Excerpted from the book on enlightened business, Business Black Belt
You better know where you’re going because sooner or later, you could be out in front.
How will you lead your business and how will your business lead your industry?
There are thousands of books on leadership—and few of them seem to agree on what leadership is! I used to think leadership was leading a group of marines over the hill by saying, “Come on, men. Let’s go!” I was afraid to be a leader. What if they said, “No, we don’t want to follow you?” How would I feel? What would I do then?
Real leaders, I thought, are people like General Norman Schwarzkopf or Billy Graham who have thousands of devout followers. However, at the same time, I have been skeptical of leaders and had thoughts about their ineptness. Like one CEO of a computer company, who at the dawn of the computer revolution, refused to make his computers DOS-compatible and with that single decision, murdered a $200 million company. Which kind of leader would I be? And what would others think about me? How could I become a successful and respected leader? Let’s talk about first preparing yourself for leadership.
Let’s say your company is a market leader or wants to be. The problem many leaders experience when they’re in this position is “What do I do next?” Most people can follow a market leader by copying them, knocking them off or by focusing on a competitive niche. But once in front, will they know how to carry the torch?
Dreams of the America’s Cup
The following story illustrates the uncomfortable situation you could find yourself in if you’re not prepared for leadership.
My friends and I were in a sailboat race in the San Francisco Bay. We had to follow a race course marked by buoys in a pre-defined sequence that was only disclosed at the start of the race. This was done by raising a series of nautical flags. Since my friends and I were not great sailors, we weren’t taking winning this race too seriously. Consequently, we missed the nautical flags that spelled out the race course, but we decided not to worry about it, just to have fun, and follow the other boats.
The race started, we were sailing along, actually doing very well. Lo and behold, by about the second buoy, we passed the lead boat in our class! Now, without knowing the race course, we didn’t know where we were going. There was some finger-pointing and heated conversation, because now we actually had a chance to win this race. We took a guess and sailed off into the distance. When we looked behind us and saw the number two boat turn left and make for the finish line we realized we’d made a wrong turn. By the time we corrected our course and crossed the finish line, we were dead last.
Leadership is knowing where to go…
when there is no one else to follow.
This experience hit me like a ton of bricks. I believe this also happens often in business. One way of doing business is to go into a marketplace and compete. You establish your market position with whatever competitive advantages you have and race against your competitors. With hard work you may find yourself a market leader.
Another way of establishing a successful business is simply to create a market (like the “Blue Ocean Strategy”), which is what JIAN did. When you create a market, there are no leaders. You’ve got a new product. You’ve got no one to compare to and no one to follow.
We rarely think we might be in a leadership position when we start something. We think surely others are there ahead of us and that it’s been done before.
Although many things have been done before, what are you going to do when you’re in the lead position? It takes foresight. Pay attention and definitely plan your course. You could start in an industry where you are the 1,000th-ranked company. Eventually you might work up to the top.
Now what would you do? Prepare yourself to be in the lead, because it just might happen.
What takes you over the top and inspires people to support you
Most people are looking for direction, and they just want you to give it to them. Where does this come from?
I find that we must first have an overwhelmingly inspirational reason for being in business in the first place. I occasionally and unconsciously demoralize, insult, and disempower my employees on my way to learning how to be a brilliant and inspirational leader. But what keeps them around is that, overall, what we are doing has significant meaning to the world. And I’m intent on improving myself constantly as well offering them opportunities to grow. The experts who help us develop our software are very helpful. We enroll employees in seminars. We even sponsor karate lessons. But we do more than just sell business software, we’re convinced that we are improving the way business is done everywhere in the world.
My vision is to facilitate compatible business practices throughout the world, enabling us all to easily do business together.
Just because I think I am doing good is no excuse to be ruthless. I must correct my mistakes and learn. If you have a worthy purpose or create one for your business, something greater than just making money, you’ll enjoy a sense of direction in which to lead that will unite many people in support of your vision. This isn’t something you can fake—people can tell.
Tell your customers, too
You have a progression of experiences that have led you to where you are today. These experiences contain the elements of what drives you. We’ve found that briefly telling our story to our customers is a compelling and powerful emotional message that provides solid credibility about what we’re doing. It’s important for people to know about the origins of our business so they can make an informed buying decision. A survey of our ads a couple of years ago revealed that customers responded with “Interesting products… never heard of the company… I like the products, but I don’t know much about the people who make them… Looks good, where did the company come from?” When we included a brief paragraph describing our background, sales increased dramatically.
People can relate to your motivations. Your customers likely share your frustrations and will appreciate the solutions you’re selling. In the book, The Soul of a Business by Tom Chapell about Tom’s of Maine®, the company that makes the natural soaps, deodorants, and toothpaste, Tom confirms this through his own focus group research. Their customers state that they buy from Tom’s of Maine because they share Tom and his wife’s interest in natural products. The Tom’s of Maine story is a crucial element in all of their marketing and packaging materials. Your reason for being in business is a strong motivator for people and will keep you on track as you move forward on your way to business success.
If you read my brief story in the front of this book, you understand why I’m in business, and why I wrote this book. Let me take it a step further by stating our “big hairy audacious goal,” a concept from the book, Built to Last by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras.
we will have contributed to the success
of 10 million customers.
We developed this goal as a group and everyone is behind it. At the time of revising this book, we have sold more than 2,000,000 copies of our Biz Plan Builder business plan software. (When I originally wrote this book, it was 1997 and our goal was to have contributed to 1,000,000 customers by the year 2010. We did that! I think largely because we set this audacious goal.) For the goal to be met, we need confirmation of our contribution to each customer’s success! Also, recognizing the importance of such a goal, we added the following core values to build a foundation from which all of us are inspired to come to work every day:
- Integrity: Honest, committed internal and external relationships. Feel your feelings. Do what’s right for ourselves and our customers. Tell the truth. It’s amazing when people can express their feelings about things or ideas without fear that they may cause harm in some way or get in trouble.
- Full Self-Expression: Respectful communication of creativity, ideas, concerns. Freedom to express ideas, concerns, and possibilities.
- Constant Improvement: Ensure quality and productivity across all areas in the company. Seek knowledge and apply it to ourselves, our customers, processes, and products. Some people like to keep things the way they are. Others see ways to improve them. This core value enables anyone in the company to make suggestions to anyone else. And they do.
- Discipline: Define, refine, execute, measure and complete all activities in support of agreed-upon goals and objectives. It’s easy to lose focus and do whatever is interesting today. Or embark on a half-baked project only to be distracted by the next half-baked project. This core value empowers everyone to say, “Hey, wait a minute…!”
- Sound Decision Making: We make decisions we L.I.K.E. Our decisions are based on Logic, Instinct, Knowledge and Experience.
- Acknowledgment and Appreciation: We regularly acknowledge and appreciate ourselves, fellow employees, customers, vendors, and partners for the contribution made in support of JIAN’s vision.
- Know where you’re going because sooner or later you could be out in front.
- Leadership is knowing what to do when you have no one to follow.
- Learn as much as possible about the course before competing in any race.
- Have or develop a higher purpose for your business that you and others can really get behind.
- Tell your company story in your ads and on your packaging—share your passion.
- Develop your goals and core values with your employees—have them create them.
These core values define who we are and how we will behave as we progress toward our “big hairy audacious goal.” You can establish these for your business by yourself, but as you add employees, it is much more powerful to start with a blank sheet and co-create them together. This also helps establish why you and your products are worth higher prices and a higher profit in your market. If you want a copy for yourself, visit www.businesspowertools.com and pull-down under “About JIAN.”
Business Black Belt Notes