Mentor Moment #2: You don’t have to be a Prick -Ly person, to become a leader

I see it way too often, particularly in young managers who never had a mentor; they think you have to be a Prick -ly person to get ahead in this world. Somewhere along the way they learned you have to be nasty and intimidating to new pics 002.

I am embarrassed to admit I too went through this phase. I am not sure if it was my wrong perception of what leadership was or a low emotional intelligence at the time, but I was a difficult person to work for when I was in my late 20’s. I felt the end justified the means, and the most expedient way to tackle the goals before me was to focus on execution with little if any regard or appreciation for the relationship with those I was working with. This is a very lonely way to live, and I am thankful to Jim, who one day pulled me aside and said “you need to change, I love the results and the growth, but my company can no longer tolerate the way you achieve them.” He rocked my world that day.

So I set out to learn how to lead people. I studied great leaders, read books, attended seminars and I hired a coach to hold me accountable. What I found was great leaders all had three things they demonstrated. They were;




They gave equal weight to the relationship with others and the execution of objectives

My quest to learn about how to serve teams instead of drive them led me to becoming a Christian. I had tried everything else, but only giving myself to Jesus gave me the new heart I so desperately looking for .Over the years the Lord has given me a new heart, and has taught me many principles I use in my work each day like;

“Hate the sin, but love the sinner”

Now, when I bump into people who feel they gain power by pushing others down versus lifting them up, I feel sorry for them, and pray for them. For I know that lonely feeling when you are driving home, or on an airplane, regretting how you just treated someone. I wrote in my post:The leadership “Quiver” for driving changeWhen you use the discipline arrow it takes the least amount of skill. This is the only arrow that also pains me upon release as it means I failed to find the “why” behind someone is not getting on board with changes.” I also found the quote: “be careful how you treat those on the way up as those are the same folks you will see on the way down” to be very true.

Do you work for a Prick -ly person?

Are you a Prick -ly person?

How’s that working for you? Your team? …really?

If you worked with or for me in those days, I have tried to find all of you and apologize. I also ask your forgiveness in my use of “ Prick -ly” as it is my goal this is read by those who may be struggling working with someone as well as hopefully found by those who have the wrong understanding of leadership.

Mentor Moment #1: Don’t let them know where you tie your Goat

goat 2 

Leader to leader, I want to share some key advice; do not let those you serve know where you tie your goat. You may say; “Well I’m not a leader…” Well I need to challenge you, are you a parent, do you have associates that come to you for advice? As I wrote in the Leadership two steps, if you have followers, I hate to tell you, you are a leader.

Just recently I had a friend say “Mark, don’t let them know where you tie your goat” I thought this was a very clever way of sharing a pearl of wisdom I heard lived long ago. Over the years you learn not to let customers , bosses, peers and employees know how to get your goat. If you fail to do so, the people you work with, will work you.

So what happens when someone gets your goat? For me, an inner anger burns and the minute it starts I am limited. My Creativity, my problem solving skills, my leadership ability, and my communication choices suffer. The key is to not let them know where you tie your goat(s).

For example, one of my goats is tied to those who bully others that are defenseless. (I realize I am not following my own advice here by letting you know) It has always driven me nuts when someone in a perceived position of power treats those with perceived less power wrong. When I was helping one company, the CFO learned where I tied this goat. So when I was challenging something he felt was his silo, his domain, he would verbally attack one of my team who was not present. At first I fell into the trap and this diversion tactic worked. However after seeing the pattern, I would quickly diffuse his attacks, table them for another a discussion and keep the meeting on point.

There are many mentor moments I have learned over the years. I will be sharing them over the next few weeks in my posts. Please share them with your team, and if you have the courage…share them with your leaders!

Do you have some mentor moments? Please share.

What Jimmy Buffet and Bruce Cockburn can teach Marketers about Nailing a Persona?


While at the gym this morning I was listening to my iPod to take my mind off the workout. I guess I hit “shuffle” and in the middle of the upbeat songs I try to keep up with a song by Jimmy Buffet grabbed me. His song; “Pacing the cage” so intimately captured a feeling that so many leaders experience at some time, but more often when the supposedly “made it”.

