I could not believe what I asked my boys in the supermarket: “Do I look like I’m made of money?!” I stood there in shock after hearing my own words. Where did that come from? My parents’ words are starting to involuntarily come out of my mouth: “What did I just say?”, “Don’t make me go over there!”, “What/Why did you do that for?”, "Do I have to send you an invitation to eat dinner?". Hopefully, the words of my mother: “If you break your legs, don’t come running to me” will remain forever suppressed (they don’t make much sense when you think of it.)
At the same time, I know that other words from my parents, teachers, and others have shaped me: “You can do it”, “Don’t be like me. Make something of yourself.”
Words are powerful. Recall the sayings that you have to be careful with your words; you cannot take them back. The school time rhyme that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is untrue – words can hurt someone. (Someone said that rhyme to me in 2nd grade…so I went to gather sticks and stones to break her bones based on the tip. She still beat me up.) Unfortunately, Asian parents, especially of the “Tiger Mom” genre, also use words such as “Why are you so dumb?”, “Your cousin XXX is way smarter than you”, “How are you going to amount to anything?” (I really don’t care for Tiger moms.)
I will forever remember the most important words that I said were to my father, perhaps a year before he passed away. T think about it often and thankful. My father had Parkinsons Disease, a terrible affliction which can put a person in a frozen, expressionless shell. He wasn’t very cooperative and prone to falling. All the other family members had caregiver’s fatigue from watching and caring for him 24 hours a day. I would return from Boston to NYC to relieve my mother when possible and felt the guilt of not being there for them when they needed me most. At times, the family vented our frustration to him. A friend encouraged me to act otherwise. After a long day of struggling to watch and care for my father, he laid in his bed. I pleaded with father to be more cooperative so that he would not hurt himself and for my mother’s sake. There was no response or change in expression. I finally said what I always wanted to say: “Dad, you know that I love you and care about you.” My father slowly nodded and tears trickled from his eyes as I reached over to touch him.
Who "owns the customer"? This important question should be part of any marketing strategy, especially when dealing with agents or distributors. My definition and description in response to a actual professional forum question are summarized below:
Who has the most at stake, manufacturers or distributors? When it comes to reputation, who puts more on the line? Who do consumers tend to trust and rely upon? Is this true for all industries, i.e. computers, cars, consumer goods, insurance, etc...? What are your thoughts?
Frank Lio’s answer:
It depends on whether the manufacturer or distributor “owns the customer”…where the customer sees the value added. Distributors can be considered as vertical competitors, e.g. Sony is a manufacturer and can use big box stores, online stores, or their own web site to sell. You may seek to buy a Sony TV, not particularly seeking to buy a TV only from Best Buy. Some people may buy any insurance based on the recommendation of a trusted local agent (a distributor). Would you switch mobile cell phone providers if they did not offer a particular cell phone, e.g. iPhone? If you wanted an iPhone and would be willing to walk out of a T-Mobile store (which does not offer an iPhone) and switch to Verizon or AT&T to get an iPhone, then Apple (the manufacturer) owns the customer. On the other hand, you may have had a great experience with T-Mobile and willing to accept a different phone. Products or services seen as commodities or with little uniqueness will then tend to favor a distributor.
I find “leadership” to be a misused word. In today’s world where titles do not properly define one’s multiple roles, everyone leads to a certain extent. One can lead a project or a project component. Leadership must also be distributed for an organization to function efficiently and react quickly. In the older days, the Soviet air force operated such that their fighter pilots had to get permission from a remote central command to fire, translating into valuable time lost and a lack of trust. The US air force pilots operate more on an individual basis where they make their own tactical decisions based on their real-time assessment of the situation.
That said, what makes a “good” leader? I think that one of the best models is MIT’s “Four Capabilities Leadership Framework” (FCF). It breaks down leadership into 4 basic components:
1. Sensemaking: making sense of the world around us, coming to understand the context in which we are operating. (Data Gathering, Mapping)
2. Relating: developing key relationships within and across organizations. Understand the needs and perspectives of others. (This involves listening, understanding, advocating, connecting with others.)
3. Visioning: creating a compelling picture of the future. (Creating the map of where you want to be. Make it a shared vision.)
