21 quality questions

We live in a world with unlimited distractions, challenges, emergencies and interruptions – it’s a miracle any of us stay focused, sane and on track towards what we want (business improvement).

There are always going to be multiple tasks and priorities competing for your time – marketing campaigns to design, team members to manage, customers to respond to, business opportunities to explore, personal commitments etc.  However, when you try to tackle too many things at the same time, nothing gets done.  In the end, success and business improvement come down to focus.

In a world where there never seems to be enough time to get everything done, how can you avoid overwhelm, stay on track and get the things that are most important to you done?  After all, it has been said there is always enough time in the day to do everything that is WORTH doing.

Here’s a list of questions that I have compiled over the years and shared with my clients and friends.  They have helped me to put every challenge, “emergency” and distraction into perspective so that I can choose to focus my energy on what I really want and move forward toward my goals and business improvement each day.  I hope some of these will also resonate with you…

1. Has Anyone Died? If not, relax, take a deep breath and know that as bad as things seem right now, “this too shall pass”. I learned this lesson the hard way when I was twenty four years old and had to come to grips with the terrible news that my mother had been murdered.  As horrific and paralysing as this event was in my life, I eventually began to rebuild and discover strength that I never knew I had.  And I learned a very important lesson – as long as no one has died, the situation really isn’t that grave, and there is always a solution or upside to every challenge you face.

2. Are You Trying to Eat an Elephant in One Sitting? Breaking things into bite-sized chunks makes the world of difference. Having broad high level business improvement goals are good but oftentimes it is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of work that has to be done.  That’s why having an actionable plan is essential – a step by step plan to help you move forward every day and get from where you are to where you want to be.  After all, a journey of 1000 miles begins with one single step.

3. Are You In A Bad Neighbourhood? If you are in the ghetto emotionally, you need to change your physiology immediately. That means get up and get moving – put on your favourite song, connect with someone face to face or do a hobby/sport that makes you smile. Whatever it takes, do it NOW.

4. Are You Grateful For What You Already Have? It is impossible to attract more of what you want into your life if you are feeling ungrateful about what you  already have. It has been said that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  In many ways gratitude is a bit like that – it’s not what you say, the mere words that count, but sum of the words and the heartfelt emotion that you put behind them.

5. Are You focused on What You Want or Don’t Want? Whether you realise it or not, you are visualising things all the time – visualising either what you want or don’t want. If you are relentlessly focused on the negative outcome and are riddled with fear, your thoughts will impact your reality and push what you want further away.

6. Does it Have To Be Perfect?  Perfection can immobilize you and hamper business improvement – prevent you from making a decision, starting a project or signing off on a piece of  important work. Truth is, most tasks on your list don’t have to be 100% perfect, you just need to pull the trigger and sign off on them today. The other way that this problem can show up is when you deceive yourself by believing that no-one else can do the job (even simple routine tasks) to  your exacting standard, so you must do it ALL yourself.  Try the 80/20 rule – delegate what you do not have to do yourself and give yourself permission to be  human!

7. Are You Still Holding On To The Past – Have you ever caught yourself saying “last time I tried that, it didn’t work”? Or have you ever avoided doing something that you know you need to do but were afraid because it didn’t work last time? Even though it’s a good idea to stop doing what clearly isn’t working, it’s also important to remember that the past does not necessarily equal the future. If you catch yourself using reasons from the past to justify why you are not moving ahead today, you owe it to yourself to recognize this for what it is – self sabotage – and take action.

8. Are You Listening To Your Own Inner Voice? – The quickest way to guarantee failure and unhappiness is to worry too much about what other people might think.  Deep down you know what is right for you in every circumstance.  Sometimes it is tempting to suppress or ignore your gut instincts but there is freedom and relief in choosing to listen and to stand behind the decisions that you know are right for you.  If you choose to please others, there will always be at least one other person who is unhappy with your choices, plus yourself.

9. Are You Avoiding Your Fears? – Ironically, everything you want is on the other side of your fear. Sometimes we are coaxed to the edge of our fears and pushed off, yet other times we willingly wander there, oblivious to what lies ahead.  Either is good – for at the moment you feel your feet leave the safety of the cliff top – you will always find your wings and fly.

10. Are You Afraid of Making a Mistake? – It is only when we are stretched that we discover new things about ourselves. Often it is adversity and mistakes that allow us to become aware of and uncover our own innate talents.  If mistakes were fatal, we wouldn’t enjoy most of the modern conveniences that we take for granted every day.  Taking a risk and making a mistake is far better than doing nothing.  In the brilliant words of Theodore Roosevelt “the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”.

 11. Do You Have Reasons or Results? – In life you either have results or you have reasons, but it is impossible to have both. If you don’t like the results you have produced, you will do one of two things (1) find a reason or excuse to explain why or (2) change your behaviour to produce a different result. Looking for justification as to why things have not worked out is a pointless exercise. When we look at causes, rather than reasons, things are very different. There is no failure, only results. Essentially, it means never having a reason or excuse again.

12. Are You Unrealistic?  In order to succeed and achieve your goal of business improvement, you have to be at least a little unrealistic.  Being realistic, never led to any significant change, innovation or giant leap forward. Only unrealistic thinking will achieve a result that until now seemed impossible.  In the ‘60s, U.S. President Kennedy seemed unrealistic when he announced to a very large audience that America would put a man on the moon in less than a decade.  Prior to that statement, a lunar landing seemed impossible, or at the very least, something that was a long way off.

13. Have You Forgiven Yourself & Others? Perhaps we never really completely understand life until we face death. What if we all started off on our deathbeds? Would it make a difference? Would it change the way we choose to play the game? Would it take us to forgiveness sooner? On our deathbed, I doubt any of us would say ‘I wish I held onto more anger and resentment or took a bit longer to forgive.’ In fact, if you were to look out into the future and imagine the world and all of your relationships from a position where you knew with absolute certainty that they would be gone tomorrow, would you act differently today? Would you mourn the years that you kept yourself enslaved by bitterness, blame and indignation? Would you lament the loss of pleasure, love and peace that could have been yours if only you could have found a way to forgive sooner?