Maybe it’s because today is my 48th birthday and I am always a bit reflective on my birthday, but this song totally nailed my feelings, and the feelings of a number of the executives I have helped.

If you have not heard the song, below are to lyrics I downloaded from one of the song Lyric web sites for you.

by: Bruce Cockburn
Sunset is an angel weeping
Holding out a bloody sword
No matter how I squint I cannot
Sometimes you feel like you’ve lived too long
Days drip slowly on the page
And You catch yourself
Pacing the cage
I’ve proven who I am so many times
The magnetic strip’s worn thin
And each time I was someone else
And everyone was taken in
Powers chatter in high places
Stir up eddies in the dust of rage
Set me to pacing the cage
[ Jimmy Buffett Lyrics are found on ] I never knew what you all wanted
So I gave you everything
All that I could pillage
All the spells that I could sing
It’s as if the thing were written
In the constitution of the age
Sooner or later you’ll wind up
Pacing the cage
Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend
Today these eyes scan bleached-out land
For the coming of the outbound stage
Pacing the cage
Pacing the cage

The way I feel and what I hear other executives share is our lives can be broken into three phases if you will;

Go get it

Don’t lose it

Give it away.

When I was in the “Go Get it” phase I was working 6-7 days a week, traveling 4-5 days per week, with 18 hour days. I thought it was about building wealth, about building safety for me and my family, but the truth was this time was about self justification and proving my metal. A bad choice as I reflect because lost so many memories with my young children and my wife while I was…on the road.

So you have moved up through the ranks, and now “you da man” and you have teams reporting to you. You still are full of the “piss and vinegar” that got you hear, but now you also focus on growing what you captured as well as protecting it in the “don’t lose it phase”. At some point you have a wakeup call moment, something that happens that makes you say “is this all there is?”

At that moment you have a wakeup call and realize all your focus, all your driving for success is kind of a hollow victory. Some of the worst times in my career were when I achieved a goal early. (Now what?) Sometimes I hear executives say it happens when they are sitting quietly at their big desk when everyone has gone home for the night, and they realize they just missed their daughter’s musical recital.

Then we move into “Give it away” in which success becomes second to significance. In this phase, the phase I am in now, we want to not just “kick ass and take names” but we want significance, we want to make a difference in this world and the lives of others. Studying the Word and becoming a Christ Follower has helped me in this phase more than I can share.

For me, I get much more joy in helping others than the thrill of the conquest I once had in my “Go get it” phase. Each morning before my feet hit the floor I pray “Lord, please help me to help someone today.”

If you are a marketer you need to intimately know your buyer. Jimmy Buffet does an amazing job of capturing an intimate understanding of a feeling a number of us feel. I recommend you buy this song and listen to it today.

My question: Do you have an understanding of your buyer’s that Bruce Cockburn had when he wrote this song?

Hit songs, like hit products happen when we intimately understand a buyer persona and their needs, and that takes work. But once you have it, and speak in that person’s voice you will experience explosive sales growth.

If you are in the go get or don’t loose them phase, make a conscious effort to focus on what really matters, what you will realize, often too late in the give it away phase. Put your family, friends and others intentionally into your schedule, and when you are with them, be with them 100%.

Are interruptions “transforming “your customers into shoppers again?


I am a big fan of action movies and the more Sci-Fi the better. I really enjoyed the first Transformers movie and I was anxiously awaiting the second: Revenge of the Fallen…how will they top the first? New villains, maybe 3-D special effects, and so on? I was convinced, based on the first movie I would be captivated again. They helped me establish a brand for the Transformer experience from the cartoons I would watch with my son years ago to their recent special effects of their last release. They set an expectation of a story line that flowed. I expected a great deal of action and special effects and some humor to give me a chance to catch my breath.

However what I experienced was a painful interruption. Unlike the first movie, this one threw in characters that did not support the story line and were actually a painful interruption for me. Interruptions are those elements thrown in to cause a response that add no value other than shock. They create a momentary interruption to grab your attention like a bikini clad model in an ad for spark plugs. Yes, your attention is momentarily grabbed, but for the wrong reason. At one point when one of the transformers were “humping” Megan Fox’s leg they lost me. They lost me because they did not live up to the brand they so carefully established in their cartoons and the first movie when I became a customer, and a fan. They lost me when they tried to get too cute, too funny,” because they could and not because they should”. They lost me when they added adult humor in a movie theater full of young children holding their favorite transformer toys.


