Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Get their attention - What leaders can learn from advertising

Have you ever watched a TV commercial over and over again, until one day you happen to pay attention and realize that it actually had an interesting message behind it? This is what happens when commercials fail to get your attention. Like I mentioned previously in this blog, you need to get people's attention and then follow up with emotion in order to get people to change their behavior.

Volkswagen did a great job playing with this phenomenon in their "Safe Happens" campaign. Their commercials would show two people having a very normal and boring conversation that lulled you into ignoring the commercial. Just when they bored you almost to a slumber... BAM! A sudden car crash grabbed your attention, just like it often happens in real life. They would then show you the passengers standing next to the car looking at the carnage, followed by the message "Safe Happens." and then the VW logo.

If you have been in a real car crash, you know that it is a highly emotional experience. There is that surreal moment after the crash when you are wondering what happened, where are you, and are you hurt?

While your mind is going through the emotional paces, VW hits you with an ironic twist on the popular saying, "sh*t happens." They wrap the jarring emotional car crash experience with a tongue-in-cheek clever tagline that you can't help but enjoy a little. The result is a strong positive association with the VW brand and safety.

Prior to VW's Safe Happens campaign, commercials mostly showed wrecks being avoided, which didn't grab your attention. They showed crashes with test dummies, which didn't appeal to your emotion. The status quo safety message was a list of safety features and automotive industry safety awards, such as standard dual airbags and anti-lock brakes. As I have written before, this kind of appeal to reason is not memorable, it doesn't appeal to emotion, and it doesn't drive a change in behavior.

You can't get people to change if they aren't paying attention

Just because you have the floor doesn't mean that you have their attention. In the attention starved and stimulation rich environment that we live in, you have to do something big to get people's attention. People will quickly start thinking about other things, checking their smart phones, emailing, texting, and Twittering.

If you are presenting, don't start with the agenda. Start with a joke, a story, a video, or do something physical on stage. I have seen one person do cart wheels before giving a presentation. I once showed videos of snipers and machine guns as an attention getter. It got mixed reviews, but it definitely got their attention. If you need some inspiration before your next big presentation where you want to drive change, watch this video of Steve Ballmer a few times.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Colin Powell's perpetual optimism as a force multiplier

In 2006, I had the opportunity to hear Colin Powell speak at the 31st NPRA International Petrochemical Conference. He shared some lessons that he learned about leadership and diplomacy during his time in service of our nation. I don't recall the specific things he said, but I remember walking away feeling inspired and entertained.

Back before we had blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, Powell's Leadership Primer containing 18 lessons was circulated virally by email. I remember receiving it by email many times in the late 1990's. Lesson 12 from his primer is "Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier." In this lesson, Powell describes the importance of enthusiasm and optimism, and how this can be an emotional contagion:

Optimism is an important theme of Colin Powell's latest book, It Worked For Me. In the first chapter, he wrote about his famous Thirteen Rules of Leadership, which are different from the 18 lessons from his primer. Perpetual optimism is one of the thirteen. A few others are also tied to optimism:

  • It ain't as bad as you think. It will look better in the morning. 
  • It can be done!  
  • Don't take counsel of your fears or naysayers.
  • Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.

Powell describes perpetual optimism as a belief in yourself, in your purpose, and in success. Demonstrating perpetual optimism with passion and confidence is a force multiplier, because it will drive your followers to share your optimistic beliefs. He describes optimism as an attitude, rather than a prediction or a reality. In the face of difficulty, Powell says to start out believing in success until the facts and analysis pile up against it.

He describes fear as a normal human emotion that can paralyze us and stop us in our tracks if we don't recognize that it needs to be controlled and overcome. Fear can prevent us from clear thinking and rational analysis. He says, "We prepare for it and control it; we never let it control us. If it does, we cannot lead."

Watch this interview with Colin Powell on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where he talks about his book and preaches optimism as the key ingredient in life and leadership.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Was Steve Jobs an optimistic leader?

I previously asked the questionIs it possible to lead others without optimism?

This month, Harvard Business Review listed Steve Jobs as the #1 best performing CEO in the World, for delivering a $359B increase in market capitalization during his tenure. He was clearly a successful leader that changed the world we live in, and I appreciate the results Steve Jobs was able to achieve and the products that he was able to create.

If you have read the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, then you might have a hard time thinking of Steve as an optimist. Words that might come to mind are visionary, futurist, genius, innovator, perfectionist, jerk, sociopath, narcissist, and megalomaniac.

In a 2004 interview for Wired magazine, he described himself as an optimist:
"I'm an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups."
I haven't heard of Steve Jobs being described as having a bright and cheery personality, and he was openly hypercritical of the work that people did. However, he had an optimistic view of the potential for people to do exceptional things and the possibility for Apple as an organization to create insanely great products that could put a dent in the universe.

Is being unreasonable a bad thing?

My favorite words to describe Steve Jobs are passionate, persuasive, determined, persistent, and unreasonable. Most people think of being unreasonable as a negative personality trait, but being unreasonable can sometimes generate positive results. George Bernard Shaw once said:
"The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man."
Too often, we give in to reason and fail to let our ideas achieve their potential. When combined with determination and persistence, an unreasonable person can lead an organization to achieve exceptional results.

