My Declaration of Independence

I’ve been blogging for over 4 years now, and have been increasingly active in many branches of social networking – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, video-blogging, etc., etc. (although, without a doubt, the most rewarding aspect has been meeting people and developing long-standing relationships and collaborations).

However, as with any new venture, especially one where the rules are being written on the fly, it’s very easy to fall into two very common patterns:

  1. Follow the leader(s)
  2. Go big

I’m not making a blanket condemnation of either of these practices – those instincts aren’t all bad. I fully “get” emulating those who are skilled and successful, and as a marketing guy, I appreciate scale. But it can become bondage over time. To the point where you don’t follow your own instincts, your own vision.

That’s why, as we kick off 2011, I’m declaring my independence.

No, I really don’t care about maximizing my RSS subscribers and Twitter followers. No, I really don’t intend to make sure I have a singular blogging/writing focus. No, I actually don’t want a massive audience that will create inordinate demands on time and attention. And, no, I don’t care to align myself with social media “influencer camps” of either popularizers or detractors.

I’m going to do what I’m meant to do – to live out my identity as the Connection Agent.

I’m bending everything to my main goal, my primary mission – to create the highest quality network of honest, competent, pay-it-forward people who want to change the way business gets done. Who are ready to build, together, an organic tribe of folks ready and able to bring back an environment where a handshake and a recommendation are the foundations of business – and, who are fully invested in creating a platform of cooperation/collaboration that will outclass and outperform the legacy structures of corporations.

Where social networking is a means, to a far more important end.

That vision has grown continuously in my mind and heart, and I’ve made a successful test case of it in the pharma/healthcare space over the years since I started my company Impactiviti. But it’s always been my intent to take the model and expand outward, and help provide a format whereby talented entrepreneurs and people with unfulfilled talents can create their own businesses without the inefficiency and compromises that throttle so many who should be succeeding wildly.

Yes, I will remain very active in social media. I might even once in a while write an SEO-friendly headline like The Top Ten Reasons Why Twitter and Facebook Are Like Mashable Beets. But, overboard with all the standard Guidelines to SM Success. There’s something far more important to build.

And I – we – are going to build it.

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Leadership, Strength, and Vulnerability

If it’s just a job, being vulnerable can be an option. You’re trading work for money, you’re performing designated tasks toward defined ends, and perhaps you can hold the core of your soul back behind the fortress walls, where you won’t be open to attack and hurt.

No so easy when you view your work is a calling, a cause, a mission, a personal commitment. And when you believe that 360-degree humanity ought to be part of leading and working, then some degree of vulnerability is inevitable.

So – how much? Is vulnerability a good thing in leadership? Does it need to be counter-balanced?

This will be our topic of conversation during Tuesday’s #LeadershipChat on Twitter (8 pm ET). I co-moderate this weekly event with my talented collaborator Lisa Petrilli, and here is her blog post on the subject. From the 30,000-foot level, here’s my on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand take:

  1. Effective leaders need to be human. People follow people, not robots, and being human means showing your imperfections. It means risks, mistakes, emotional engagement, and the readiness to expose enough of yourself that people trust and relate to you as a person. No vulnerability = dishonesty, and you might get some short-term results, but in the end, you’ll stand (and topple) alone. However…
  2. Certain types of leadership require far less personal vulnerability, and far more projection of strength and determination. My Marine son does not need an easily-wounded soul to be his leader into battle. He knows that his leaders are human, but when you are under fire on hostile ground, you need an icebreaker to press through the opposition, not a canoe. At times, leaders (yes, in business also) have to give vulnerability a back seat, to en-courage followers to bold and even risky action.

Think of vulnerability and courageous confidence as two water spigots, each with different temperatures. Effective leadership is not an either-or, it’s knowing that both will be needed, and wisely understanding what the needed mix is at the time. There will be occasions when one is mainly suppressed and the other projected, because those who follow need to see both. Many people want to be led, and they want to be led by someone who gives confident and bold direction. Vulnerability has its place, right beside courage. But projected weakness emboldens competitors and dispirits teammates who are looking for a rock to stand on, not sand.

A key element of effective leadership is earning respect. John Wayne may not have been a prime example on the big screen about exposing vulnerability. But you sure wanted him in the foxhole next to you when the rubber met the road!

Join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Courageous Leadership

Courage is the willingness to act according to one’s convictions.

It is not lack of fear – it is refusal to be paralyzed by fear.

It is not recklessness – it includes a clear-eyed view of the risks, and a readiness to go forward anyway.

It is not exclusively male nor female – macho guys can be enslaved to peer pressure, while feminine gals can stand as strong as a lion.

Courage says, “I’m going to do this because it is the right thing to do.” Would that we had more courage in business leaders!

What would it look like?

I think that, fundamentally, it would look like a thorough and practical commitment to the Golden Rule, instead of the Gold-in Rule.

Golden Ruletreat others the way you’d wish to be treated

Gold-in Ruledo what’s necessary to maximize my gold

Here’s the Courageous Choice in business: Do I do what’s right? Or do I do what is expedient to try to ensure maximum short-term (income/profitability/bonus/stock price/etc.)?

The courageous business leader looks at the long-term, looks at the good of clients/customers/employees/stakeholders, looks at the Golden Rule, and chooses to do what’s right despite unpopular consequences.

The cowardly leader looks at the short-term, at his/her own wallet, at the not-so-best-practices of other companies that get away with stuff, and decides to lie, misrepresent, cheat, engage in false marketing, and do what he wouldn’t want done to him in order to maximize immediate income.

In last week’s #LeadershipChat, we began to touch on business ethics. I don’t think you need an expensive MBA class to learn that. Fundamentally, you need the Golden Rule and courage, and the clear vision that comes with a clean conscience. Start with that, then worry about nuanced choices later.

And, in my opinion, those leaders and businesses that apply the Golden Rule will, over time, have plenty of Gold-in to follow.  Because there’s ROI to earning rich dividends of trust. Do they teach that in business schools anymore…?

What do you think? Utopian ideals? Or is this actually attainable?

Read what my co-moderator Lisa Petrilli wrote this week about courage. Then join us Tuesday night (8 pm ET) for #LeadershipChat on Twitter (hint: one very easy way to participate is by using a client like Tweetchat. Just log in, read the stream of thoughts that are being shared, and feel free to chime in with your reactions and questions.)

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Twitter: @ConnectionAgent | @swoodruff

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Can We Re-Make Business via Social Networking?

I think so. You?

Our goal should not be so small as to get corporations to adopt a social media strategy. That’s fine – but, frankly, I want to transform how business gets done. Who’s with me?

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Why a Referral Business Works

My business model is referrals. I “matchmake” best in class vendors with clients looking for great partners.

Now, there are lots of ways to find suppliers. You can Google, make phone calls, field incoming sales calls, sit through capabilities presentations, go through an RFP process, vet vendors, pick one and hope it works….you know the drill. Inefficient, time-intensive, risky.

Or, you can get a referral from someone who understands both sides of the equation.

Here’s the non-secret: People are hungry to work with someone they trust. A referral from a trustworthy source can bypass all kinds of unnecessary effort and mitigate risk.

Can you build an entire win-win-win business on being trustworthy, knowledgeable, and helpfully connecting people? Yes – a very secure business. With very little competition. Either as a solo operator, or a trustworthy business.

Because trust is not a commodity.

You can settle for being a cog in someone else’s wheel, a commodity employee. But why? Can you create something for yourself, built on trust, on connections, on referrals? Something unique that puts to use what and who you know, and how you operate?

I’ll bet a lot of you can…

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