How about your company…has the desperation to make your numbers caused you to compromise who you are?


Can you think of other examples of companies that strayed and could make a comeback?…not made a comeback?


What brand broke its promise to you?


What are the best ways to find out if you are transforming your loyal customers now shopping for another partner?


If you find out your interruptions are transforming your customer base to shoppers, what can you do, if anything to bounce back?

Five questions a radio preacher asks to see if your business is heading in the wrong direction


Each day I listen to a Christian radio station as I drive to lunch. It’s not unusual that a preacher is sharing and often I find myself parking my car and taking notes. Yesterday was no exception as Chuck Swindoll was sharing five questions to know if we as believers are headed in the wrong direction.


As I quickly grabbed some take out and returned to the office I thought how the wisdom he shared could help businesses who may be headed in the wrong direction. Below are his five questions shaped to apply to you and your business.


1. Do you find yourself fighting greater battles within than without?



2. Is there more attention on one versus the team? (kingdom building)




3. Do you feel you don’t need the Lord’s help in your business?



4. Are criticisms of your leadership and your business quickly dismissed versus taken seriously and respected?




5. Are consequences of sin are no longer feared? ( as a reminder, the definition of sin is “missing the mark”)



For a preacher who jokingly said he has a “face for radio” I find myself feeling very thankful for his sharing the wisdom found in the Bible. I find the Bible is an amazing resource of wisdom that can be applied instantly to circumstances we face as leaders in our business.


So how did you answer the above the above?


How is your team reacting to the challenges of today? Do they need to just STOP or are they “blame-storming?”


Do you find team members (you?) worried about how an individual may look versus the performance of your team?


Are you your own God? Is your ego preventing you from asking for the lord to bless you, your business, and your customers? (After all, EGO does stand for: Edging God Out) Are you counting on your gut and intuition?


How well does your senior leaders accept criticism and new ideas? How about you? Do you need to hire a Heretic?


Are you allowing bad behaviors that are not consistent with your team’s values? Are you allowing an “end justify the means” mentality?


All of this free business advice from the Bible and radio preacher? You bet!

You may want to check out his web site at Insight for Living, …who knows you too may find yourself parked in your car and taking notes at lunch time.

$84 million Greeting Card new product idea for Father’s day? …not so fast

Picture fathers day

Father’s day is approaching and what do you get the guy who seems to have everything? For my dad it’s pretty easy, although he lives 2,000 miles away we still talk each week and a couple of ideas quickly come to mind. He’s a big fan of the television show 24, and he likes to golf so I went to the store and I quickly found episode three of 24, a golf shirt, and a card that connected to a memory of when he would say” I’m not sleeping, I am just resting my eyes”.

My wife however struggles each year with  father’s day as her parents were divorced when she was very young and she has little if any communication with her dad. Each year she gets frustrated while shopping for a card as they all say things like; “to the best dad in the world”, or “for someone who was always there”. So I offered to find a card for her to send to her dad this year. (How hard could it be?Just go to Target and buy one right?)

I started looking at funny cards, yet they referenced time together. I looked at serious cards; however they expressed a deep message that did not seem appropriate. (Why did I volunteer for this mission?) This was becoming very difficult to find a card that basically says ; “Happy father’s day, although you choose not to be a part of my life I love you unconditionally and I am thinking of you this day, and although you forgot my last birthday, I want to thank you for helping to bring me into this world and it’s never too late to build a relationship”.

Having launched a number of new products over the years, my mind started racing…this is an unresolved market problem: Cards for children who wish to connect with their parents who are absent from their lives. ( I am reminded of the scene from the movie Night Shift when the actor gets out his tape recorder and says…I’m an idea man, for example; stop the garbage problem by having edible paper..yes, I have a tape recorder too)

Then that familiar little voice in my head said; I should start a company to fix this problem…..

Not so fast… does it pass the 3 step acid test discussed in the book Tuned In? Is the problem; urgent, pervasive, and are people willing to pay to have it solved?

Is this an Urgent problem? I would say yes every father’s day, Mother’s day, birthday, and holiday.

Is it pervasive, do a number of people have this problem? Again, I quickly say “yes” as this is a problem for my wife.( and therefore becomes a problem for me) I need to be sure however before I take funds from my home equity it will work. Very quickly I start extrapolating( justifying why I should do this); the divorce rate in the US is around 50%, so this problem could touch ½ the US population. So I remember reading somewhere the US population is around 290 million so ½ would be a potential market size of 145 million, sounds good so far. Not all parents that are divorced are absent from their children’s lives. However I do hear quite a bit in the news about deadbeat dads…so let’s assume 10% of divorced parents are absent from their child’s lives…so the market size is now around 14 million per occurrence, and there are at least three occurrences per year per person

Are people willing to pay to solve this problem? I would say yes again. After all I would pay more than the average cost of a card if it perfectly solved this problem, and I would not have to search so hard for the right card.

So we have an unresolved market problem, as far as I can tell. We have children of absentee parents who wish to communicate with them on special days and holidays. So let’s try to size this opportunity ;(three times per year kids need cards ) X(my market size of 14 million) X (retail price of the card, say $3.00). This would be a nice $84 million business right? Well no, my guess is the gross profit margin Target realizes on greeting cards is around 50%, so now the opportunity is $42 million.I need to write a business plan, go get funding and launch this puppy before anyone else thinks of it….again,maybe.

The above scenario happens to me mentally each day, many times per day as I find unresolved problems. The problems feel urgent, pervasive, and I am willing to pay to solve them…and that’s where most people blow it, because like me you assume and guess without market data.You may very well be willing to pay to solve this problem with a perfect solution designed just for this specific niche, however at this point you really do not know if others would be willing to pay to solve this problem. You really do not know if others feel this problem is as urgent to them, and therefore it may not be nearly as pervasive as you once thought. It may very well be an awesome idea and because we know this problem intimately we would be the perfect person to solve it.

I have helped a number of startups who saw unresolved market problems that were so crystal clear they felt they would be a fool not to launch a solution to solve this problem before someone else did. About 6-8 months into missing their positive cash flow projections they hire me to “fix it”. Sometimes they find problems in markets they know very well. Most of the new companies launched today were started by someone who was working for someone else at the time they discovered a problem. However some entrepreneurs fall into a trap; I’m a pretty smart guy, I have done ——-, and ——-, and I believe I can turn this into a nice business quickly that I can then sell to a market leader for millions, buy matching Bentley’s and never have a care in the world again…right? Again, Maybe…

I did a little research not long ago and found that at any given time 6 out of 10 US adults are thinking about starting their own business. The disturbing statistic was the majority, between 80-90% who do launch a new business fail within 18 months. Why? They launch without a thorough understanding of the market, they lack a business plan, and grossly underestimate the cash needed to build and grow the business.Of those that fail, 50% declare bankruptcy.

There are a number of great on line tools for how to write a business plan. You can Google “how to write a business plan” and you will find sites like; My own Business, and many others. Before anyone takes equity out of their home, or borrows from their 401K or loved ones I highly recommend you do research and write a business plan. When you write a plan, you will be forced to answer hard questions, and you will need to go into the market and do research and not just rely on your gut and mental extrapolations of market size. Based on my experience,when you estimate the cost to start your business pad it by +25%, and when you estimate your timeframe to positive cash flow add 8 months to your forecast. You still in the game?

You may vary well have the next great new product, and when you complete market research and build a business plan you may validate that opportunity. Once the plan is written show it to at least 5 trusted advisors and ask their opinion of the opportunity. Ask them if they would loan you the money to start this business and listen to what they say.(many will say it’s a great idea as to not hurt your feelings, however the true test is would they back it with their checkbook?) If these advisors say you have a winner, meet with a number of people who would be representative of your buyer persona and ask their opinion of your solution. What you must determine is ;does your solution perfectly solve their problem? In addition, you will be asked to create a SWOT analysis for your plan. In doing so make sure and review competitors in the space, as well as competitors adjacent to the space you wish to participate in. In this case I would be up against American Greeting and Hallmark to name a few. Far too often entrepreneurs launch great solutions to unresolved market problems but they underestimate competitors already in the space, or adjacent to the space.