14. Are You Hiding Who You Really Are?  – We all have scars, but they are not ‘terminal’ blemishes, evidence of your defects, or validation of your lack of worthiness. Richard Nixon once famously said “the finest steel goes through the hottest fire”.  Life isn’t easy but that perhaps it was never designed to be! Amazing things can happen, character and strength often develop through the most challenging circumstances – whether the heat destroys you or sculpts you is entirely up to you.

15.  Are You a Poor Communicator? – Anytime you have more than one person observing an event, the door is open for the possibility of misinterpretation and miscommunication based on differing maps of reality. Learning to recognise that we all have different maps (filters by which we see and process the world around us) allows us to see the world through another person’s eyes and therefore understand, relate and communicate with greater respect and results.

16. Are You Thinking Inside Your Box? – Our beliefs about what is true, right, real or possible are largely assembled in childhood through a process called conditioning. Essentially children learn what is ‘normal’ from the people around them. These beliefs about the world can have a massive impact on how your life turns out. Einstein referred to limiting beliefs as the “boundary conditions of our thinking” – they act as a box that we unconsciously put ourselves in from a very young age. What we consider possible is influenced by these rigid ideas. That is why it has often been said that the thinking that got you to where you are now will never get us to where you want to be.

17.  Are You Running Away? – Sometimes a fresh start can do you a world of good, but the interesting thing about a fresh start is that it never stays fresh for very long. The irritating part of physical or geographical changes is that you stay the same – wherever you go, there you are. As time passes you are forced to realise that while there may be a new job, new boss, new partner, or a new view out the window of your kitchen – you are exactly the same!  Now might be a great time to look at the changes that need to come from within.

18. Are You Over Thinking It? – Most of us make a ‘decision’ today, knowing that tomorrow we can change our mind, backtrack or simply do nothing. That isn’t a decision. Unless you take action immediately towards your goal, you haven’t really decided … you are merely thinking about it.

19. Are You Motivated? – No matter whether you have experienced awful things in life or not, there is an innate drive in all of us to seek meaning and purpose. If we understand our ‘why’ then we can deal with any ‘how’ that life brings our way. Even in the darkest of nights, we can all find a way to let the light of who we really are shine through, if we believe in our hearts that there is a grander purpose.

20. Are You Driving The Bus? – I am the only one who can attribute meaning to the events in my life and the same is true for you. Positive, negative or neutral – the choice is always yours. If you are not happy with the choices you have made so far in life the great news is that you can choose new meanings immediately that will drive you towards your bright and compelling future. It’s never too late to become the person you were meant to be!

21.  Are You Your Own Worst Enemy? – In my own life, it has never been the load or the obstacles that broke me, but rather the manner in which I chose to carry them. Despite what happens or what others think/say, it’s the things we tell ourselves when no one else is listening, that have the biggest potential to harm and hold us back. Re-writing negative self-talk is the single biggest gift you can give yourself this year.

 

It’s very easy to get so caught up in the emotion of emergencies, distractions and thoughts that don’t serve you – you can easily lose sight of what is most important to your success, business improvement and well-being. These simple questions (and keeping your sense of humour) are vital to helping you to stay focused and moving towards your goals and success.

hot mugshot

What makes some content marketing irresistible, while the bulk of stuff you see every day is easily forgotten?  Have you ever stopped to analyse what you choose to read, comment on and share versus what you choose to ignore?

Here’s a good example –  the “hot mugshot guy” used in this post should be very familiar to you.  Why?  Because Jeremy Meeks shot to fame two weeks ago when the Stockton police department posted a photo of him on Facebook after arresting him on a serious weapons charge.

The image quickly went viral with hundreds of thousands of likes, comments and shares and the story was picked up by every major newspaper, radio and cable TV program across North America (and in many other countries).  He now has two major modelling agencies chasing him to sign a contract.

Now Jeremy’s mugshot is not particularly fascinating, earth shattering, important or even relevant to the lives of most of us, yet somehow, this simple Facebook post unwittingly outperformed almost every other news story on the day it broke.  It had the “je ne sais quoi” that is required for content marketing to go viral on a global scale.

And if you think about it, there are lessons that we can take from this story (and other successful posts like it) to boost the persuasive power of our own content marketing so that it inspires and ignites both passion and action among our readers and customers.

Contagious:  What Makes Things Catch On?

What was it about the last piece that you read or saw – whether it be an article, photo, advertisement, content marketing or video – that took it from mildly interesting and elevated it to the realm of positively sharable?

As you no doubt suspect, content marketing that has the potential to go viral can be a huge asset to you for two reasons – it feels great to make it and it can bring lots of attention to what you’re doing to solve real problems for your customers. Unfortunately, if no one sees your content marketing, it’s not really that useful to anyone.

Content may be King, but you will be the Lord of a very small domain if you are still reaching only one hundred people next week with your valuable message.  Here are my Top 5 Tips to magnify the chance of your message reaching hundreds of thousands based on neuroscience, behavioral science and the success of the most popular posts on Linkedin.

  1. Lists Work

Ironically, I read a post last week where the author lamented the overuse of articles titled “The Top 5 Tips”, “21 Secrets To” etc.  He postulated “why do so many authors write posts with lists”?  A quick bit of research on my part revealed that the Top three articles in the past few months on Linked in (in terms of readers, shares and comments) were all list based posts:

  • 10 Simple Concepts to Become a Better Leader, Dave Kerpen .
  • 6 Toxic Behaviours That Push People Away: How To Recognize Them in Yourself and Change Them, Kathy Caprino
  • The #1 Career Mistake Capable People Make, Greg McKeown

In fact, nine of the top ten were list based articles.  But could this just be a coincidence?

