Wanted: Conscious Leaders

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Our businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments all have one thing in common — dependence on effective leaders.  Historically, as these organizations have tried to develop leadership programming, most have focused on the “nuts and bolts” of leadership with an emphasis on communication, visioning, team-building and consensus-building.  These are all important parts of leadership. However, what seems to be missing the most is not a particular skill set, but rather a mindset that can be taught and developed. Truly effective leaders are conscious, mindful leaders with a minute-by-minute and day-to-day awareness of the immediate and long-term impact of their words and behavior on those they lead.

One of my favorite books on the subject is The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership by Dethmer, Chapman and Klemp. In the book, the authors ask us to constantly be checking ourselves as leaders by asking some simple questions and making some simple commitments.  They all center on being conscious in the moment and challenging ourselves by asking, “Am I open and committed to learning in this situation, or am I so determined to be right that I am closed and defensive?”  I have learned that, if we are very honest, this changes many times during the day. It changes with different situations and with different people. The key is not perfection, because we will not always be open and willing to learn - we are human.  The key is to be conscious of “where we are” during key interactions. We are, in that moment, slowing down and choosing how we will respond. If our immediate response is defensiveness or justification, we know we are coming from a place of fear, and we feel threatened.  However, if we can step back and consciously decide how we are going to respond, we can allow ourselves to be more curious, and therefore more open to listening and learning in the situation. This even applies to situations when we completely disagree with the other party or are unhappy with a proposed solution or outcome.  It is at that point, when we move from a focus on being right to a focus on doing the right thing.  

We are all hardwired to be on the lookout for threats or danger.  For our ancestors, it was a fear of famine or a fear of being devoured by a wild animal.  For most of us today, that primal fear is associated with a lack of security or position, of being wrong or appearing to not be in control - not famines and wild animals.  The interesting thing that science teaches us is that our brains “see” and respond to these fears in the same way our ancestors responded to those wild animals.  Typically, our gut response is winning and or being right. The great thing about our evolution is that we have the freedom to choose our responses - most of the time.  

As leaders, we have to be aware of what we are thinking and how we respond — where we are at that moment — before we can choose how we are going to respond.  Checking ourselves throughout the day is critical. Once we become more aware of our natural instincts and begin asking ourselves, “Why am I feeling fear right now?,” we can adjust our response to one rooted in learning and curiosity — a conscious leader response.  As conscious leaders, we can not only chart a more effective course, we can build trusting teams that will lead to the success we are hoping to achieve. In the long run, we also create a culture where our modeling of this behavior encourages success and teamwork throughout our organizations. 

Conscious leadership is a learned skill.  If you would like to learn more about our leadership training and mentoring services, visit www.lafejones.com or email lafe@lafejones.com.

Know Thy Customer

Marketing decisions are made in record time compared to decades past. There are so many new tools and new media options. It is easy to get pulled in different directions based on the latest and newest options in an attempt to just keep up. But, it is important to remember these new opportunities are just tools that should be viewed as part of an overall marketing strategy and only part of the marketing toolbox. New does not always mean best, and nothing is really free. Even if we aren't paying for placement or sponsorship, “free” media requires time and energy that might be better spent elsewhere. It may cost us in the long run because of a negative impact on our brand with bad messaging or because we misused a medium when we were targeting the wrong market for our product or service. It can also mean lost opportunity because we were communicating to the wrong group using the wrong medium.

Knowing our customer helps us determine which tools will be most effective and provide the best return on investment. The tools may have changed, but the key to great marketing is still knowing your customer. With so many options, it is easy to lose sight of the need to be targeted in our messages, and targeted with the customer we are trying to reach. The good news is that there are more ways than ever to connect, communicate and create community with your target customer base. There is also more customer information available. Big data usage is here to stay, but marketers have to learn to harness this information (while balancing privacy concerns) as part of an overall marketing strategy to reach the right customers at the right time, and in the right place.