4. Inventing: designing new ways of working together to realize the vision. (Be creative; don’t accept that things can’t be done differently. I want to say “think outside the box” but I hate that term.)
Finally, each leader needs to discover their unique Change Signature – the leader's individual credo and characteristic way of creating change. This will draw upon his or her values, skills, experience, tactics, and personality in order to build trust, respect, and authenticity.
Unfortunately, many today like to jump straight into Visioning and Inventing but it simply will not work. Sensemaking and Relating take time and humility - you have to let go of your biases and realize that you may have been completely wrong. Remember the rule: “measure twice, cut once” (especially in light of resource and time constraints).
Will you have 100% buy-in? No. There is a time in this process to have open dialog where you want a difference of perspective and opinions but there must be a point of closure with decisions to move forward with actions. As my mentor, Prof. Arnoldo Hax, states "Consensus is 70% agreement, 100% buy-in".
I had a chance to learn about the Leadership model directly from Professor Deborah Ancona at MIT Sloan. She also mentioned that the “Golden Rule” is paramount – treat others as you wish to be treated.
For more information, you can google "Deborah Ancona", "Peter Senge", or start with this great introductory article: Leadership in the Age of Uncertainty.
It’s Valentine’s Day! I’d just like to etch this in cyberspace forever and tell my wife and mother of my children, Fanny, that my love for her and the family grows every day. May I repeat this every Valentine’s Day as we grow old together.
People believe when you believe. Evanglism is defined as “1. Zealous preaching and dissemination of the gospel, as through missionary work. 2. Militant zeal for a cause.” Guy Kawasaki actually had the title of “Chief Evangelist” at Apple in the early days. He calls it “Selling the Dream”, helping people see and create that dream.
In the case of product management, product evangelism is tireless promotion of and work on your product(s), services, or ideas with a true understanding of your prospects, market, the benefits, and application. It is seeing beyond the specifications and numbers. You set and share the vision. You energize those around you. You understand the product intricacies and thoroughly understand how each customer will use and benefit from it. You sell not only to customers but to your engineers, service staff, internal management – and give them every reason to believe too.
I recall managing a product that no one else seemed to believe in. At the time, the company had a poor record and reputation in software. The Sales and Service group did not know how to sell, service, or train in this area. It took passion, personal selling and demonstrations directly to customers and fellow colleagues alike. Whatever legitimate concerns were heard and addressed as soon as possible. It is contagious. The most complimentary testament (no pun intended) was a customer asking “You really are passionate about this and love it, don’t you?” I smiled and replied “Absolutely!”
The end result is that the product that no one believed in became the most successful product in that company’s history. There was plenty of hard work, tireless weeks on the road...it is far from idle talk. All products should have a product evangelist as the owner (or even better, the entire team become evangelists).
The most meaningful things in your life should never be sacrificed to those that are least meaningful - Robin Sharma
One of my little boys spilled juice on the carpet and I got quite upset. I asked him to be careful and I found myself suddenly on my knees applying a whole roll of paper towels to soak up the messy spill. I remember being silent and just so angry, glaring at him when he asked me a question.
I read back into that incident as being insignificant and realize that I reacted poorly in that situation. What’s meaningful in my life definitely includes my family and especially my children. What has absolutely no meaning was a spill on the carpet.
From a larger perspective, one has to think about life in general. David Thoreau said that we live a life of quiet desperation...a "someday I will do this/go there" while we go through the daily grind. We must set priorities and actively planning and working toward your objectives. Are you taking care of your health, your body, spending quality time with those who are important to you…making progress toward your goals and life purpose or just “going through the motions” each day?
I met a very cheerful man on a plane ride who kept joking around and I asked him what he felt was his secret to happiness, what advice he could give me about life. He became totally serious, thoughtful, and finally replied, "Don't be afraid to change things." He then talked about being a repossessor as his first job. He hated the job...seeing children crying and hurting poor families as he took back possessions for the bank and decided to quit even though he didn't have another job to turn to.