In-depth research by Buzzsumo supports this phenomenon.  Buzzsumo analysed over one hundred million articles online and concluded that lists and infographics were more likely to be shared virally than any other content.  Love them or hate them, lists outperform how to articles, videos, explanatory posts and other content marketing in terms of shares and comments.  Done correctly, a good list post will provide hands-on, practical tips that you can put into practice today.

One of the vital elements that is believed to cause a list to spread, is its level of “practical utility,” as described by a recent study By Berger and Milkman (University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Business.  The ability to use and apply the information contained in a post is a key element that drives content to spread virally.  In effect, the list creates a memory inducing trigger.

Essentially, we tend to share what we’re thinking about—and we only think about the things we can actually remember. Lists make it easy for our brains to grasp, remember and file away valuable information for safe keeping and retrieval.  They convey the content you are about to read contains a nice packet of useful, easy-to-digest information that you can share with others to add value and create dialogue.

  1. A Good Picture is Still Worth a Thousand Words (and Ten Thousand Shares)

Neuroscience has proven that your brain is a highly visual beast. Somewhere between 80% and 90% of brain activity is associated with making sense of visual stimuli, and the brain processes these visual stimuli much more quickly—about 40 times more quickly—than it does auditory stimuli.

This makes perfect sense when you think about the role that visual cues played in the survival of our ancient ancestors—particularly the way in which the old brain reacted quickly to keep our cavemen ancestors out of the jaws of tigers and mammoths. The old brain is extraordinarily fast at processing these visual cues, “seeing” them in only 2–3 milliseconds and reacting to them almost instantaneously.

In sharp contrast, it takes your new brain (or neocortex) a relatively snail-paced 500 milliseconds to process the exact same visual data. Since humans cannot rely on the slow processing speed of the new brain, you are hardwired to make decisions and take action at the old brain level that are mostly based on visual input and instinctual responses. Your neocortex kicks in much later in the process to help you find data, proof, and justification for the gut decision you have already made.

This of course makes visual imagery one of the most powerful triggers you can harness and use to your advantage when creating content. As they say, a picture really is worth a thousand words.  However, not all pictures are created equal. The visuals you use in your content must mean something to the old brain of your prospect—they must have a “what’s in it for me” (WIIFM) message and they must stimulate a strong emotional response. A well crafted story or a sharp picture that captures the essence of your reader’s most pressing source of pain, holds the power to trigger a wave of comments and shares.

And as you might expect, the Top 3 posts on Linkedin all used strong graphics to convey a quick emotional response and draw readers in.  The most successful, the article by Dave Kerpen also cleverly utilized a shareable infographic as the primary photo.  It’s a visual snapshot and roadmap for the 11 concepts he outlines on leadership.  It is no surprise that his article received over 126,000 shares on Linkedin alone and a whopping 7400+ comments.

  1. Not All Shares Are Created Equal

Not all shares will have the same impact on the ultimate reach of your content marketing.  Studies show that getting just one person who has influence online to share your article can have a multiplier effect on your content.  It pays dividends to pay attention to the influencers that are currently sharing content that closely matches or parallels your own.  By building relationships with them and inviting them to engage, you can exponentially increase your chance of reaching 4x more shares, than by relying solely on your own network.

After analysing over one hundred million articles, Buzzsumo compared the number of social shares for articles that had zero influencers versus those that had at least one influencer (where an influencer is defined as someone who receives at least 200 re-tweets on average, for every 100 tweets posted).  What they found was that just having just one influencer share your content will boost your reach and shares by 31.8%.  Having three influencers doubles the number and having 5 would almost quadruple the number of social shares you receive.

Interestingly, some recent research in the area of neuroscience seems to back up the notion that some people are far more effective at spreading ideas, stories and content.  In “Creating Buzz: The Neural Correlates of Effective Message Propagation”,  Falk, Morelli, Welborn, Daumbacher and Lieberman mapped the brain centers associated with ideas that are likely to be contagious.  They were hoping to create maps which could be used in the future to forecast which ideas should be successful and who is likely to be effective at spreading them.

The scientists found that increased activity in the Temporoparietal Junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (“the mentalizing network”) of the subjects, was associated with an increased ability to convince others to get on board with their favorite ideas.  What this research is suggesting is that some people may have a pre-disposition to be able to share ideas on a global scale.

As this research evolves, we will get closer and closer to discovering what differentiates ideas that bomb from ideas that buzz. Like all ideas, stories, content marketing etc, these concepts cannot spread virally on their own – they rely on effective social communication for dissemination.  Messages which produce greater “mentalizing activity” in the brain when viewed are more likely to be passed on and the subjects appear to be more motivated to pass them on. The social currency of being a person who is known for spreading information of value (i.e. an information broker or ideas salesman) is incredibly valuable.  Various networking sites such as Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter have long recognized this phenomenon and put formal strategies in place to promote these individuals as “information brokers or experts” and increase the overall engagement of readers with news and posts on their sites.

Case in point, the most successful article on Linkedin by Dave Kerpen was shared and commented by 5 highly influential readers.  Those 5 alone were directly responsible for 511 likes and comments plus hundreds of LinkedIn shares, tweets and Facebook likes.  As a result, over time Dave Kerpen has built up a following of over 458,000 people on Linkedin by writing great, shareable posts.

Similarly, Greg MeKeown’s post had 6 or 7 influencers who contributed to the large number of likes, comments and shares (particularly within Linkedin).

  1. Clickbait Sucks

For any entrepreneur, manager or blogger, headlines are vital to an even more important end — drawing a substantial amount of attention to topics that really matter. But designing memorable, curiosity-inducing headlines isn’t enough.  As you know, content, articles and posts don’t go viral because people click — they go viral because people share.

