Knowing that I’m always keen to devour anything related to personal development or business my wonderful wife Susie bought me “The Leadership Challenge” for Christmas.
Early on in the book Kouzes and Posner put forward the characteristics of admired leaders based on studies they’ve conducted asking leaders’ constituents to describe what they look for in a leader they would be most willing to follow. Over numerous studies four characteristics continue to stand out:
I think that this list is a great tool for self evaluation purposes. If you are reflecting on something that occurred and wondering whether you lead the situation well then you can quickly evaluate yourself against these four characteristics.
I caution against using it as a list of “things that I must do to be a good leader” because it lists the symptoms or effects of the character, passion, commitment, beliefs and understanding operating on a deeper level. For example, a reader could take this as “well if I just act forward-thinking then I can lead people.” I personally believe that you must be forward thinking and being forward thinking comes from a deep interest in and understanding of the area you are leading people through. Similarly, a reader of the book might be tempted to think “well if I just act inspiringly then people will follow me.” But you can’t inspire others if you aren’t inspired yourself; when you are inspired yourself, that will just rub off on others. If you are looking to exhibit the characteristics that people look for in a leader then you need to look under the covers.
At the end of Sporting Nation (a documentary on ABC) there were some great, thought provoking insights from some elite athletes. My favourite was from Herb Elliot.
Herb recounted a conversation he had early in his career, I think it was with his soon to be Olympic coach. After some discussion his coach said “so why do you want to do nothing but focus on running around and around in circles for the next 3 years, 7 days a week?” His coach answered for him (I’m paraphrasing here):
“You want to have such an intense narrow focus because it will:
- allow you to experience things you will never otherwise experience
- allow you to understand things about yourself that you never would if you didn’t push yourself
- give you a great sense of self-respect
- give you a sense of self-reliance
I find it fascinating listening to the experiences of people that have achieved greatness at something. Their experience is, at a psychological and philosophical level, always so applicable elsewhere.
Here were some other take aways:
- There will always be negative things in your mind, you must learn to beat them with your attitude and not take notice of them.
- What you do must be about the intrinsic value of the activity itself rather than the extrinsic reward.
My great office buddy Sri pointed me at “The Trap of Marginal Thinking” by Clayton Christensen the other day. I must say it truly struck a cord with me.
Here are my favourite parts:
The marginal cost of doing something “just this once” always seems to be negligible, but the full cost will typically be much higher. Yet unconsciously, we will naturally employ the marginal-cost doctrine in our personal lives. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s okay.” And the voice in our head seems to be right; the price of doing something wrong “just this once” usually appears alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t see where that path is ultimately headed or the full cost that the choice entails.
Many of us have convinced ourselves that we are able to break our own personal rules “just this once.” In our minds, we can justify these small choices. None of those things, when they first happen, feels like a life-changing decision. The marginal costs are almost always low. But each of those decisions can roll up into a much bigger picture, turning you into the kind of person you never wanted to be.
It was something running through my head today when I almost compromised on a hiring decision. The guy was so close to being great but then failed dramatically at one of our coding tests. Failing at the coding test or not completing it in an above average way is a deal breaker. I almost bent the rules, I went so far as to invite him back the following day to work on something together in the hope that things would workout.
Then I thought of the words quoted above and asked myself, if I bend the rules just this once, then what happens? I’ve compromised the business. The others that work with us will see this and it will cascade like a snow ball destroying everything in its path (… slight exaggeration but I like exaggeration).
infome sent out its first invoice the other day. In getting to this point through pickmylunch.com.au I’ve learnt a few things, I thought I’d share them:
- Do something useful. It seems obvious, but it is so easy to get caught up in cool ideas and grand schemes. All you need to do is do something useful for someone. Businesses want more customers and customers want a good deal.
- Keep it simple stupid. If you’re going to be useful, people need to be able to use you. It’s tough for them to use you if they don’t even understand what you’re doing in the first place. For businesses, “we bring more customers to your door” and for customers “we get you a good deal on lunch”.
- Get yourself noticed. Placing massive red lunchboxes with our website on them around North Sydney, often accompanied by a glamorous blonde girl handing out discounts, has played a huge role in getting to this point. By making ourselves stick-out, we made people double take, point fingers and take notice of us. Don’t be afraid to be a bit outrageous. (I loved it when I put the boxes next to some suits handing out pamphlets and the suits didn’t even get a look-in from passers by.)
- Talk, talk, talk. The more people we talked with the more we improved the business model and the offering. Go and talk to someone. Now.
- Stick at it. It’s easy to hang up the boots when you’re facing a bit of adversity. It’s easy to move onto the next exciting thing. I’m learning to push through these sorts of things, pushing through is leading to rewards.
- It’s all about the journey. I’ve been saying to myself, I should have reached this point earlier. However, the more I look back, the more I trace my steps, the more I realise that each and every step along the way has been essential in getting to this point.