Understanding that your target customer does not want to be sold anything, and they do not want unsolicited interruptions, is a first step. They want to find you and learn about you on their own terms. They really only want to hear or see you if they have given you permission, whether that is direct or indirect. This means that more planning and resources are required to get it right.  Without a good understanding of the right customer, dollars and time are wasted. This is true with the start-up entrepreneur who only uses social media and personal direct sales, as well as the largest brand that is spending millions on promotion. No business, regardless of size, wants to waste any resources - money or time. Everyone wants a return on their investment, regardless of the amount.

Customer research is key to strategy, and cannot be skipped. It can take many forms - from large surveys to one-on-one conversations. And, getting the research right is the first step. Some decisions require large tested survey samplings (quantitative research), while other decisions can be based on well-managed and facilitated focus groups or personal interviews (qualitative research). Relying on “hunches” or “gut feelings” to save time and money can cost us in the long run. Every marketing decision should be tied to an overall strategy and a plan that provides guidance for the entire process - from effective research to product development, price, placement and promotion. 

For more information about research and planning options, contact us at lafe@lafejones.com.

Strategy Lost.

Speed up!   Post it today!   Work quicker!   Respond now!

The "need for speed" in today's marketing world cannot be denied.  We all have to think and respond quickly to just survive.  The customer attention span has shortened to seconds, and our competition can change messages with the click of a mouse or stroke of a keyboard.  However, it seems as we push forward in this digital age, true marketing strategy has gotten lost.  Many business and organizational leaders are missing the mark in a desire to “appear” as if they are staying in front of the pack. And, when asked if they are reaching their marketing goals, many respond with blank stares or mumble about “likes” and “page views.”

Value In Slowing Down

Like anything else, the downside of moving too fast in marketing can be wasted time and money.  Sometimes, it can also mean reputation damage and brand confusion.  In addition, speed without strategy can also lead to missed opportunities that would have been obvious had we taken our time and stopped to plan effectively.

It's About Balance - Flexing Is Required

Although we need to slow down and plan, agility and flexing are still necessary.   The days of ruminating months over a plan are gone, and those who move that slowly will be behind before they get started.   We have to learn to operate at a strategic level with deep thought and planning, while responding day by day, and sometimes minute by minute to the changing market.  It is an acquired skill, but a strong, well-constructed plan makes thinking and responding quickly easier and less risky.  A plan give us boundaries that let us know we are still in "strategic range" of our goals, while giving us license to move quickly and change tactics within those boundaries. A good plan with specific and measurable goals actually makes us more agile and responsive in the moment.  Also, with targeted goals, we can track what is working, what is not working, and how and where we need to adjust. 

It's More than Analytics

Ironically, at a time when more data sources are available than ever before, many of us are still shooting from the hip and reacting.  Even in this digital age of following the customer at every click and view with analytics, the same fundamental marketing questions remain: Who are our target customers? What do our customers want? How do we reach those customers most effectively?  Many marketers are spending so much time reviewing analytics data, they are forgetting to use traditional research methods to answer those basic questions.  It may sound “old school,” but sometimes you just have to ask the target customer those questions directly.  Surveys, personal interviews and focus groups are still an important part of the research mix. Yes, they take time - but it’s worth it.  Combined with good data, these traditional methods can help us develop better products and more effective messages. 

Long, Intermediate, and Short

Every plan has to include a focus on longer-term goals, intermediate objectives and short-term action steps.  Granted, our idea of “long-term” has shortened from years to months and quarters.  However, focusing only on today and the latest tactics we “feel” might put us ahead for the moment may be costing us time, money and missed opportunities.  Take the time to do the "deep work" - research and plan strategically.  Slowing down, planning and setting goals can actually allow us to react with the appropriate speed and purpose that lead to actually meeting or exceeding measurable results.  In a time when strategy is sometimes lost to the “tactic of the week,” those who find it again will stand out as the competitive market leaders.

Let us know if you want to talk more about strategy.  lafe@lafejones.com #bestrategic