“Clickbait” — overselling content marketing with outrageous headlines that entice the maximum number of people to click and visit a website — works to generate some views but it will never be enough to create viral content.  Formulaic headlines don’t guarantee content that has the potential to go viral.  To comment or share, your readers have to love what they see when they hit your site, see your video or read your post.  That is why the two most crucial factors in motivating readers to share your content are the quality of and the emotion that you create with the insights you provide.

Ask yourself these three questions – “Does the content that I am about to post:”

  • Engage or entertain on a relevant topic?
  • Draw the audience in and invite them to imagine their world from a new perspective or inspire them to share their opinion?
  • Deliver on the promise of the headline?

Headlines definitely matter but your content will only go viral if readers love what you are saying so much they are inspired to comment and share it with everyone.  As you would suspect, all of the most read and shared articles on Linkedin delivered on the promise that the author’s made in their headlines – substantive posts, quality insights and practical tips that readers appreciated and felt compelled to share.

  1. We Share What Makes Us Feel Good

Emotion and repetition are the adhesives that cement events to your memory. As leading American neuroscientist Antonio Damasio puts it: “We are not thinking machines that feel, we are feeling machines that think.” Emotions play a part in virtually every decision you make, whether you like it or not, and sharing content is no exception. When something has an emotional impact on you, you are far more likely to remember and react; in that way, your strongest emotional responses will stay with you for your entire life because they create a deeper engram (or impression) in your mind.

Your emotions produce strong electrochemical responses that have been proven to directly influence the way you handle, respond to, and hold onto information. The cocktail of hormones that flood your mind when you experience strong emotions causes the connections in your brain to speed up, intensify, and be reinforced.

A strong emotional trigger is much more likely to drive you to share content or buy a product, than a rational argument for doing so. Emotional connections occur because your feelings are stirred. This happens whenever content you see causes you to “put yourself into the situation”. So content becomes great or memorable when it hooks you in—it effectively makes you a part of the scene and you feel the feelings of the story that is unfolding about something that is relevant to you.

As a sharing stimulus, emotion is incredibly powerful. And there is no more effective way to tap into or unleash the emotions of your readers than to tell them a story. Through the ages, we have passed on our history and our wisdom to our children in the form of stories. As a child, you likely came to expect a story from the people that you loved and looked up to—your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, ministers, and babysitters. Your brain felt comfortable and safe with both the stories and the storytellers and you are likely to pass on these stories, to your friends and your own children.

But the spectrum of emotions is large and research suggests that 3 particular emotions are more likely to result in content going viral. While anger, surprise and sadness motivated some people to share, awe, laughter and amusement universally outperformed all other emotions in inspiring social shares.  For the most part, people want to be uplifted by posts and we also want to think that sharing interesting, practical and fun content brings value to our relationships, creates social currency, spurs conversation and inspires reaction.

This premise is supported by the Berger and Milkman study (University of Pennsylvania – Wharton School of Business), which examined the sharing of articles from the New York Times in 2008.  They looked at approximately seven thousand articles to determine what characteristics the most-emailed articles had in common.  After controlling for many other factors including author popularity, placement, timing etc., they discovered two features which stood out as being important to success – the positivity of the message and how much it excited the readers.

Not surprisingly all 3 of the top authors on Linkedin that I mentioned earlier utilized the element of storytelling to make their point.  Their articles were positive, uplifting, fun and entertaining.  Reading each one leaves you with the distinct impression that you can easily work these tips into your own work environment and that sharing these insights with your colleagues would be a great way to build camaraderie and create some thought provoking and constructive dialogue.

Summary

Even Aristotle (in 350 B.C) was obsessed with the pursuit of the secret to make his content persuasive and memorable – so that his ideas would be passed on from person to person. Replace oratory with online content creator, and Aristotle’s pursuit of the illusive key to what makes ideas catch on and spread, seems incredibly contemporary. Although with our modern day ability to track and analyse brain activity and data from millions of articles and websites at a time, we are much closer now to clearly defining the variables that cause us to engage deeply with and share content virally.

Game of Thrones Leadership 2

[SPOILER ALERT – If you haven’t watched Season 5, proceed with caution.]

Are you in a dead end position?  Does it sometimes feel like you are leading a team of ingrates or idiots?  Are you unappreciated by your boss, your team or even your customers?  Or is some power-hungry, incompetent, pimple-faced kid wearing your crown?

Whether your aim is to attract high achieving team members, take home more cash, land the coveted corner office, or build a brand that customers are dying to say “yes” to, there’s much to learn about leadership and business from your favorite Game of Thrones characters.

Based on the best-selling book series by George R. R. Martin, the show purports to be a fantasy drama about swords, seven kingdoms, social hierarchy, sex and sorcery but at its essence, it’s a master class on power, persuasion and leadership. The story revolves around the battle for the right to sit on the Iron Throne – to be the King the Seven Kingdoms – and as you would suspect, there are many characters who feel they have the only legitimate right to lead.

In many ways it’s the age old battle between good and evil but as we all know, power has the potential to corrupt and sometimes the lines between influence vs manipulation, leadership vs dictatorship, and death vs destiny become blurred.  And if you think about it, this same power struggle is very likely playing out right now in your business or place of employment to varying degrees.

Can you spot the leader among this selection of fascinating, flawed and feared characters?  Or is each one destined to play a subservient role or worse… be stabbed, poisoned or beheaded?

  1. The Democratic Leader

As the lone surviving child of the overthrown “Mad King”, Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys starts out adamantly believing that the Iron Throne is her birthright. As the series begins, she is forced into exile after her father is killed – which is where she marries the Dothraki leader Drogo, becomes the Khaleesi, and slowly earns a reputation as the “Breaker of Chains” and the “Mother of Dragons”.

The influence of the Dothraki on her leadership style is unmistakable. While others in Westeros follow self-proclaimed or inherited leaders, the Dothraki will only follow the one who has the strength to lead: You may lead as long as you are a leader.

