Category Archives: Books

The Story on Leading with Intention

I had the privilege of hearing my friend Marta Wilson, CEO of Transformation Systems Inc., talk about that very subject this past Friday at a Chamber of Commerce lunch.

Marta’s on the circuit in support of her terrific new book, “Leaders in Motion: Winning the Race for Organizational Health, Wealth, and Creative Power” – the title’s long because it’s a big subject – in which she weaves her own personal story through leadership stories that have made, or are making, history.

Her purpose on Friday was to spread the message of the importance of intention in leadership. Boiled to its essence, here are the key parts of that message:

  • Intention – the will to see something through must be the starting point.
  • Clarity – once you have a target, bring it into focus.
  • United effort – get everybody on the bus.

She told a great story about a leadership development exercise one of the leaders she interviewed for the book outlined: a bunch of masters of the universe were at a weekend retreat, working on leadership development, and they were given a challenge late one afternoon.

100 homeless people would arrive for breakfast the next morning, and these captains of industry were to provide that breakfast. Food, cooking equipment, utensils, plates, the whole nine.

The real challenge? They couldn’t use any resources – no money, no credit cards, no promises to pay later – to get the breakfast on the table for those 100 people.

They pulled it off – after storming around, pissed off, for a little while – by identifying what they needed: food, equipment and utensils, and decorations. I dunno as I would have thought that decorations were necessary, but I wasn’t part of the team!

They split up into three groups, and when out to achieve their goals. The guy Marta interviewed was on the food team, and it took them hours of begging, pleading, and doors slammed in their faces, but around 2am they’d gotten everything they needed.

They worried that the two other teams might not have gotten what they needed. They went to bed, got up at 6am, and went to the kitchen to get to work.

All three teams had accomplished their missions.

100 guests – homeless folks – got a beautiful hot breakfast, with lots of good food, surrounded by balloons, streamers, and smiling faces.

You have to see your goal. Focus on that goal, make clear to yourself and your team exactly what the end-game is. Then get everybody moving toward that goal. That’s intentional leadership.

Blame no one. Expect nothing. Do something. Those are Gene Valvano’s words, and they’re true for any leader, any team member, any business effort on the planet.

Marta’s story is worth a book on its own – she started life on a small, hardscrabble farm in Tennessee, putting herself through college all the way to a doctorate from Virginia Tech in organizational development. She’s lived a transformative journey, which certainly informs her work helping organizations transform themselves.

What’s YOUR story?

Do you talk to panhandlers? How about the compulsory car-wash – you know, the guys at the corner who
swarm your car at red lights and “wash” (actually, smear) your windshield?

The panhandler and the compulsory car-wash guy are both
interruption marketers. They spring out
at you as you pass by, simply because you’re in their orbit. I bet you enjoy those interruptions, don’t
you? You’re really anxious to listen to
these guys make their pitch, aren’t you?

How about someone you meet at a conference, or a cocktail
party? Do you talk to them? Of course you do. There’s context there, some shared story,
even if it’s just the answer to “how did you end up here?”

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between interruption
marketing (the old-school ad game: “New and Improved!”, “Prices Slashed!”, “Psst! Look! Over Here!”) and permission marketing (agreeing to listen to a story – a
product message – because you have something in common with the story-teller).

Marketing used to be all about the interruption. Just getting the prospect’s attention was
enough to start the sales process. In
today’s ad-clogged marketplace, the customer is exhausted by all the
interruptions, and has gone deaf and blind to blandishments like “New and
Improved!” In fact, a marketing message
containing that phrase will likely end up in the spam folder or the trash can. As will most marketing messages that aren’t
specifically asked for by the customer.

OK, I can hear you saying “and just how in blue blazes am I supposed
to do THAT, Casey?”

You tell a really great story, that’s how.

In Seth Godin’s terrific book “Permission Marketing”, he
uses dating as a metaphor for permission marketing. You can dude yourself up and hit a singles
bar, proposing marriage to every person in the place, and you’ll certainly
accomplish something – perhaps getting thrown out on your ass, or being
arrested for harassment. Or, you can ask
one person out on a date, and if it goes well, you can ask them out again –
they’ve given you permission to move ahead with the relationship.

I’ve never been out on a date yet (and I’ve been on LOTS of
dates, trust me!) where story-telling wasn’t a key factor in whether or not
there was another date. Same holds true
for marketing a product or service – you have a great story that draws the
person you’re telling it to in, making them wish they were there? The story is selling them on you and what you
have to offer.

What’s YOUR story? Your signature story, that says why you do what you do and why you’re so
good at it? You need one that’s
authentic, that’s truly yours, and that…well, tells your story.

In today’s you-gotta-get-permission marketplace, no story
will mean no business. So – complete this
sentence: “Once upon a time….”