If you find an unresolved market problem, and you find the problem to be pervasive and buyers are willing to pay to solve it, do yourself a favor and do some additional research and write a business plan.

Oh, and as for my hunt that became a three hour quest to find a father’s day card for my father in law…the card pictured worked just fine. Was it a perfect solution…no, but it will do.

Want to add value to your bottom-line quickly?…Hire a Heretic!








In Art Kleiner’s book titled: The Age of Heretics , Kleiner‘s definition of a heretic as: “a visionary who creates change in large-scale companies balancing contrary truths they can’t deny against their loyalty to their organizations.”He discusses how managers get stuck into a rut and need heretics to point out new points of view to get past the deadlock and move forward. Later he describes some as “rebels unwilling to kowtow to the corporate bureaucracy.”

One example of a heretic (and there are many in the book) is Jack Welch who gained a reputation as he climbed the ladder at GE as “ignoring or pushing back against, the bureaucratic strictures of his parent corporation.”

In Art Petty’s recent post this week titled : Help Wanted: Visionaries and Dreamer-Safe Return Doubtful Art refers to individuals who create great works of art on a blank canvas, they run towards adventure instead of away from it. Art goes on to say how we should channel our inner-Shackleton,(after the leader and explorer Ernest Shackleton ) and provides four lessons that apply to the adventurers called Heretics today. It reminded me that some people are cut out for adventure and some are not.

Having played the role of heretic in most of the companies I have served, let me tell you what to expect if you have the guts to hire one. A heretic is someone who will not take the easy road agreeing with key influencers throughout your organization. Obviously if what your key influencers are saying and or doing is in alignment with market needs they will, but if they hear something that is inconsistent with the vision of the organization or market needs they will tell you. Team members may feel this is a lack of loyalty. However to the contrary a heretic is singularly focused and loyal to one objective and that is adding bottom-line value to the team he serves, to aligning the organization to win profitably in their market. They will tell the CEO for example that his recent directive to the troops is not in alignment with market needs nor the core values and mission of the organization. He will remind the CEO that the mission statement is as much about what you will not do as much as what you will focus on.

A heretic does not know, or more importantly does not care, your VP of Marketing is your sister in law. He does not know or care that your VP of Sales was your fraternity brother at Ohio State, but he will tell you if that VP is not demonstrating the ability to lead his team in a direction aligned with market needs and your vision. A heretic will come into your organization and ask a lot of questions. Some of his questions will make you uncomfortable and definitely rock the foundations of some silos that have built throughout your organization. How will you as the leader of your organization know? You will recognize incoming torpedoes when you see them. If key influencers and leaders in your organization start using their relationship with you to shoot torpedoes at “the new guy” you know he’s asking uncomfortable questions.

The heretic will then want to spend a great deal of time in your market finding what he does not know. They may ride along with sales people, and often may engage with your customers on their own…LET THEM! Sales will balk, marketing will object, finance may say it’s too expensive, but let him dive into your market asking questions. What you will find if you shadow him ( and I strongly encourage CEO’s to do so) is he has an innate ability to make people feel comfortable and get customers talking. When you listen to him you will hear open ended questions, not questions to validate a current corporate understanding. He will seek to get to “why’s” much more that “what” and he really does not care about “who” . Who did that? Who said that?…He’s not out to find who did things wrong, but he seeks to gain an understanding of the market and its problems.

After spending time in your various departments, (and I should mention he will not just speak with leaders, but every level throughout the team) and spending time in your market with customers, non customers and market influencers… the fun begins.

The easy part is they will share with you what you are doing well, but not in his opinion, but the voice of the markets’. He will also share gaps, misalignments like poor positioning, branding, or a lack of sales tools to support the buying process he observed. He may hold your customer service or quality department’s feet to the fire over interruptions he found in speaking with your team and your market.

Heretics reshape organizations to be market focused and thus the organizations become market leaders. Market leading companies are over 30% more profitable, grow faster, have higher customer satisfaction and higher morale.Their radical thinking throughout history has reshaped corporate management ( and our society) as we know it today, and they will create the market leading organizations of tomorrow.