By the end of season 4, she has amassed a large army of slaves from many cities, including the Unsullied.  Even though the Unsullied must follow without question, she breaks their chains and invites them to choose to fight on her behalf.   In freeing them and thousands of other slaves, Khaleesi discovers that birthright alone is not enough: The respect and loyalty she earns by choice, rather than force, is far more powerful and enduring. In the finale, we see her leadership style evolve yet again as she regretfully chains two of her beloved dragons up in the catacombs when she discovers that the third has killed a three year old girl.

Leadership Lesson:  People follow strength above all. Regardless of birthright, death, appointment or tenure, leaders lead. They step up and do what needs to be done without the need for a title or lauding it over others. Saying someone is a leader doesn’t make them an effective one. In Jim Collin’s list of the top leaders in Good To Great, all were characterized by the absence of celebrity. For a leader to achieve something great, her ambition must be for the greatness of the work and the company, and not solely for herself.

  1. The Coercive Leader  

We all know someone in a position of power who didn’t doesn’t deserve it and cannot handle it.  Joffrey Baratheon was the quintessential, incompetent heir.  In addition to his questionable lineage (i.e. he was a child of incest between Cersei and Jamie Lannister and not the first born son of Robert Baratheon), he made almost every mistake imaginable as the young King of the Seven Kingdoms.  He was a bully, braggart, spiteful, irrational, a poor negotiator and a coward.  Joffrey refused to listen to anyone’s advice, even though he was very young and had no battle (or leadership) experience.  Perhaps Cersei summed it up best when she tried to counsel him to be a more benevolent leader – “The occasional kindness will spare you all sorts of trouble down the road.”

It’s a miracle that he lasted as long as he did. At his wedding to Margaery Tyrell, Joffrey was poisoned by a wine goblet at the banquet.  His final gesture, as he lay dying in the arms of his mother, was to point towards his uncle Tyrion Lannister, as if to finger him as the assassin/culprit.

Leadership Lesson:  While sometimes effective in a crisis, the “do as I tell you approach” should be avoided in every other circumstance as it can alienate team members, smother innovation and stifle flexibility.  You cannot call yourself a leader if you are despised and you refuse to listen to feedback and suggestions from your team.  This sort of leader will doom your workplace to failure as they will often take down other members, or the whole organization, on their way out the door.

  1. The Affiliative Leader

He may be one of the smallest characters, but Tyrion Lannister, the dwarf son of the most powerful man in King’s Landing, is a fan favourite who proves that it is possible to have a big impact no matter how small (or insignificant you feel) you are.

In the battle of Blackwater, Tyrion realizes that he must take charge and rally the men to fight — the King (Joffrey Baratheon) has run to hide with the women, his brother Jamie (the Kingslayer) is missing and his father Tywin Lannister is delayed in battle elsewhere.  In addressing the men, Tyrion knows full well that his small stature is a serious disadvantage in battle and that the men are, outnumbered, scared and reluctant to put their own lives on the line for their cowardly King.

Tyrion does what Tyrion does best – he wastes no time on giving them a speech about honour, duty or glory, but rather, he inspires them with the “what’s in it for me” speech.

“Don’t fight for your king, don’t fight for his kingdoms, don’t fight for honour, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches because you won’t get any. This is your city – Stannis Baratheon means to sack, your gate he’s ramming. If he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!”

Leadership Lesson:  To lead you must always focus on strengths (yours and others) as opposed to attempting to compensate for weaknesses. People will naturally follow a leader who creates emotional bonds that bring a sense of belonging and purpose to each individual and the team.

  1. The Reluctant Leader

Jon Snow is the illegitimate son of Eddard (Ned) Stark and an unnamed prostitute.  He was raised by Ned and Catelyn Stark and is much more introverted and solemn than his half siblings.  Growing up with illegitimate status made him indignant and it spawned a deep desire to prove himself – as is evidenced by his decision to join the Night’s Watch and his choice of duty over love on many occasions.

Even as a valuable member of ”the rejected”, Jon finds himself an outcast and in direct conflict with both the leader of the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings.  Despite all of this, Jon is a proven and effective leader of men, having been instrumental in battle against the wildlings, Stannis Baratheon and others. His time at the wall has solidified his resolve and allowed him to explore his true potential. However, notwithstanding his obvious clarity of vision, strategy, foresight, emotional intelligence and purpose, he is reluctant to claim the mantle of “Leader”.

Leadership Lesson:   Leaders are made not born. Regardless of pedigree, tenure or title, people will naturally gravitate to the one who has purpose, passion and conviction.  With the right mentorship and encouragement, these reluctant leaders (with street cred and loyal followers) can evolve and develop over time to become formidable and unassailable leaders.

  1. The Fanatical Leader

Stannis Baratheon, the eldest brother of the late King Robert Baratheon, was arguably the rightful heir given that Joffrey was not the legitimate son of Robert.  He is a tried and tested battle leader whose dedication to the rule of law and stability means he provides generously for those under his rule and punishes those who challenge him or disobey his will.

As the story unfolds, he becomes increasingly rigid in his views, dependent on the black magic and prophesies of Melisandre and his iron-fisted leadership style alienates him from even his closest advisors.  He is without empathy or mercy and simply cannot conceive of a world where anyone would see things differently to him.

Leadership Lesson:   It is impossible to lead effectively (and with longevity) without empathy and the loyalty/respect of your team.  A leader who continually trusts only himself and insists on holding all of his cards tightly to his chest, will quickly find himself with no team members to lead.  This leader may very well be brilliant but he will nonetheless, fail miserably.

  1. The Charming Leader

Margaery Tyrell is a natural born politician, loved by the common people and one of the few characters uses her feminine wiles to gain power and persuade others.  She has no army and no familial right to the Iron Throne yet she consistently re-positions herself within close proximity of it.

