On the Edge of Failed Leadership: Start-up Mentality and Desire

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I recently watched a profile on 60 Minutes that profiled the author Alison Levine which motivated me to blog on some important insights into leadership. In case you don’t know her, Alison is the author of the New York Times best-selling book, “On The Edge”. The Edge reflects on the lessons learned from her various expeditions, making the case that the leadership principles apply in extreme adventure sport also apply in today’s extreme business environments.
Her accomplishments are impressive. She has skied to both the North and South Poles—a feat known as the Adventure Grand Slam, which fewer than forty people in the world have achieved. In January 2008, she made history as the first American to complete a 600-mile traverse from west Antarctica to the South Pole following the route of legendary explorer Reinhold Messner. Levine completed this arduous journey on skis while hauling 150 pounds of her gear and supplies in a sled harnessed to her waist. Her success in extreme environments is noteworthy given she has had three heart surgeries and suffers from Raynaud’s disease, which causes the arteries that feed her fingers and toes to collapse in cold weather—leaving her at extreme risk for frostbite.
Now let me take you from leadership to desire. Chen Lizra defines Desire – knowing what you want and then going after it. It seems like an obvious definition but sometimes we all need to be reminded of the simple concepts and seeing these in plain English helps the brain to process these concepts. It’s my contention that Leadership and Desire are the two most important elements that make up a successful start-up. Those in leadership have to have desire plugged into company success metrics not their own selfish desires. I’ve been part of several start-ups over the past years and like Alison I learned that once you make a decision you can’t second guess yourself. This is the feeling she described when she reach safety after turning around before reaching the peak on one of her journeys. She did not consider this a failure but a learning experience.
The success or failure of your company will ultimately be based on your decision making and how the leadership team cultivates everyone to participate and everyone needs to feel part of the team, motivating by inclusion. The most glaring sign of impending failure is when what I call a ‘cult of personality’ is created. This develops when one person in leadership acts without governance and dictates decision making for the company unilaterally. Ultimately, these decisions will be based on his or her benefit not the company’s. One of Alison Levine’s rules of Leadership is simply, “Everybody needs to have skin in the game”, what I call the ‘skin factor’. This means that everyone needs to have shared risk in the company, which builds confidence and leadership. If you don’t feel that your leader/CEO shares similar risks as you, your company will most likely fail – think disparate pay. How can you follow someone up the mountain if they’re not shoulder to shoulder with you in some way?
I have many friends and former colleagues in the VC business and they all have said the #1 reason for company failure is executives who are usually legally paying themselves way too much for an unprofitable company burning cash. These are individuals who will not feel any pain if the company fails but gain as the company is failing, defying the primary rule of the skin factor in Leadership. They take what they can and if they company fails…so what. This doesn’t mean that everyone has the same compensation but relative ‘skin’ is required. So-called ‘Leaders’ focus of desire is financial not company success. We have seen throughout collective failed companies, once investors find out there are quarterly bonus checks being written to the CEO. I had a CEO tell me once when discussing funding options, “Companies don’t go public until profitable.” I didn’t know if I should laugh, refer him to the WSJ or begin a lecture. Then it dawned on me that there would be no public offering – that would require disclosure.
In summary, bad companies are led by the desires of poor leadership for financial gain. So, be mindful of the following seemingly obvious signs of failed leadership:
• Lack of financial transparency and overall corporate governance
• No budgets allocated to any key functions or departments, which allows for 1 person to control all functions (warning: Can be masked as, “I want to be involved with everything”)
• Important company decisions are made by President/CEO without conferring with anyone (see above: ‘unilateral decisions’) BTW – telling everyone how great a move is after the decision is made doesn’t count.
• CEO/President compensation beyond reason (see above: ‘quarterly bonuses’)

WhatsApp Founders: From rejection to $Billion payday

Their no-nonsense commitment to keeping WhatsApp free of advertising and respecting users’ privacy is what drew millions of users to the app when it launched in 2009. Two recent interviews—one with Wired UK and another with Forbes—dig deep into the founders’ backgrounds, revealing an incredible rise-and-fall tale of winning, losing, and winning again. If you didn’t believe in the worth of “try and try again” before, read on to uncover the amazing story of this remarkable tech duo. It’s a tale for anyone who has ever experienced failure.

Check out www.readwrite.com blog for the full story.

Journey Into Your Day

It was a journey.  That is what you will say at the end of your career, your life, your day.  Will that journey be something you will take you forever to relate and something that you can use to inspire others, perhaps your children, in ways that create a new direction and journey for them?  That journey is a day by day experience that transpires without any thought on our part.  Meetings and deadlines with goals attached to them are a part of your career and finding success

It’s amazing how each day we reorganize our priorities.  Which coffee shop to stop at? What to write in your Facebook or Twitter updates? When you woke up this morning what was the first thing you did? Check your smart phone, e-mail, FB, Twitter?

Comments?

Social Media & Systemic Marketing (hint -it’s not a channel!)

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A lot has been written about how social media is misunderstood, particularly in regards to determining ROI for this very important media marketing device. Notice I didn’t say, “channel”. The mistake that is being made is that individuals and companies are thinking of social media as a channel. Social media is a system not a simple marketing channel such as direct mail or print media. Systems thinking is defined as is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organizations, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organization “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

To be successful, your social media entity needs to be understood as a ‘system’ interacting with all of your sales and marketing to achieve your goals of acquiring a new customer, getting your message out or whatever may be your ultimate end. Tweets contain links to websites, Facebook contain videos (I could go on)– all which get shared and commented on and viewed by potential influencers or customers. This is the ‘nature’ of the system or ecosystem acting on itself to produce strength in the marketplace. Understanding this is critical and if you put a slide up there with social media as a channel, you are ultimately going to fail.

