The leadership secret no one ever talks about

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And it is this simple maxim:

If you want to be leader of many, then you must first be faithful with few.

One of the most important sentences I learned from the late great Jim Rohn. And it matters in all walks of life and business regardless of our ambitions. The picture above is from an after dinner talk I did recently at a local Rotary Club. One of the things I have done a lot lately is deliver speeches on the technology revolution we are all living through. This is mostly the result of my book. Sometimes I get lucky and get paid to do it at a conference. But often I am also asked by local community groups who are interested in some of my stories. Which is what happened with Essendon North Rotary. It’s events of this size where I first got asked to share a few ideas and learn the craft of public speaking. In the startup community many times I’ve shared some lessons with new entrepreneurs. For more than 10 years I did unpaid speaking with tiny audiences… that is, the few people who had enough faith in me to give me their time so we could both have a valuable exchange. If it wasn’t for this, then I’d never be able to present in larger audiences like this. But on the flip side, we should never forget the few, even if we have the attention of the many.

It raises a few question of how we might behave in a startup:

Do you love the customers you do have? Are you faithful with those who gave you a try before you have any scale? And if you have many followers, do you still take the time to reply to the few who reach out? Do you still support the low profile few who made what you do possible, or just gravitate to the high profile few who you now have access to?

An easy way to test this is to tweet a famous person or brand and see if they respond. If they don’t, then they should be clear they won’t on their profile. I’m not saying every web tool can scale, I’m just saying we should be clear with our audience on what to expect. If you think it isn’t possible, I can tell you that Seth Godin still answers every email himself (he doesn’t tweet). I can also tell you that Cory Doctorow advises in his twitter profile of better ways to reach him. I can also tell you that Skype answers every tweet you send to them.

In the end leadership is about giving thanks and paying homage to the trust you’ve been granted by those prepared to take the journey with you, from the start. But it’s also about not be too ‘big’ to engage with those who helped you get there once you’ve arrived. It’s not easy, but the real job of leaders in the pre and post success era is to bethink both the few, and the many.

Forging ahead

When we are forging our own path in life and in business, doubt is the key enemy. It’s even bigger than fear. The reason it is a serious enemy is because doubt always happens before fear does. So when we sense self doubt, we need to fight it and forge ahead, or fear might just take hold. We must ensure we don’t stop what we are doing. We need to keep writing, keep coding, keep building, keep creating and just keep doing whatever it is we ought be doing.

Even when we are not sure of the next steps. Even when we can’t see where we are going – we must continue to move ahead. It’s a bit like walking in the fog – the path only reveals itself if we continue walking. If we instead stand still, nothing is revealed

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Trade Secrets

Once upon a time simple forms of industry knowledge were a significant competitive advantage. The little things we knew about our industry from working in it mattered. We had to earn expertise over long periods, and the release of that expertise to prospective customers. We traded in trade secrets. But now those days are coming to a close.

In a market where anyone can know anything about an industry (from the worlds experts) with just a few key strokes, then we need change our view on what creates an advantage. Knowledge of products, prices, places, who does what and who owns what are all knowable. We are quickly approaching a market of perfect information. And when everyone can know everything, and prices quickly level out, the only thing left is trust. And a great way to build trust is by sharing trade secrets. By being generous with our knowledge well before we want to do business with anyone. We need to share what we know so others can navigate the market and reduce their risk.

When it finally comes down to doing business, customers have a much higher probability of trusting those who gave them the most trust first.

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How a new brand can gain trust

This post by Seth Godin got me thinking about how to generate trust when we are a new brand or startup on the block. Here is what I think:

Building trust is simple. Create stories by doing things which exceed expectations. One customer at a time. When we do it, they share their good fortune to have done business with us. Trust never comes from the brand owner, but the interactions with the brand recipients. They then deliver that trust to others who buy the brand off them metaphorically. Thought they’d get X and they got X+1. They tell people about their win. We win by being generous.

Startup blog says: Generosity is the fulcrum of trust.

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Trust and my dad

My dad has an interesting viewpoint on the idea of trust. He says that it doesn’t need to be earned with him rather, he gives it out freely and automatically with anyone that he meets. He says that it is implicit in the human make up. He says that trust should be an automatic ‘gift’ in the human operating system.

Occasionally his trust gets abused – that’s the price he is willing to pay for it does happen. The upside of all the trust given far outweighs the few exceptions.

In startups and business, we’ve tried to de-humanize trust and replace it with forms and legal agreements. I really believe that we should trust ourselves and our gut just a little more. But I’m excited that new technology is making us more human again. The fact that digital footprints are largely permanent may even circumvent the need for mistrust and formal agreements. We can instead go back to trusting peoples word and enjoy the speed that organic development gives us versus making lawyers wealthy.

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The last industrial relic

You probably don’t know this but the office is a weird thing that only turned up when factories did. Sure Lawyers and accountants had them, but not in the corporate form they exist in today. The office was an addendum to where stuff got built. It was there by accident, it was there because the tools of the trade (office machinery) had not been democratized to the point where we could own and have them in our home. The strange thing is that, now we can work from home, the large majority of us still don’t. Not because we don’t want to, but mainly because large corporations lack trust.

Many of us would save time and money if they did not exist (both people & corporations)

I think it’s the last industrial relic. It needs to be radically changed, even the name office is wrong. It sounds ‘official’ and full of rules. Sure we do need to work together sometimes – but personally I’d rather do that in some kind of creative collaboration space.

If offices really add that much value, then why do startups never have them? It’s because entrepreneurs know they are expensive to run, out dated and redundant.

Jason Fried gives us his synopsis on this topic at a recent TED talk. Which I love – it’s 20 minutes worth investing:

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the cool thing about blogging

I’ve had to very quickly pull together a social media straetgy for a project I am working on. The timeline I had was a few hours. I’m certain that only due to the fact that I’ve been an avid blogger for a few years was I able to meet the deadline. Blogging creates great habits. It forces us to consider our chosen topic deeply and regularly. (startups & marketing in my case) It forces us to respond to our ideas quickly, to trust their value and publish them anyway, before tomorrow comes. It’s a personal newspaper and our readers want to know what’s new everyday. They’re not looking for perfection, but inspiration.

Whatver we do, are interested in and regardless of our industry, blogging is a must for those of us wanting to get better and faster.

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