"The purpose of life is a life of purpose." - The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
Trust is one of the fragile qualities that you must diligently build upon and treat as sacred. Some people call it the “Emotional Bank Account” where you make minor and large “deposits” into another’s “account” to build your trustworthiness. An indiscretion, lie, breaking your promise, cheating on your part, etc. would be a “withdrawal”. (Don’t overlook the compound interest effect too). Unfortunately, withdrawals or breaking one’s trust, takes serious time and effort to rebuild (if at all possible). Suppose a wife catches her husband having an affair? The man may be remorseful and honestly swear that he will be faithful but he may forever wear that scarlet letter on his chest.
Trust also extends to talk and gossip. Stephen Covey said: “Be loyal to those who are absent.” Refrain from talking negatively about others - even if you absolutely hate their guts and even though it may be fun to talk about people behind their back. Always talk about others as if they are present. (I admit that this takes much discipline and there are times when my tongue is bloody from biting it.)
Funny Aside and Lesson Learned: In my early days, a colleague commented that "he trusted XXX as far as he could throw him." Since my athletic colleague was an over 6 feet 2 inches tall and XXX was only 5 feet 4 inches, I figured that my colleague could throw him pretty far. So I repeated to others that XXX was a person worthy of trust because of what my colleague told me - until someone quickly corrected my thinking.
Despite or perhaps because of all the latest fads in leadership training, I am convinced that you must have empathy, understanding, and compassion to be a truly effective leader. The Golden Rule still applies – treat people as you would like to be treated. An organization is only as good as its people and a good organization starts by caring for its people. You start by acknowledging, understanding what’s important to them, sincerely taking an interest in them and their world. People will accomplish amazing things when they see that you sincerely have an interest in them and unselfishly want to help them and the team become successful. There will be days or times when one will not be performing at his/her best – even athletes have rough periods. Work with them and find out why. Something as minor as having a car in the Shop can naturally and subconsciously preoccupy one’s mind during the workday. Have faith in and loyalty to your people. Objectives and rules are important but don't micromanage or you will invoke Harvard’s Law: ”Under the most carefully controlled conditions of temperature, density, and pressure, the organism will do what it damn well pleases.”
Some quotes from one of the greats, UCLA’s Coach John Gooden:
“You must have respect, which is a part of love, for those under your supervision. Then they will do what you ask and more.”
“Motivating through fear may work in the short term to get people to do something, but over the long run I believe personal pride is a much greater motivator. It produces far better results that last for a much longer time.”
And finally, retired US Army General Eric Shinseki:
''You must love those you lead before you can be an effective leader...You can certainly command without that sense of commitment, but you cannot lead without it. And without leadership, command is a hollow experience, a vacuum often filled with mistrust and arrogance.''
"Sell the Sizzle, not the Steak" were the words of a master salesman, Elmer Wheeler. You’ll never see a steakhouse advertise that they are offering bloody, sinewy flesh. They instead tempt you with an image of tastiness and sizzle, e.g. “the most tender and juicy, thick cut…”. Remember that customers buy based on benefits. You can talk about a hundred features but it all comes down to "So what?" and "Who cares?".
One of the most common rookie mistakes (that I was guilty of) in sales demonstrations is showing every operating and setup screen in software and then showing the product in action. "Look...you can do this...change that!" Don’t show and review every set-up field (especially ones that the user may never use) or you’ll scare away the prospect with the wrong impression that your product is overwhelmingly difficult to use. You want to demonstrate to the user how easy it is to use the system, the flow, what the output looks like, etc. – and then ease into the set up intricacies if necesssary. Let the user guide you as to what is important to him/her and then show what they care about. Understand your customer's "hot buttons", the problem(s) that they want to solve, and how you can solve it. (You still need to know about the steak so that you can expertly answer questions but sell the sizzle.)
If you’re a product manager, it’s always a good idea to add some sizzle into your products to help aid customer demonstrations and selling.
Another tip: don’t use jargon unless they are industry terms that the customer also shares with you. Otherwise, speak in plain English and use words that everyone can understand.
Frank Lio is a Product Manager, Strategist, and Change Agent in the Hi-Tech industry. His growing track record of successes include creating 3 winning software products, leading nationwide seminars, and turning around a failing business unit. He is currently serving a dual role as Product Manager and Business Team Support Manager at Instron ITW.
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