Steve Jobs is a perfect example of the unreasonable man that George Bernard Shaw described. Through his passion and drive he was able to get the best out of people, even persuading them to do what they personally thought was impossible. He would twist the truth and distort reality to match his unreasonable view of how things should be, and he was determined to change the world to make it fit his vision.

Is emotional intelligence a requirement for CEO performance?

Steve Jobs was not an ideal leader from an emotional intelligence point of view. He seemed to have no capability for empathy, and it is possible that he was only out to selfishly make the world a better place that he could tolerate living in. It is hard to make a case for Steve Jobs as a humanitarian. Regardless, he was effective in terms of leading Apple to do great things and to deliver products of exceptional value through his unrelenting passion and drive.

According to the a New York Times article, In Praise of Dullness, research has shown that people skills have little correlation with whether a CEO is successful or not. It says, "warm, flexible, team-oriented and empathetic people are less likely to thrive as C.E.O.’s."
"Traits like being a good listener, a good team builder, an enthusiastic colleague, a great communicator do not seem to be very important when it comes to leading successful companies. What mattered, it turned out, were execution and organizational skills. The traits that correlated most powerfully with success were attention to detail, persistence, efficiency, analytic thoroughness and the ability to work long hours."
Maybe this explains why Steve Jobs was so successful as the CEO of Apple? Is this just a harsh reality that we need to accept, or should we expect more from ourselves as leaders to deliver exceptional results for all of our stakeholders - shareholders, communities, families, employees, and coworkers alike?

See what the FBI had to say about Steve Jobs in their 1991 background investigation for a position in the US President's Export Council:

Steve Jobs delivered insanely great results, but was he a great leader?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fear and optimism are emotional contagions

Optimistic beliefs are required to drive growth and progress. Negative beliefs will drive fear, and they can spread contagiously. It takes courage to be an optimist. An important role for leadership is to help people overcome their fears and to believe in a positive outcome.

In an Office Hours interview with Dan Pink, I heard Gretchen Rubin talk about happiness and negativity as emotional contagions. On her Happiness Project blog, she defines emotional contagion as follows:
“Emotional contagion” is a strong psychological effect in which we “catch” the happy, sad, or angry moods of others. Someone in a happy, energetic mood will help boost the moods of others, and obviously, this creates a very pleasant atmosphere. Unfortunately, negative moods are more contagious than positive moods; if I’m crabby, I can trigger a wave of crabbiness in my friends.
Emotional intelligence and emotional contagions

CEO Coach Jeremy Robinson equates emotional intelligence with emotional contagion. He says that when he coaches leaders to become more emotionally intelligent, he teaches them to become more positively contagious and less negatively contagious. The most contagious emotions in groups are negative emotions, like fear and anger. He teaches leaders to be powerfully positive to people around them and themselves and to contain their own negative emotions. He also teaches them to become more immune to negative contagions of others.

Mirror neurons and emotional contagion

Neuroscientists have recently discovered that empathy is driven by mirror neurons that are located in the frontal cortex of your brain. These neurons fire in the same way whether you're watching someone do something or when you actually do the same thing yourself. You can watch a segment on NOVA that describes the research: Mirror Neurons.

In a video on YouTube, Karen Ellis describes how mirror neurons in our brains pick up subtle social cues and the implications for leadership. Yawning and giggling are contagious as a result of our mirror neurons. Emotional states in an organization are also contagious. The more status that you have in an organization, the more your moods will affect other people. People mirror what they see at the top, and so it is common that an organizational culture will mirror the personality of the boss.

Watch Leadership and social emotions by Performance1 on YouTube:

Have you ever seen a leader whose emotion is contagious?

Monday, January 7, 2013

Is optimism the opposite of fear?

As I have mentioned before, fear is a powerful force that can separate you from greatness. But what is the opposite of fear?

A common ice-breaking activity that I have have seen at leadership training workshops is to write down attributes of great leaders. Afraid would never appear on that list. Some of the attributes used to describe great leaders are the opposite of fear: brave, courageous, confident, bold, and fearless.

How about optimism?

Optimism is hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something. It is a requirement for bravery, courage, and confidence.

I recently read S. Antony Iannarino's blog post, Four Powerful Beliefs You Must Hold to Succeed In Sales. In his blog post, he describes the following beliefs that are required for success:
  • You can make a difference.
  • You will succeed.
  • Other people will help you.
  • When things go wrong, they'll still work out.
Each of these are really optimistic beliefs. I think that the most important point that Iannarino makes is that optimism is important for success.
"One of the fundamental attributes of all successful people is a sense of optimism, the belief that even if things go wrong, they’ll still work out in the end. This is a powerful belief because it allows one to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm, as Churchill once said. It enables resourcefulness, persistence, and determination."
If your beliefs aren't optimistic, then they're either ho-hum or they're pessimistic. You can't possibly inspire people into action if you aren't able to instill a positive belief about where you want them to go.

Is it possible to lead others without optimism?

Watch Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python on YouTube: