There’s a special place in hell for people who dispense leadership advice when they are not leaders (I think it’s right next door to the one for childless people who dispense parenting advice). It’s a topic I generally avoid, unless it’s to do with its ineffable connection to branding. I’m a marketing guy. Give me those Four Ps, and I’ll go on for days. But leading? Nah. I can’t even inspire our cat to ‘excellence’. Nor am I alone in this weakness, though most people won’t say so out loud. There’s a reason Amazon lists four times as many titles on leadership as it does, say, on auto mechanics. I, too, am less afraid of changing my own oil.
This week, though, I can’t help ruminating on the subject. I’ve just wrapped up a year of being embedded in a working team, a role I haven’t played in a long time. And by coincidence, last night I shared dinner with the leader from my past who was almost solely responsible for civilizing me to corporate life and giving me a chance to amount to something. When this kind of coincidence happens, you’re supposed to ponder. You’re supposed to have epiphanies.
My epiphany is this: It turns out that in organizational life, there is (are?) a second, unspoken Four Ps, another alliterated set of fundamentals that define a leader’s job as succinctly as product/price/place/promotion do for the CMO. And it is they, more than anything – including strategy, money, and even a leader’s own charisma – that determine whether something of value ever gets done. Consider the best job you ever had, and tell me these weren’t foundational to that experience:
Purpose. That this topic has been covered ad nauseam, including by me, in no way diminishes the truth of it. Suffice it to say, if your people don’t think they’re doing sacred work, they’re mercenaries. Watch your back.
Product. Nobody can afford to be above what they make and sell. Do your people brag about their product? Would they buy it for their moms? And pay retail? If not, terminate with extreme prejudice. Cognitive dissonance is how rot begins.
Process. We like to think that a noble mission redeems any amount of pain, but for most people it’s not true. The march has to be intrinsically satisfying, at least some of the time, or it – and not the destination – will define you.
People. Duty alone doesn’t make a team. Neither, for that matter, will a compulsory paintball night. People have to care about each other. If they don’t, then there’s nothing holding the enterprise together except money and vanity.
I know, it seems obvious. For natural leaders, it probably is. But if you’re like me, it bears bookmarking. Leading isn’t about ideas, it’s about what gets done. And that turns out to be a pretty human sort of business. This week has been a good reminder of that. As much as I might sometimes wish otherwise, nobody can take strategy to the bank. Not by themselves, anyway.