Draw the line

We know that people prefer to work for leaders who give a sense of security, who distribute responsibilities, who show a genuine interest in their direct reports, who care, who have integrity, who listen.

Yet, very few leaders do any of that.

And that could be for three reasons.

They might be not skilled enough. Many top performers are promoted into leadership roles and they simply have no experience creating an environment where people can develop and feel secure. The idea is that if you are good at making things happen, you will eventually figure that out. Of course, it rarely happens.

They might believe that those things will come when _______ (fill in the blank). When the recession is over, when the urgency of the moment has passed, when the company will grow, when the next campaign will fix everything, when the new year will come. It’s never a good time for them to take ownership.

They might be genuinely interested in themselves more than in anything else. They move from one role to the next, from one company to the next, achieving above average results, and then leaving fear and destruction behind.

There are certainly other reasons, and other types of dysfunctional leadership.

But the main point for you is that you are not going to change that. You will not convince your team lead that they need training, that the time is now, or that putting their needs second will actually serve them in the long term.

None of that is going to happen.

All you can do is decide what type of leader you want to follow and where you draw the line.

Building a StoryBrand

Despite thousands of years of evolution, we are still pretty primitive in our behavior. We seek what makes us survive and thrive, and we stay away from what puts our lives through any kind of hassle.

And so, companies do two big mistakes when they talk about what they do. First, they forget that they are not the hero. Second, they ask prospects to burn too many calories to understand why they should become customers.

The result is that people run.

The way companies tell their story can follow a consolidated way of storytelling.

A CHARACTER who wants something encounters a PROBLEM before they can get it. At the peak of their despair, a GUIDE steps into their lives, gives them a PLAN, and CALLS THEM TO ACTION. That action helps them avoid FAILURE and ends in a SUCCESS.

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand

The character is the customer. And the engine of the story (the story gap) is the thing the customer wants. Of course, you need to know your customer very well to start from here. In particular, you need to know:

  • What do they want to become?
  • What kind of person do they want to be?
  • What is their aspirational identity? (i.e., How do they want their friends to talk about them?)

Once this research is done, it should become clear that what they want is something relevant for them. They do care deeply about closing the gap and joining with the object of their desire (if they do not, there is no story).

The problem is both external (e.g., a bomb, skyrocketing costs, increased competition) and internal (e.g., failed detective, inability to grow, staff leaving). In fact, companies should strive to frame their product as a resolution for both the external and the internal problem.

The guide is you (finally!). For your product to be a reliable guide, it needs to communicate empathy – we understand how it feels ..; like you, we are frustrated by .. – and competence – we know what we are doing (testimonials, logos, statistics).

The plan can either be a process plan, that describes the steps the hero needs to take to buy the product (and achieve success), or an agreement plan, that lists the major concerns of the hero and counters them with agreements that alleviate the fear – if you buy our product, we will do this; in case you need help, we offer 24/7 service.

The call to action can either be direct – buy now, schedule an appointment – or transitional – download the whitepaper, get started with the free trial.

The dodged failure needs to be expressed. Many refrain from doing this, because they feel they might be perceived as negative guides. Yet people are motivated by loss aversion: if there is no loss your product helps them avoid, they will avoid the loss (i.e. expenditure) represented by buying your product.

And finally, the success. Just be very clear what it looks like, how it feels like, what the end vision is. You can’t get too specific.

Donald Miller, Building a StoryBrand book cover

Jabbering

Your company was established in 1845 by your great-great-great-grandfather and has, since then, achieved tremendous success all over the world.

You have a cutting edge technology that future proofs companies and enhances workforce efficiency and productivity of front-end and back-end employees.

You are going to revolutionise the industry and establish your organisation as the de facto leader in a niche that is recording a CAGR of 55%.

Your team is composed of digital artisans, experts who are passionate about creating bespoke websites and experiences.

Your event features panelists and thought leaders from 126 countries and 456 organisations across 59 industries.

And all everyone else hears is the following.

Note: they focused on customer success too!

Full control

There is a popular meme that tells about the relationships between a job done fast, well, and cheap. You can do a job fast and well, you can do it well and cheap, you can do it cheap and fast. What you can’t do is fast, well, and cheap at the same time.

Source: The Developer Society, Good/Cheap/Fast

The meme fails to tell another truth, though. A bane to many companies. That is: you can’t do a job fast, well, or cheap if you want to maintain full control on the outcome.

You can’t do fast, because when the job is ready, there are still review phases to go through. Often featuring vague feedback, last minute changes, and unsubstantiated personal opinions.

You can’t do cheap, because all the layers you are adding have a cost. And even more expensive is the price you pay for the people who leave once they realize their talent comes after tenure.

You can’t do well, because by the time you get to the finish line, what you have is a frankestein that satisfies everyone and excites no one.

So, if your goal is to maintain full control on the outcome, any of the combinations in the meme is a much better path to execution. Change, or be prepared to be kicked out of the game.

A practice of research

What you create is not going to be consumed the way you thought it would.

There is no education. There is no explaining. There is no walkthrough. The only way you address this is by committing to a practice of research.

Ask.

Listen.

Aggregate.

Adjust.

Ask.

Listen.

Aggregate.

Adjust.

It might be that at some point what you create is no longer what you want to create. It is not likely, but it is a possibility.

In that case, move a step away and start over.

Ask.

Listen.

Aggregate.

Adjust.