Next Post: Understand it, Track it, Analyze it!

Don’t Play Like the Yankees!

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There has been a lot written about the Book and the movie “Moneyball”. In fact, it was nominated for 6 academy awards and grossed more than $100M at the box office. I’ve seen it several times and even if you are not a sports fan, you will enjoy this movie. As long as you like a good story about a single father who over comes odds and changes the rules for success in the face of denial and lack of faith of others.

Sound like a business angle to you? Definitely! There is one quote from the movie that particularly resonated with me. Billy is trying to work with his scouts on acquiring talent for the next season and can’t seem to get his philosophy and strategy through to them and keeps getting criticized by his staff. He finally says, “If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there!” I work at a medical device start up and of course we are up against a lot of challenges similar to a small market professional sports team going against the larger more powerful multi-national competitors. If you are at a small start up like me, you can’t play against your competitors using their playbook, you have to create the new rules of engagement. Unfortunately, since you are at a small company you don’t have the budget or resources to create tactics at will or hire high-powered ad agencies. Fortunately, whatever you decide is feasible and best strategy can be executed with lightning speed because you don’t have the size and layers of a large company. You’re not playing like your competitors and your moving fast to beat them in the market using your own ‘new’ rules of engagement.

Billy also uses the work ‘play’ when he tries making his point about how to succeed against the big boys. I don’t think he used this word only because his context was sports. The pre-existing rules in whatever market (game) you are competing in (playing in) are essentially a game. This means that even your company or your strategic approach can change the game if you are able to lead your team and your company to a different level and change the game! Before the big companies you compete against realize your new strategic approach, tactic, selling channel – whatever – are stealing market share they won’t be able to deal with this new challenge before you score and change the game in favor of your new company – what new challenge? YOU!

There has been a lot written about the Book and the movie “Moneyball”.  In fact, it was nominated for 6 academy awards and grossed more than $100 at the box office.  I’ve seen it several times and even if you are not a sports fan, you will enjoy this movie.  As long as you like a good story about a single father who over comes odds and changes the rules for success in the face of denial and lack of faith of others.  

 

Sound like a business angle to you?  Definitely!  There is one quote from the movie that particularly resonated with me.  Billy is trying to work with his scouts on acquiring talent for the next season and can’t seem to get his philosophy and strategy through to them and keeps getting criticized by his staff.  He finally says, If we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there!”  I work at a medical device start up and of course we are up against a lot of challenges similar to a small market professional sports team going against the larger more powerful multi-national competitors. If you are at a small start up like me, you can’t play against your competitors using their playbook, you have to create the new rules of engagement.  Unfortunately, since you are at a small company you don’t have the budget or resources to create tactics at will or hire high-powered ad agencies.  Fortunately, whatever you decide is feasible and best strategy can be executed with lightning speed because you don’t have the size and layers of a large company.  You’re not playing like your competitors and your moving fast to beat them in the market using your own ‘new’ rules of engagement.

 

Billy also uses the work ‘play’ when he tries making his point about how to succeed against the big boys.  I don’t think he used this word only because his context was sports.  The pre-existing rules in whatever market (game) you are competing in (playing in) are essentially a game.  This means that even your company or your strategic approach can change the game if you are able to lead your team and your company to a different level and change the game!  Before the big companies you compete against realize your new strategic approach, tactic, selling channel – whatever – are stealing market share they won’t be able to deal with this new challenge before you score and change the game in favor of your new company – what new challenge? YOU!

The 6-Month Rule

pulling-hair-out

Driving Yourself Crazy & The 6-Month Rule

 

Question: I just started a new position and as you do, I want to make a difference in everything I touch in my career…like right away, right now!  How can I accomplish this without driving myself and everyone around me crazy?  This is a question that I hope to answer for you.

Firstly, it’s important to note, there is a new economy and changing business model of fast-paced companies with little loyalty delivered from the workforce that has been hammered with low budgets and high unemployment rates.  Companies have been hiring and firing and tenures are cut short resulting in employee fears and higher turnover rates.  Which I believe is as much a factor of the changing concept of employee-employer roles & relationships as it is the downturn in the economy.  The fact that the job marketplace has changed dramatically over the past 8-10 years should naturally change your approach to making a difference in your business, division, department or with your clients.

Think back to some of the positions that you have had in the past and the impact that you had on the business and the individuals in all of the departments that you have to interact with on a regular basis.  It probably has been a long and winding road to making an impact (see ‘making a difference’) that affects the business directly.  I’m not saying that patience is a virtue in pursuit of your career goals – it usually isn’t.  However, when it comes to gaining the trust of your co-workers and even your direct reports, you will need to take some small steps before the big ones and evaluate your performance in your 1st 6 months in valuable increments as opposed to sweeping “I changed the direction of business” type impact.

The bottom line is that a constant improvement of your skills and leverage in the company but steady and positive change that you can create in your new position is the way to go in your 1st 6 months!  This goes for consultants/service providers working with large clients – your value will be appreciated more as you provide your product but the big changes will come once you gain trust.  I have gone through this at different points in my career and it has worked very well.  Keep the points above in your head before you get too frustrated with your self-evaluation of the 1st 6 months you have been on the job…

Coming Soon:  “Channel Your Bubble Bursts”