It makes me crazy when someone (often with “director” in their title, no less) claims that they are not empowered to do something. I wonder what they are waiting for: someone to describe the task that is to be done, explicit permission to begin, or maybe they want an up-front guarantee that they won’t be reprimanded if the project doesn’t go as planned. Unfortunately for them, none of those options are likely to happen.
In Moments of Truth, Scandinavian Airlines president Jan Carlzon put it this way: “Nobody puts a proposal for a new comprehensive strategy on your desk and asks you to make a decision about it. You have to put it there yourself.”
Leadership is a verb, not a position. Leadership requires claiming empowerment, whether you believe you have a position that corresponds to your initiative or not. It is having the courage to risk saying or doing what you believe is in the best interest of the organization, even when the idea is unpopular. It means using your voice and experience to define what needs to happen, not just implementing what others have crafted.
The problem in most organizations isn’t that people are overstepping their bounds, it’s that they aren’t stepping up at all.
At the end of my marketing communication class, a student asked me to share the one thing I would want them to remember from this term. My answer: the target market drives everything.
I reminded them of the case study about Dove. Cosmetic and personal products had been almost exclusively marketed featuring beautiful models until market research revealed that 98% of women did not characterize themselves as beautiful. As a result, Unilever launched the Real Beauty Campaign featuring ordinary women, targeting those who did not see themselves as beautiful. The viral video Evolution – debunking the beauty myths – was viewed 20 million times and sales of the beauty bars jumped from $2.5 billion to $4 billion in the campaign’s first ten years.
McDonald’s research revealed that their primary customer was blue-collar males who ate at the restaurant several times a week. Have you seen that demographic featured in McDonald’s ads? No, because instead, they chose to target children (who were not eating there at the time), knowing that kids, in turn, would bring in parents and open up a lucrative new market for them.
Bernie Sanders’ popularity is due in large part because he focused on the younger generations in ways no other candidate has by targeting them hard via social media with messages that appeal to their demographic.
The secret sauce of marketing is appealing to those who have been overlooked by others. Instead of spending all of your time chasing after the customers everyone else is, think about who is not currently your client and figure out what message may resonate with them.
Technology is the area where I most freely ask for advice or admit I don’t know something. I’m not afraid of looking stupid because I’m “a dinosaur” and am not expected to know much about how modern devices work. No one is surprised or shaming when I ask because social norms say my generation is not supposed to be tech-savvy. As a result of this liberation, I ask often and have learned a lot.
I think what limits people from this exchange of knowledge on other topics is the hesitation on the part of the asker not the respondent. The hang-ups people have about appearing incompetent or uninformed cause them to feign wisdom that they don’t have or to spend unnecessary time trying to figure something out on their own. It’s not that others wouldn’t freely assist on topics other than technology; it’s that people craft excuses in their own mind about why not to ask.
To create an environment of trust, break the stereotype that those in charge are “supposed” to know the answers. Take the lead in asking for assistance or sharing that you don’t know something. Admit when you messed up and need someone to help you figure out why. Be vulnerable enough to say that you need to learn how to do something, even if it may seem obvious or basic to others. Saying “I don’t know” is the fastest way to accumulate that knowledge. Be brave enough to raise your hand.
In the movie Apollo 13, engineers in the simulator are trying to determine in what sequence the space shuttle computer systems can be re-started given the power that remains after an explosion. One of the options offered is to draw power from the lunar module but another engineer cautions that they will lose considerable power in the switch. In the end, they do utilize that supplemental power source and, as we all know, the shuttle returns successfully.
We aren’t all so fortunate as to have an alternate source of power or to have the capacity to lose energy but still have positive consequences. I am feeling this first-hand this week as I try to divide my focus between a looming grant deadline and preparation for an upcoming residency, as well as attending to the ongoing projects that are always on my plate. It’s all important and as I go deep in one task, the sense of urgency of the other beckons me to work on it for a while. Not a good plan!
As our minds and attention alternate between projects or address interruptions, we lose energy when we try to re-power our work. If you take a phone call or stop for an appointment, you can’t just pick up where you were – it requires a bit of backtracking to reconnect with the thought you vacated. If you work on “this” for a while and then “that” for a bit, you’ll produce less than if you had stayed with one or the other for the same period.
One moment of lost power is inconsequential, but several of them throughout the day can alter your productivity on all your work as you never really obtain full focus on anything. Solid, uninterrupted big chunks of time are rare, but carve out precious, uninterrupted smaller bits of time in your calendar. Then align your to-do list with the time increments you’re likely to have available and stick with one thing during each of them. You’ll find that your best work happens in blocks, not bites.
President Warren Harding is quoted as saying about the presidency: “My God, this is a hell of a job.” It’s impossible to know the true scope of any position before you take it, but I can’t even imagine the surprises that a U.S. president finds after the inauguration.
The sheer breadth of responsibility is daunting, even before you learn the nuances or have to face the issues with serious time pressures. One current candidate’s website lists where they stand on the following topics: affordable housing, climate change, consumer protection, criminal justice reform, disability, election security, Electoral College, equitable public education, extremism, foreign policy, gender equity, gerrymandering, gun laws, health care, higher education, immigration, inclusive economy, Indian country, infrastructure, judicial system, LGBTQ rights, minimum wage, national service, organized labor, political representation, racial justice, reproductive rights, rural economy, special interests, veterans and voting rights. Who would want the job?!
Shortly after President Warren Harding took office, he said: “I am just beginning to realize what a job I have taken over. God help me, for I need it.” As we celebrate this President’s Day, let us wish blessings on all those who have and will hold the position and give them the strength to rely on others to guide them in understanding the issues they face. The same holds true for you.
I think about how 800 numbers have evolved. The toll-free numbers used to be utilized by businesses to allow consumers to call without incurring long-distance charges. With the proliferation of cell phones, those fees have become a thing of the past and now plans track calls the same way, whether an 800 number or not.
But instead of the 800-number fading into obsolescence, the demand for them continues to grow. An 800 prefix now signals “a business number” rather than “a toll-free number.” As a result, the prefixes 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844 and 833 are all currently in use with more on hold to accommodate future demand.
The “toll-free” prefix has become a national prefix, giving geographic neutrality to clients who use them. It creates a cache that a local number does not provide and for those who have the original 800 prefix it communicates a sense of longevity as well.
It would have been easy for the toll-free prefix to disappear along with night calling rates, collect calls and long-distance charges but instead, it morphed into a new identity that enhanced its value. What in your organization once served one purpose but could now fulfill another?
You can incentivize people to do certain behaviors on one end of the process by showing them the ultimate benefit that results. This happens in fundraising, where the agency shows donors the impact their gift will have or in-home décor with the use of before and after photos. But recently, I’ve seen it more prominently with recycled products, presumably to encourage people to actually toss those plastics in the proper bin.
Petco has a whole line of recycled dog toys and accessories, all prominently labeled as “I started as a plastic bottle.” Walmart employees are wearing vests that say “6 bottles recycled to make this vest.” And then I found shoelaces that proclaimed they were previously beverage containers.
Post-consumer content has always been there, but it seems to be featured more visibly than before. If your organization is doing its part environmentally, maybe you can enhance your message and explicitly show that your publications, furniture or even apparel are from recycled material. You can be good for the planet and simultaneously generate goodwill!