Don’t Oversell or the Social Network Will Catch You

In the pre-social media web (pre web 2.0), it was easy for a business or organization to “oversell” themselves. I saw this from time-to-time. It’s easy to imagine how a business might do this. A website can be designed to make them seem very impressive. Testimonials from customers (whether real or otherwise) can make them sound fantastic. And product images can be air-brushed to look much better than the real item.

Another type of organization that I often saw overselling themselves was churches. Ironic, I guess, but it’s true. I know of a church that promoted its programs for young people, yet only had a handful of them in their actual membership. Once I was given several pictures to use in a collage photo on a website. One of the pictures was a handsome African-American man with a nice smile. I found out later that he was not a member of the church, but on the maintenance staff! In fact, the church did not have any African American members to speak of!!

The days of these types of tactics are hopefully on the decline. The advent of social media allows for a built-in correction mechanism on the web. Facebook, Twitter, and blogs allow people to share their impressions with their friends. There are also now sites like Angie’s list and Glassdoor that give unsolicited feedback on companies. Have you checked your company’s profile on Glassdoor? You should, it may give you some unexpected insight into your employee’s opinions.

One of the beauties of the social media phenomenon is that it brings a social conscience to the web. Hopefully, these tools are used for the overall public good, and helps us all find out what is truth, and what is not, in that big bad world of the Internet.

Two Sets of Threes

I’ve always been impressed with Coach John Wooden (even though I’m not a UCLA fan). His accomplishments, on and off the court, are indisputable.  I’m reading Pat William’s book about Coach Wooden and the principles that were passed from his father to the coach that shaped his life.

One of the early examples of his father’s wisdom given in the book is the “Two sets of threes”. These rules to live by are: “Never lie, never cheat, never steal”, and “Don’t whine, don’t complain and don’t make excuses”.

What a simple set of life principles you find here. In the first set of three, we are encouraged to keep our life straight. The best way to stay out of trouble is to avoid the “big three”…. We’ve heard them all our lives: to not lie, cheat or steal. This simple and solid advice that is eternal.

Most of us probably do a fairly good job of adhering to the first three.  But the latter three are a little harder for most of us. It seems like whining, complaining and making excuses are almost a rite of passage into the world today. We probably first think of teenagers when we think of these traits. But I believe we see them in people of all ages. After all, where do teenagers learn these traits? Adults, of course.

Coach Wooden had a hard life as a child, and his dad ran into some very unfortunate situations. But, he adhered to this code and never whined or complained. He took what life gave him, and without excuse, managed to raise a great family amid the challlenges he’s faced.

Undoubtedly, most of us have run up against whiners and complainers in our workplace. I don’t think there is a much more destructive force in an organization. As a manager, dealing with these negative traits will often zap me of my energy. If I’m not careful, dealing with complainers end up negating other good things going on, and negatively impact my own performance.

As a leader I believe we need to do three things:
1) Set an example by being positive, not making excuses, and not whining or complaining.
2) Do not allow a whiner to take away our energy, but to instead use our energy to turn them around.
3) Deal with negative personalitiies, even if it means removing them from the organization, before they poison those around them.

These are tough remedies, but if we are to truly lead organizations out of the cycle of negativity, we have to take the tough steps. 

Good luck, and don’t forget the two sets of threes.

Assess then Act

Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve noticed that one area that many leaders (including myself) can often improve on, is the ability to take action at the right time, based upon the right amount of information.  Leadership is often about setting a direction.  That direction comes from making a decision about what needs to be done.  Some leaders take action on very little direction, while others seem to never have enough to make a decision.

The problem with taking action on too little information is that you often make the wrong decision because you are not fully informed of the details.  Take for instance this one time when an executive I worked with wanted one of my team members to go on-site to address a customer’s problem.  The only issue was, no one had researched yet what the source of the problem was.  And since my guy could only address about 25% of the potential issues, I saw it as a 75% chance of a wasted trip.  (Note, this wasn’t a trip across town, but one that would involve airfare, overnight travel and at least two days of lost productivity at the office).  I put the brakes on sending the person out, and instead had a trained technician call and walk through the issues.  As it turned out, a local technician was able to swing by the customer’s location and fix the problem in a couple of hours.  The customer was much happier than if they had waited two days only to have the wrong person show up.   My company was better off because we saved thousands of dollars in travel expenses and lost productivity.

On the other hand, some people take entirely too long to make a decision.  This is often called “analysis paralysis”.  Over the years, I’ve often found myself involved with decisions that could never be made, because there was always that “one more” piece of information.   A similar issue is “next year’s version” of the software or product will be better.  These decisions (or the lack thereof) also cost the company money.  They cause lost productivity, lost opportunity costs and overall frustration among team members.  I’ve also noticed that the likelihood of these problems increase exponentially with the number of people involved in making the decision.  That’s one reason I love working in a smaller company.

Every leader must become comfortable with making decisions at the right time.  The time is not a measure of days, but a measure of knowing when you know enough.  Rudy Giuliani, in his book “Leadership” talks about the principle of “Reflect, Then Decide”.  He says that he never makes up his mind until he has to.   Recognizing when you “have to” is the key to good leadership.  One of the principles Mr. Giuliani illustrates is relentless preparation.  The more data you have, the more communications you have with your team, the quality of the people giving you advice, all impact your ability to come to a decision quickly. 

The bottom line is that no one can tell you exactly when to make any particular decision.  It’s a skill gained over time.  By learning what works and what doesn’t, it’s something that’s inside the gut of a good leader.  But it takes preparation, confidence and good information to make the right decision at the right time.