Even after her husband Joffrey is poisoned at their wedding banquet, she is quick to endear herself to his younger brother Tommen (the successor) and cleverly manipulate an important conversation with Cersei Lannister, to procure another shot at becoming Queen.

Margaery is under the careful tutelage of her grandmother Lady Olenna Tyrell.  Now Lady Olenna has no formal authority, army or birthright to the Throne but nonetheless, she is one of the most unassuming, skilful and powerful characters.  As an elderly, unmarried woman, Olenna flies completely under the radar but has had a monumental impact on the balance of power:  Olenna was a linchpin in the assassination of Joffrey Baratheon.  The Tyrell family control one of the major food production regions in Westeros and have assured the Lannisters that King’s Landing would continue to receive uninterrupted shipments, thus preventing rioting which previously destabilized the regime.  At the end of Season 4, The Lannisters remain tenuously in power (reeling from the death of Tywin Lannister in the finale), due to the support of the Tyrell family.

Leadership Lesson:   If you want to successfully herd a group of cats, try opening a can of tuna.  Diplomacy and strategy may very well be more effective than strength, birthright or money.

  1. The Adaptive Leader

In a series known for twists and surprises and the untimely death of several key, beloved characters with strong leadership potential (Eddard Stark, Rob Stark etc.), Sansa Stark may herself be somewhat of a wildcard.  Until the middle of the fourth series, she would best be described as meek, sheltered, naive and insignificant.

With each episode she is becoming increasingly worldly under first the tutelage of Joffrey Baratheon, then Tyrion Lannister and now Littlefinger.  The seeds have effectively been sown for her dramatic metamorphosis.  Born with her father’s sense of passion, honour and justice, she is slowly learning how to use her own innocence, frailty and trustworthiness as a weapon and tool to manipulate others.  By the end of the fourth season there can be no doubt that she is not the same little girl who was kept hostage and bullied by King Joffrey.  Even though we have no indication that she aspires to greatness or a position of leadership, she is being groomed for something important and she now has a deeper understanding of what it takes to rule the 7 Kingdoms.  It would not be inconceivable for her to play a pivotal role alongside Littlefinger in future episodes.

Leadership Lesson:   Adaptive leaders exert strategic influence on their environment by being willing to experiment, modelling behaviours of proven leaders, encouraging innovation and taking calculated risks.  They excel as leaders when there is commitment and trust between the followers and them: In the absence of these two things, they are at best master manipulators and will be relegated to positions of secondary importance behind the scenes.

  1. The Unified Leader

It takes a unique, agile and talented individual to breach a 700-foot high wall of ice and overthrow a whole civilization. But it takes a leader to unite a group of wildlings, beasts and giants who are essentially defined by their independence and wild, unbridled nature.

Mance Rayder, The King Beyond the Wall, is the great leadership wildcard in the series because we know so little about him.  If he can unite a large, diverse group of barbarians and mount The Wall, he may be a strong contender for leadership in a Westeros divided by petty squabbles and a bunch of King- Wanna-bees. However, In the Season 4 finale, Stannis Baratheon shows up to fortify the efforts of the Night’s Watch at The Wall and Mance Rayder is taken prisoner – his fate and future leadership aspirations are put into the hands of Stannis and Melisandre.

Leadership Lesson:   A united team is more powerful than a group of passionate individuals working independently on their own goals.  If you are an effective leader, you will choose people who are committed and focused on a singular goal–your goal. The worst thing you can do is to surround yourself with a team that does not believe in your vision or product/service.

 

When you look around your business or place of work, do you recognize any of these stereotypical leadership styles?  Are you leading (or being led by someone) with an iron fist or do you feel as though your chains have been removed and you are finally free to reach your full potential?

Whatever the case may be, it pays to ask yourself “what type of leader do I aspire to be” and “whose vision of the future do I want to be a part of”?  In the end we must all ask ourselves the million dollar question – “What is a Leader?”

As explained by Jim Collins in Good To Great, great leadership often goes unnoticed, unappreciated and unpublicized by the masses.  Studying the foibles and virtues of these fascinating Game of Thrones characters is a great way to experiment with different styles and develop some strategies for enhancing or honing your own unique style.

Do you agree with my list, or like Jon Snow, “do I know nothing”?   What other leadership lessons do you think can be learnt from the show? Get in touch and share your insights now via the comments section below.

 

**This blog is an excerpt taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seductionis in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com

grow your business

Breaking Bad, one of the most beloved television shows of all time, came to a close this year after six successful and gripping seasons. Viewers finally got to witness Walter White’s unforgettable exit and find out which of the key characters made it out alive.

For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, the series is set in a post-GFC, recession ravaged America.  The protagonist Walter White is an understated high-school chemistry professor who is forced to take on a second job at a car wash to make ends meet for his young family.  After being diagnosed with lung cancer and realizing that he does not have enough health care to cover his treatment, he puts his expertise in chemistry to use and begins cooking the most pure crystal methamphetamine (meth) on the market. But as this career teacher quickly realizes, starting and learning to grow your business successfully, isn’t as easy as it looks.

But there’s more to Breaking Bad than exciting science, shocking drama and riveting character development – there’s plenty here for you to take and apply to grow your business.  If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur and be even more profitable than you are right now, you should consider these practical lessons from Walter White at Heisenberg College.

1. Technical Expertise is Not Enough

When faced with insurmountable medical bills, Walt realizes that he is never going to make enough money working as an employee.  Like so many other entrepreneurs, Walt is passionate about his technical skill (chemistry) and he starts a business that has the potential to maximize the return he can get from that expertise, albeit in this case, an illegal activity.

What he quickly discovers is that he knows nothing about actually running a business – inventory, distribution, marketing, collections etc.  So he does what most entrepreneurs do – he wings it and finds out with disastrous consequences that he needs to educate himself quickly on how to operate a successful business and how to outsource the things that he does not have the skill or the time to do himself.

