Trying to start this business has been a real journey of discovery for me. I now look back in amazement at what I didn’t know about leadership and wonder after spending almost two years studying the subject, what I still don’t know.
Case in point, influence. I’m reading a book on the subject called “Influence; The Psychology of Persuasion.” One of my blog followers recommended it. The following video is a short summary of the subject that is worth a watch.
“There is a great article in the McKinsey Quarterly on cheerfulness. (You may have to register with them to see the article but it is worth it.)
They have done studies using Britain’s Royal Navy (of all places) on the effect that cheerfulness has on employees. ” … naval training is predicated on the notion that when two groups with equal resources attempt the same thing, the successful group will be the one whose leaders better understand how to use the softer skills to maintain effort and motivate. For officers leading small teams in constrained quarters, there’s no substitute for cheerfulness and effective storytelling.”
“No one follows a pessimist, and cheerfulness is a choice. It has long been understood to influence happiness at work and therefore productivity. The cheerful leader in any environment broadcasts confidence and capability, and the Royal Navy instinctively understands this. It is the captain, invariably, who sets the mood of a vessel; a gloomy captain means a gloomy ship. And mood travels fast.”
A friend of mine told me a story yesterday about his 6 year old son. Last year in school his son had been the master of rebellion, not doing what the teacher asked, not lining up and holding the rope when out for a walk. A positive James Dean in the making.
This year, the son has been completely different. He does the school work that his teacher asks. he follows the rules in the playground. He is a completely different student.
So much so that his father asked him why the difference?
His son’s response. “It’s because the teacher likes me.”
Out of the mouths of babes and straight into the world of the working stiff. Don’t forget: “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care about them.”
I’m playing with this idea of passion in business so please bear with me while I figure it out.
The way I figure it, you can have a passion for three things in business; people, products and process. (Please notice that all these words start with a P.)
If you have a passion for people, you’re someone who wants to make things better for other people. You want to change the world and make other peoples’ lives better. You’re likely to have strong feelings of empathy and good emotional intelligence.
A passion for products means that you’re innovative, like the way products work, keen about gadgets, feeds and speeds and trying new things out. You’re probably more logical than emotional but you can get emotional about products.
To have a passion about process it means that you like the way business works. You probably have a business degree, like getting things done, like plans, charts and numbers.
Your passion has a lot to do with where you end up in business, whether it is operations, marketing, finance. How far you get in business will depend on how much passion you have in multiple areas but more about that tomorrow.
As a typical guy, I’ve always wondered why women obsess so much about their shoes. After all, they’re just shoes. In particular I used to wonder why women spend so much time shopping for shoes and so little time shopping for cars for instance. I’ve seen women agonize over shoes for the longest time and make a decision to buy a car without much angst at all. A guy on the other hand will spend all sorts of time researching and discussing cars before he’ll make a purchase but he’ll typically just buy the same type of shoes he bought the last time.
I used to think that this difference between the sexes was because women just didn’t understand the concept of materiality. After all, a car is so much more expensive that a pair of shoes. Shouldn’t you spend much more time on a car decision than on a shoe decision? Now that I am working on my emotional intelligence I realize that it is exactly because of materiality that women spend so much time on a shoe decision and men, so much on cars.
So, you’re probably wondering what is so special about this concept of materiality. This concept is a prevalent one professionally but it has not always crept successfully into the hands of the people working in businesses. This may be due to the fact that ancient proverbs seem to go against the concept of materiality. In fact an old Scottish proverb advises people to “Take care of your pennies and your dollars will take care of themselves.” This proverb is in fact ass-backward. What you should be doing is minding your dollars and paying no attention to your pennies.
Something is material if it matters. Matters to what? Well it could be to you, your boss, the customer. The point is if you want to spend your time wisely at work and not waste it, you should only spend time on things that are material, not on things that are immaterial. Don’t waste your time on stuff that doesn’t matter and if you do this one thing well, you’ll find that you’re almost never scrambling for time.
Back to shoe shopping. Why would anyone spend more time shopping for shoes than shopping for a car? Well it all comes down to materiality but with a twist. Materiality isn’t always just about the money. Sometimes, the emotional impact matters more than the monetary one. Some people really care about how they look in pair of shoes and couldn’t care less about what their car says about them. Others have a much stronger emotional connection to a car than to shoes.
What is material to one person, isn’t material to another. But the same principle holds at work. Spend your time only on stuff that matters, stuff that is material to your success and the company’s success.
Do you ever wonder why some entrepreneurs manage to stay at the helm of their creations while others are relegated to supporting roles. Why were Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Mark Zuckerberg able to stay as CEOs while other founders of companies such as Linked and eBay were not? Why were Larry Page and Steve Jobs able to return as CEOs to companies they founded when they had been replaced years before by hired CEOs? It all comes down to what is essentially, an entrepreneur’s journey.
Stage 1 – Technology
When you start a business, you have to be technically astute, able to understand the technical complexities of your product, able to translate product ideas into a product that works. For this reason, most founding entrepreneurs have a strong technology background. They are able to tackle the myriad details necessary for the creation of a product with technical superiority.
Stage 2 – Business Skills
As the technology becomes ready for the market, an entrepreneur must shift to being a business person. S/he must gain knowledge about marketing, sales, finance and legal issues that will determine whether the product can be turned into a business. The entrepreneur must acquire all sorts of business skills in this second part of the journey. Some entrepreneurs can make the leap from being a technologist to being a business person. This leap isn’t that hard as for a bright entrepreneur, this is simply the acquisition of another body of knowledge. Someone with the brains to be a good technologist can acquire the knowledge of business needed to get into the market successfully.
Stage 3 – Leadership
The last stage of the journey is that which turns an entrepreneur into a successful leader. Becoming a leader however isn’t about acquiring skills, it is all about behaviour and this is where many good Stage 2 Entrepreneurs fail. Being a leader means getting things done through other people. To do this, technology and business skills are not enough.
A good leader must be able to set a vision, communicate that vision and motivate people to buy into that vision. This requires emotional intelligence, not technical intelligence and is hard to learn.You can’t learn this from a text book or from a class. It is especially hard to learn if you don’t have anyone to serve as a role model.
Gates, Dell and Zuckerberg were obviously able to make the leap from Stage 1 to Stage 2 to Stage 3 with out skipping a step. Unfortunately, Reid Hoffman and Pierre Omidyar couldn’t make the leap. What was great to see however was that with experience, Larry Page and Steve Jobs were able to return to the job of CEO, having become effective leaders in the interim.