaves of absence that Jobs was forced to take as he battled with cancer. It was crucial to the future of Apple that there be a lieutenant that could step in. Tim Cook was that guy.

So what about the leader who has vision, and perhaps solid strategic thinking, but lacks the ability to execute? Do you try to transform that person into someone they are not? I consider that a waste of time. If it’s not already in the DNA (as it was with Jobs), then the best bet is for that leader to have one or more lieutenants who will help operationalize the vision and execute the strategies.

If you’re Steve Jobs, you can afford the luxury of some hubris (even though you will step on plenty of toes with that attitude, as he certainly did!). But for the vast majority of us who lead in one capacity or another, what we really need more of is humility – the recognition that we’re good at X and maybe Y, but not so good at Z. Bring on someone for Z.

Some leaders feel that they must live up to a god complex, and do it all. That’s a sure path to a nervous breakdown (and eventual business trouble). Hire or develop a lieutenant(s). Let the reasons be transparent to all. It’s a lesson from the top that will have many beneficial ripple effects all throughout the organization.

Join us at 8 pm ET March 20 to discuss this topic – bring your ideas and your questions (and be sure to read the prep post, 5 Reasons Visionary Leaders may Fail to Execute, by my brilliant LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli). We look forward to welcoming you to the lively and diverse LeadershipChat community!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

You or Me – Who’s on First?

Our LeadershipChat topic this week opens up a very interesting, even somewhat deep question – can we truly put others first?

We talk a lot about being customer-centric and focused on others – our conversations about business and networking often bring out these idealistic themes. But are they realistic? Or are we only talking about yet another form of hypocritical manipulation?

(admit it: you’ve wondered this with all the high-falutin’ talk about putting others first – right?)

Well, let’s talk about it, plainly and practically. Because this touches on business strategy, sociology, philosophy – and stark realism.

First, I will pull all my cards out on the table for everyone to see – I believe that every person is driven, primarily, by self-interest. Even our noblest, most other-reaching actions have, woven around them, tendrils of our hard-wired self-love. And, I’m perfectly OK with that. Because it’s reality. *

If you adopt a philosophy and approach of being customer-centric and/or placing the spotlight on others, you are doing so with the idea that in some way, and at some point, it will benefit you. That is actually the foundation stone of a free and capitalistic society. When pursuing our self-interest is made most fruitful by providing value to others, we have the basis of a healthy and productive community.

A lot – maybe all? – of what you do right now in the business realm would vanish if you were assured that you would not get paid for it. Your self-interest (which includes providing for your dependents) dictates that you plant, and sow, in order to reap a harvest. No need to argue it – you may as well argue with the necessity of breathing.

And there is nothing wrong with this self-interest! Really – it’s OK.

Here’s the point – we’ll take one of two approaches, mindsets which determine how our self-interest manifests itself:

  1. Short-term/Grasping/Scarcity
  2. Long-term/Cultivating/Abundance

Both, ultimately, are driven by self-interest. But the first appears very much to be selfish. And we recoil from it.

Enlightened leaders don’t have some magical capacity to become lily-white, angel-hearted, selfless dispensers of pure, unconditional, 100-proof sacrificial love. We must leave that for the divine. To be “Go-Givers” (as this week’s #LeadershipChat guest host Bob Burg puts it), we must suspend (so to speak) our instantaneous self-gratification in order to support the development and success of others. This, in turn, will lead to our success (and the success of others). Pursuing abundance, and the good of others, brings the most good – including to ourselves.

(please read the prep post of my co-host, Lisa Petrilli, who gives a nice outline of Bob Burg’s “Go-Giver” thinking).

Feel free to join us for this lively discussion on Tuesday, March 13th at 8 pm ET. This weekly Twitter gathering is for any and all aspiring leaders, globally – and, in your self-interest, you are bound to meet some very interesting and thoughtful people with whom you can build your network! (oh, and if you haven’t ever seen the classic Abbott and Costello skit about Who’s on First? – click the picture above!)

* some will dispute this rather stark description. I simply suggest that you meditate deeply on an almost universally-accepted maxim: Love your neighbor as yourself!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> How the Exit Door Can Improve Results

>> Cattle Disguised as People

How the Exit Door can Improve Results

You’re in business to generate results. To create positive outcomes. To add value and serve customers. To make profit.