The Lesson: If you really want to grow your business, you need to invest in your development, put a good strategic plan in place, outsource tasks to others who can do them well and learn to manage your team members properly.  Don’t expect success to be easy. Every business faces its own obstacles and challenges.  Those who succeed, do so because of their ability to adapt quickly and take responsibility for their actions.

2. Establish a  Premium Brand Then Establish a Premium Price

Walter White was a world class chemist and as a result, he consistently produced the highest quality crystal meth that you could buy.  In fact, his trademark “blue sky” was widely recognized by both the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and drug users as “the bomb”.  Walter could easily have cut corners and produced a mediocre range of product that appealed to the mass market at a discount price, but he didn’t.  His pride in his own expertise and his commitment to excellence meant that he owned the upper end of the market.

By creating unprecedented demand for his unique formulation, he could dictate the terms his product was sold under and the price consumers would have to pay.  In Walter’s own words – “Corner the market, then raise the price,” White says. “Simple economics.”

The Lesson: If you insist on competing based on price, you are doomed to failure.  Anyone can cook crystal meth (or make a mediocre version of the product/service that you are currently selling) but only one person can truly be the best in the world at creating the most pure version on the market. To grow your business and succeed, you must be willing to do what it takes to cure the #1 pain that your customer has with buying your product/service.

3. If You’re Good Enough, You Can Get Away With Murder

There is no denying the fact that Walter White was the best in the world at cooking crystal meth.  This fact rendered him virtually untouchable. Walter’s unparalleled cooking skills kept him alive over and over again.  Even Gus Fring (the chicken man and notorious drug lord) could not afford to kill him after it became clear that both Walter and his junkie sidekick Jessie, were loose cannons. When Gus came close to finding a replacement, Walter was quick to eliminate his competition, thus restoring his own unassailable status.

Even Jessie, as flawed and messed up as he was in his personal life, was excellent at distribution and sales, thus making it difficult for Walter or Gus to eliminate him easily.

The Lesson:  If you are without question, the best at what you do, you cannot easily be fired or replaced and you can charge a premium for your expertise.

4. If You Can’t Decide, You Won’t Succeed

Throughout the fast paced six seasons, Walter was continually forced to adapt to changing circumstances and make decisions.  When Gus hired a hit man to kill Walter in Season 3, the only thing that saved him was his clever last minute call to Jessie.  Armed with the address of Gale Boetticher (the chemist that Gus had hired to replace them), Jessie was then forced to put a bullet into Gale’s head.

This episode and in fact the one that followed were not for the faint hearted or the squeamish but they illustrate one important point very clearly for you as an entrepreneur –  your success or failure relies solely upon your ability to make quick and good decisions… and then take action immediately, based on those decisions.

The Lesson: In order to be the boss and grow your  business, you have to be willing to make decisions and do whatever it takes to achieve your goals.  You can’t afford to sit on the sidelines of your business hoping and praying that things will change.  You need to be the change that you want to see and you need to get good at making decisions today.

5. No One is Ever Successful Without Help

Nothing is impossible when you have the right team around you. As flawed as they were as individuals, Walter and Jesse were successful together because they each brought different skills to the table, they divided up the tasks and they trusted each other to deliver on their responsibilities. On their own, neither one of them would have survived two weeks in the meth business but together, they thrived for years and built a multi-million dollar enterprise.

The Lesson: If you want to grow your business and build a scalable, robust business that runs without you (or is saleable), you need to stop trying to do everything yourself and learn how to delegate and lead others.

6. If You Can’t Negotiate, You’re Doomed to Fail

Ever wondered why most people don’t say “yes” to your product/service?  Without a doubt, it’s because you have no idea what they need to hear in order to make a decision in your favour.  Walter White started off with absolutely no clue how to run a business or negotiate with suppliers, colleagues or customers.  And more than once, this shortcoming almost cost him his business and his life.  He stumbled upon a universal truth – that if a person’s pain is bad enough and you provide the only solution, they will decide immediately and won’t need “time to think about it”.

The Lesson: The best negotiators know how to persuade others. In order to succeed you need to master the art of identifying, quantifying and curing your customer’s (employee’s or supplier’s) #1 source of pain.  If you do this well, you immediately disqualify your competition and are much more likely to get a “yes” today.

7. Distribution Can Make or Break Your Business

As phenomenal as Walter’s blue sky crystal meth was, he would never have achieved market penetration, leading brand recognition and phenomenal sales without Jessie’s distribution efforts. Jessie’s ability to build relationships, enforce collections and find distributors who were willing to do the hard yards to reach customers, was integral to their commercial success.

Walter didn’t know the first thing about pricing, competitive analysis, money laundering or channel management; he needed to connect with the right people – Jessie, Saul Goodman, Gus Fring et al.

The Lesson:  If you insist on doing everything yourself, then you must be prepared to accept the fact you will never have a scalable, successful and saleable business.

8. First Impressions Are Everything

Gus Fring was by all outward appearances a legitimate, respected member of the Albuquerque business community. He owned a chain of successful fried chicken restaurants and he was a vocal and public supporter of the DEA. He was also the most feared and successful drug lord in the southern states. Even though he was targeted and questioned by the DEA, Gus avoided investigation and culpability by always putting his best foot forward. He was articulate, well-dressed, outwardly legitimate and successful. He made it difficult for anyone to identify and convict him as a drug trafficker. Both Gus and Walter understood that first impressions are everything.

The Lesson:  You only get once chance to make a good first impression. The part of your customer’s brain that decides is highly visual and hasty.  If you don’t appear credible and trustworthy, it will be infinitely more difficult to influence and persuade others to do business with or believe in you. Fail at making a good first impression, and you will never grow your business successfully.