- It’s an internal battle. What’s stopping you from getting that next customer? What’s stoppping you from looking at new partnerships? What’s stopping you? Well, you. You are both the greatest asset and the greatest obstacle you have.
These are the things that have stood out the most. I hope you can take something away from them.
Published June 7, 2009
Success & Failure
One of the greatest things you can do to motivate yourself is to set a great motivational background as your wallpaper on your computer’s desktop.
Every time you switch on your computer you’ll be motivated and inspired.
My absolute favorites are at: http://www.leadershipnow.com/wallpapers.html
I recently grabbed a few from: http://www.successwallpapers.com/wallpapers/
It’s so simple and so helpful.
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Published May 30, 2009
Marketing, Sales & Business , News , Success & Failure
Tags: australian startups, Failure, focus, lessons learnt, startup, Success, sydney startup, sydney startups, web startup
Almost a year ago from now I launched the second version of donttell.com.au. It was to be Australia’s number 1 location for Australian street fashion and outfits. It never made it.
This week the domain for donttell.com.au expired and the decision was made not to renew it. That is I’ve decided that donttell.com.au should come to an end.
Here some lessons you can take away from my failure with donttell.com.au:
- You need to be 2010% passionate about what you’re doing. Whilst I was passionate about creating something that people loved to use, I wasn’t passionate enough about the actual purpose of the donttell.com.au. I really couldn’t get passionate about gladiator sandals, no matter how hard I tried.
- Focus your product/service on a specific need. The first version of donttell.com.au was launched almost 2 years ago. It was a mess of features and “stuff” and “things” and … It just didn’t have focus. Your focus needs to be something that people immediately look at and say “Oh I get it” – only then can you hope for growth and usage. Take a look at pickmylunch.com.au for an example of this.
- Focus on how you will bring people to your site. You need to put a strategy in place for bringing people to the site before you build the site or service. The reason for this is that by asking “how will I get people to my service?” you inevitably end up asking “why will people come to my site?” which not only helps you focus but gives you the exact information for how you should be building your site and the advertising you need to do. If your site is built to draw people to it, then it will. With donttell.com.au we eventually focused on fashion trends, creating content with the exact title of the trend and running advertising campaigns around that.
- Advertising is a must. Naively thinking that your service will just take off like there is no tomorrow because everyone thinks it is great and tells their friends is cods waddle. Ain’t going to happen. It doesn’t matter how great it is because how can someone tell their friends about something if they don’t know it exists?
- Focus on bringing people back to your site. Donttell.com.au had a mailing list that bought people back to the site. This mailing list had an exceptionally high conversion rate compared to most mailing lists. Once you’ve spent all that time and effort drawing someone to your site, you need to spend more time and effort getting them to stay.
- Keep it simple. Transforming donttell.com.au from a feature list like “A social fashion site where you can upload outfits and share them with your friends, rate them, buy them…” to “Australian street fashion and outfits” made a big difference. Keep it simple.
- Get other people involved. You’ll be surprised at how many people really want to take on an exciting “extra curricula” project. Almost everyone has the itch, they just need to be pointed in the right direction. Donttell.com.au was lucky to become the outlet for some very creative people.
There are other little lessons learnt along the way, but these were by far the most important. It’s because of these lessons that it is hard for me to be upset about this coming to an end. I’ve just learnt so much from it.
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When you want something and you explain to people why you want it you’d be surprised at how easy it is to start getting what you are after. When people are aware of what motivates you and what you want it is easy for them to point you in the right direction or help you achieve what you’re after.
Just recently I’ve decided that I want to do research in the fields of management, leadership and technology to gain a deep understanding of the fields and build a name for myself. So, when I explained what I wanted and why I wanted it to someone straight away they pointed me to the right person and now things are looking great.
Don’t hide what you want and don’t hide why you want it.
At the Asia Pacific Symposium on Entrepreneurship and Innovation the general theme of the day leant towards organisational innovation rather than technical innovation. In particular, some of the business leaders – like a former Microsoft Australia CEO and the ING Direct Australia CEO – put emphasis on the fact that anyone can invent a new product, or algorithm (e.g. the current financial situation) but it is the complete, integrated service that provides the real value.
Providing that integrated service comes about through organisational innovation.
When I spoke with the former Microsoft Australia CEO afterwards he urged me to focus on people and the organisation rather than on the technology because, I guess he thought, that is what would make infome the most successful.
Along with ING Direct Australia’s CEO, I also had the pleasure of listening to former Microsoft Australia’s CEO, Steve Vamos. Here are some of the great pieces of information I took away:
- Talent retention is key. It is a key responsibility of your leaders and managers to ensure talent is not only retained but absolutely enjoying their time with the organisation.
- The two most important things in today’s economy are knowledge and connection. Whilst no leader can ever completely handle this, it is a journey that must be undertaken.
- Success can no longer be defined on an individual basis. Steve didn’t have an answer, but he made it clear that we need to look at new ways of giving incentives and recognising success – it can no longer be just about the individual.
There are two more great things I took away from him, but they deserve their own post each.