So how about your organization, how do you know if you need to hire a heretic?

1. Lack of EBITDA growth

2. Your leaders speak in terms like “I think” verse sharing authentic market feedback and data

3. No one on your team challenges you as the leader

4. Your team has many meetings but you do not discuss topics that matter

5. Your salespeople sell your product or service like it is a commodity

6. The last two product launches failed to meet ROI projections

7. Your salespeople are creating their own sales tools

8. Your leadership team spends more time covering their own butts that talking about growing your business

9. If you are on your third advertizing firm in 18 months

10. If you answered a question with something like; “because that’s the way do things here…” in the last three months

11. If your competitor just released something that seems to “be selling itself” instead of your team introducing it

12. If the distribution of marketing funds to various vehicles like; print, web, trade shows, direct, social media, has not changed in the last 12 months

13. If reading this post made you feel uncomfortable

What are some other signs that companies should intentionally hire a heretic?

How would a heretic be received in your organization?

As the CEO, what’s more important …increasing the economic value of the corporation, or being the one who has all the answers?

As CEO Should you give yourself a “pink slip?”

 At a recpink slipent T.I.E. event, a venture capital firm partner said “ by the time you change CEO’s, you are already twelve months late.”As I discussed in is your business is bleeding , if  your business is in trouble it is one, or a combination of three back to basics business triage areas; product, market or team.. Sometimes it may even be the team member titled CEO. So why do we have such a difficult time with this? Is it ego, Pride? A great post by Kristin Zhivago tilted ; Revenue and your charactor: the high cost of Pride touches on this as it relates to listening to cutomer needs verse thinking you know all the answers.I have found two types of CEO’s emerge over time in the life of a business; the entrepreneurial founder and the professional  business builder. Both skills are valuable and very important and rarely does one individual master both.

Entrepreneurial leader

This CEO has a technical expertise in their space, and are visionaries, “big picture leaders”. They are passionately focused on solving unresolved market problems. They see problems as opportunities. Their quest is the difference their work makes in the lives of others in their market. They are inventors who can not rest until their product or service perfectly solves the problem.


Business builder

This CEO knows how to scale a business. They know how to grow markets and their people. They measure what matters and have a strong network . They are balanced team builders that create a sustainable and repeatable growth.They are connected to their market, but may lack the technical expertise to solve unresolved market problems.

So how do you know what kind of CEO is needed by your business? 

What stage is your business in today?

What type of CEO does your team need at this stage of the organizations growth?

Honestly, are you that person?

There is nothing worse than providing the wrong skill set and leadership style given the lifecycle of your business. I am not saying to actually “give yourself a pink slip”, but a true leader knows his/her strengths that add value, and their weaknesses .Leaders know the needs of their team and market. If your business has grown to a point with your entrepreneurial flair, great, but rarely will this type of leader scale that perfect product or solution without help.

I see this very often in the Biomed industry. The founder is most often a scientist focused on “the work”, not the business of monitizing the work. So once the new solution is developed, they often hire a CEO to scale the business. This individual is not their “boss” but a partner with complementary skills  that will grow the business. These founders have the emotional intelligence to humbly admit their personal distinctive competencies.

So ask yourself a simple question to find what kind of CEO you are; is your passion in the development of products and or service solutions that solve unresolved problems? Or is your passion and expertise in the management and growth of  teams and  markets? Some might say, “well why should I pick, I am good at both.” Well I hate to break it to you, but if you feel that way you are either very rare, or very wrong. ( the odds favor wrong) Once you answer the above, now ask yourself what type of leader does your business need today? If you want an unbiased view, ask your team to participate in 360 review.

If you find the business needs a skill set you do not possess, one of the best things you can do for your business and personal wealth, is to hire that skill and it may be a new CEO. This decision will free you to serve with your gift while being complimented by a partner who also has unique competancies . Agreat article by David Allen some time ago Titled : You can do anything-But not everything helps solidify the need we all have to narrow our focus.

If you are a founder, how can you come to grips with growing and handing your baby over to someone else? Focus.Focus on your business and its needs!

Besides, the founder is the one authors write books about.