9. It Pays to Manage Your Liabilities

Slowly over the six seasons of the show, Walter and Jessie go from being small time players (much like the typical consultant or start up) to fully fledged business owners of a manufacturing and distribution empire. But there’s just one problem. No matter how much they make, it seems that the overheads (fixed costs of running the business) just keep getting bigger and bigger.  Sound familiar? Not only does Walter have to pay Saul Goodman for legal protection, but there’s also plenty of money going towards collections, enforcement and dealers who “know too much”.

While Walter is initially disgruntled about all these expenses he learns an important point – while it’s important to keep your overall expenses as low as possible, you should never skimp on items that are crucial to your success.  Although you might be frustrated with fixed expenses, you can afford to pay top dollar for the best employees, legal services to keep your business on the right side of the law, or an advisor/coach to help you grow your business profitably.

The Lesson:  If you want to grow your business you cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish.  If someone or something is integral to your success, ensure that you invest your time and money here.  You can always find money in the budget for everything that is worth spending on or investing in.

 

Breaking Bad was poignant, provocative and powerful on many levels.  And the genius of the show is this – despite all his shortcomings, killings, and character flaws, Walter While has longevity and likeability as both a character and successful business man.  When it comes to learning how to grow your business, these 9 lessons from the Walter White School of business, are a whole lot more applicable, memorable and engaging than a boring, introductory business book like the eMyth.

**This blog is taken from a series of posts and press releases on this subject by Rhondalynn Korolak. She is a lawyer, chartered accountant, media commentator, keynote speaker and best-selling author of 3 books, the most recent of which –Sales Seductionis in theTop 20 Sales and Marketing Books on Amazon.com

chocolate

Everyone knows there is a huge gap between what customers do and what they say they will do.  This is the single, most important reason why focus groups are inherently unreliable in predicting the commercial success of an ad, idea or product.  And British Airways knows this better than most as this one simple mistake – of believing what customers said they might do – meant they had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of fresh produce.

Several years ago, someone in the marketing department at British Airways had a crazy idea.  He thought it might be a great idea to introduce a private, fully stocked mini-bar in the first class cabin. British Airways of course conducted lots of focus groups to find out what their customers would most likely want when they woke up in the middle of the night craving a snack.  The research was pretty clear – fresh fruit and healthy snacks like salads were the most sought after.

The cabin crew were sceptical when they heard about the health conscious proposal and one experienced stewardess was very vocal in her critique.  So much so, that British Airways agreed to her suggestion that they also add a selection of chocolates and cakes to the mini-fridge.  Perhaps not surprisingly, when the first planes to stock the self-serve mini-bars touched down and were checked and re-stocked by the ground crews, an interesting truth came to light. Without fail, the cakes and chocolates had been devoured but all of the salads and fruit were left untouched.

Do you know why?

The answer lies in the way that our brains are hard-wired.

Neuroscience has proven that there are many distinct parts of the brain and each of them performs a different function.  However, only 1 of them is responsible for decision making and it fires up long before you are consciously aware that you have made a decision.

The biggest part of brain – the neo cortex – is where you think and reason.  So when your customer says “I need to think about it” or “is this the best price I can get?” this part of the brain is firing up and looking for data.  Not surprisingly, this part of the brain reacts slowly and uses up tons of your body’s energy – in order to keep you safe and alive, the body is hard wired not to rely on the thinking part of the brain to assess and evaluate all the data and information.

At the top of your spinal cord, there is a collection of neurons – which are commonly referred to as the old or reptilian brain.  It is your fight or flight brain – and its sole responsibility is to ensure your survival.  It’s the part of the brain that lights up when you DECIDE.

It lights up even before you have conscious awareness that you have made a decision.  Now, while it is very true that this is the most primitive part of your brain, the good news is that it is very predictable.  By understanding how this part of your brain works, you will discover why you should never offer your customers fruit when what they really crave is chocolate.

The old or reptilian brain of your customers is an automatic mechanism – it does not think, it only DECIDES and ACTS.  It is always at work scanning the environment looking for information of value to his survival.

So how does this apply to your customers and your product/service?

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine that you are in the business of selling pizza.  Now, it doesn’t matter whether you are Pizza Hut, Dominos, Eagleboys, or Pizza World…  you’re basically selling a commodity and the market looks fairly price conscious, doesn’t it?  The reason for that is simple – the consumer finds it hard to distinguish between your pizza and the next guy’s.

In your mind, you might think yours is better because your crust is thicker and you provide more toppings and value.  But in the eyes of the consumer, your pizza isn’t really worth much more than your competitor’s.  Why is that?

Even though you think there is a difference, in the eyes of your customer, there isn’t.  95% of what you and the next guy offer are essentially the exact same thing.  And as long as you keep operating in that zone with a marketing message that doesn’t stand out and stake a claim, you will continue to compete on price because your message forces your customer to think too hard and evaluate all the options.

So knowing this, what could you do differently?

In 1973, one company identified a way to stand out and grab market share in this highly competitive market.  It didn’t claim to have the best, the thickest crust or even the cheapest pizza, it just made you a promise that if you ordered from them, you would get it in 30 minutes or your pizza was free.  It was the most successful campaign in the history of the industry – for good reason.

Think about it, when you order a pizza, what is the #1 burning question that you have in the back of your mind? —– “I wonder when the pizza will get here?”

Dominos answered that question for you.  They didn’t offer fruit when all you really wanted was chocolate.  Their offer, which was different from everyone else’s, solved your #1 source of pain, didn’t make you think too hard and it triggered the part of your brain that decides and dials.

This is the power of Sales Seduction – understanding why your customer says YES and helping him to say YES to your product/service.  When you discover “what the chocolate is for your specific customers and prospects”, you will accelerate your sales process, close more business, trigger decisions and be able to charge a premium price for your product/service.

Spend some time today to identify how you might be offering fruit instead of chocolate and therefore, boring or overwhelming your prospects.  The key to offering what they really want, is in identifying the # 1 source of pain and proving that your solution will cure it today!


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