And a good leader, like any experienced gardener, knows that the short-term trauma of pruning is necessary for long-term productivity and an optimal harvest.

In other words, fire the slackers. Remove the malcontents. Find some other place for misfits. Get rid of the bad apples.

Just because someone, for some reason, at some time, was hired for a job, does not mean that they merit an ongoing place in the organization. This is not a nursery school or therapist’s office. This is business. If you’re not in line with the organization’s goals and philosophy, if you’re not producing value, if you’re a form of deadweight or even resistance, then you need to be shown your next opportunity. Through the exit door.

Leadership is about making progress and producing results, not coddling the unproductive.

If you’re taking a flight from NYC to San Francisco, just how many outworn, ill-fitting, or defective parts do you want to tolerate on your aircraft? Exactly. No, people are not machines, I get that; but still – if someone is not functioning for the purpose needed, ought they not to be replaced? Sooner, rather than later? We should always have a charitable attitude toward people – but that doesn’t make running a business like running a charity.

Of course, this is not to say that we chop off team members every time there is some negative issue. A failure, or a fixable character flaw, or a customer service mistake, or a lack of skill in a particular area – that’s all just part of the human condition at work. What I’m talking about is people who won’t evolve, who won’t make efforts, who actually undermine, over time, the progress of the organization. People who, like a car front end out of alignment, exhaust the driver by forcing him or her to constantly fight off a pull in the wrong direction.

Align. Or good-bye.

These “bad apples” (or just plain mismatches) are the ones who, if tolerated, will dispirit all the other members of the team. They will require an inordinate amount of energy and damage control for leaders and managers. If the individual is a square peg and the role/company is a round hole, then the best thing to do is not to try to reshape the person. Quickly, with kind resolve, re-direct. Out. Everyone benefits. Including the person who really does need to find a more suitable “fit” for a work environment.

There is at least one area of diversity that is NOT good. And that is diversity in adding value. If someone is a net negative to the organization, inhibiting the production of results, and there’s no good place to re-direct them in the team, then take a cue from Donald Trump. Fire them.

You are not leading a business to make up for someone else’s bad parenting, someone else’s lousy schooling, someone else’s crummy work ethic or attitude. You’re there to build a results-producing team. You don’t win a rowing race by dragging an anchor.

Leading is planting, watering…and pruning.

Join us for a discussion of this important topic on Tuesday, March 6th (8 pm ET) during LeadershipChat on Twitter (use hashtag #LeadershipChat). Be sure to read the perspectives of my uber-smart co-host Lisa Petrilli in her prep post (The Art of Leadership when Letting People Go) – especially if you want to read someone who is perhaps just a tad less hard-nosed than me on this topic! And feel free to share your perspectives and experiences during the chat – we value your input!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

Leading Through a Stall

This week on LeadershipChat, we welcome guest author Steve McKee, who is going to lead us in a discussion about something most companies eventually go through – stalled growth.

Steve has recently written a book on that very subject (click cover to see on Amazon __>). Starting a fast-growing marketing agency from the ground up, then seeing it stall out after a few heady years, Steve experienced the phenomenon first-hand. And then his agency did some market research and found that non-linear growth patterns weren’t uncommon at all.

Uncomfortable, yes – but not uncommon!

Steve identifies 7 factors – three external, and four internal – that can lead to stalled growth (my co-host, Lisa Petrilli, lists them out in her blog post, titled How to Lead when Company Growth has Stalled). We’ll be talking about those during the Twitter chat tonight (Tuesday, Feb. 21, 8 pm ET – use the hashtag #LeadershipChat).

Encouragingly, Steve does not believe that stalled growth is the kiss of death. Here’s a money quote from the first chapter:

Hope to see at LeadershipChat tonight!

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Hire Steve Woodruff as your Brand Therapist

Recent posts on Connection Agent:

>> Role Your Own

>> Networking on Purpose

Please feel free to subscribe to the Connection Agent blog via Reader (RSS) | via e-mail

Twitter: @swoodruff

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