Wednesday, August 24, 2011

 

What my kids are teaching me about marketing & leadership

I have a two-year-old daughter and a five-month-old son. They've changed my life, and if you're a parent too you know what I mean. Every day, they challenge and inspire me. And despite their age and development stage, they're teaching me a lot about myself, my priorities and also how to be a better marketer and leader.

Here are ten things I'm learning from them.

1. Pay attention to what's going on (but give them room)
I don't want to be the kind of parent who's always within five feet of my kids. I want them to be safe, I want them to feel safe, and I don't want them to get into trouble. But I also need to give them room to breath, room to explore, and room to learn lessons (sometimes the hard way) on their own.

Managing a marketing campaign or a team is similar. You know what you want done. You know what you want the result to look like. But you can't micro-manage that too closely. Oftentimes things will play out on their own just fine, in some cases better than you expected or could have anticipated. Paying attention but giving room will also give your team (as well as other elements of your execution) room to innovate, self-correct and improve on their own, so that they're that much smarter and more on target the next time around.

2. Give your full attention when needed
My daughter, more than anything, just wants my full attention. When I come home at night, we play together for 10-15 minutes. Uninterrupted. No email, no phone calls, no TV. Just the two of us doing whatever she wants.

In the grand scheme of things (and my weekday evening), 15 minutes isn't much. But for my daughter it's a very big deal. We all have a lot of priorities tugging at us at all times. It's easy and feels important sometimes to multitask. Just identify those times when focusing in on one thing (or one person) is not only more important but will generate greater results for you long-term.

3. Give choices (but be specific)
Choices are good. Too many choices can be bad. My two-year-old not only sometimes needs choices, but she needs specific choices. If she doesn't want anything, somehow (magically) she'll still choose between two specific options I lay out for her. In her mind, I'm giving her options but also structure. I'm helping to guide her towards a specific path. She wants that structure, but still feels in control by choosing one of two things.

Too often in our marketing, we either don't offer specific options, or offer too many. Your customers and prospects want choices, but they'll tune out if you make them work too hard, and evaluate or think about too many options. Make it easy for them. Give them no more than 2-3 options based on what you know they need. Be specific too, and you'll increase activity and conversion (let alone satisfaction).

4. Be disciplined
My kids are both on schedules. They nap at around the same time every day. They need a lot of sleep, and it's important we give them the time and place for that. Our lives revolve around their schedules, and at this point in their lives that's just fine. There are weekends when their schedules don't map to what we want to do, but that's too bad. Their schedules are more important right now.

It takes discipline to stick to this, but it's the best thing for our kids. We're following a plan that's both premeditated and proven. If you have the same for your marketing strategy, stay disciplined and focused on execution against a particular plan. Of course, sometimes even the best-laid plans change...

5. Plans are made to be broken
My daughter takes a nap around noon. Except when she won't fall asleep until 1:00 p.m. Or except when she wakes up before 5:30 a.m. and gets really tired around 11:15 a.m. again.

Discipline is good, schedules are good, but they're bound to change. Do you have a back-up plan when they do? The best-laid plans (for kids or your marketing) are bound to go awry. There's no such thing as flawless execution. How will you react? Adjustments are necessary, but keep the end-goal in mind at all times to ensure that the results (as best as possible) are still achieved, even if you go to Plan B (or C).

6. Watch for messes
Sometimes things no only go against plan, but they get messy. Blow-outs. Slipped milk. Scraped knees. How you react and respond will be watched closely. Is it their fault that the milk spilled? Is it the baby's fault that the diaper couldn't hold their latest "performance"?

Reaction includes not only cleaning up or fixing the mess, but also the means and attitude by which you react to it. With kids, you're all in it together. With your team, the company overall, and even with your customer or prospect community, the same "in it together" perspective applies. These are defining moments of leadership.

7. Routines & process are a good thing
Once you know something works, do it again and again to achieve similar results. My daughter loves the same bed-time routine every night. Bath time, brush teeth, jammies, books, prayers, bed. She knows the routine, she expects it, and it works to help her wind down and get to sleep.

In our work, routines and process can make life easier. They can generate consistent results. Adjustments may be necessary, eventually, but on a day-to-day basis routines and process save us time, money and headache.

8. Meltdowns are inevitable
Your kids are gonna get upset sometimes. Your customers, same thing. Some of the time, their reaction is going to be (or at least feel) completely irrational. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen, just let them calm down.

Trying to reason with them, at least in the middle of the meltdown, isn't going to help. They don't want more input. They don't want you to try and proven that you're right. They just need to get it out of their system. Once they've calmed down, you can work towards a mutually-beneficial resolution, then have a hug and get some ice cream. The hug and ice cream will work for your kids, too.

9. Its going to be stressful, guaranteed
You are going to lose sleep. Your team (including your spouse and fellow team members) are going to get cranky. Things aren't going to go as planned. Tensions will be high.

Take a deep breath. It's going to be OK. You have a plan, you have the right processes and routines in place, you have contingency plans for when things start to go awry. The stress you feel is inevitable, but it's going to be worse if you're not prepared and don't have a plan for how to deal with it and get through it.

10. Relax & enjoy the ride
Seriously, you wanted this. And even in the most stressful situations, you love it. You love your kids. You're passionate about your work. You know this is a journey towards something amazing, something that will be more than worth it.

When the clouds part for blue skies, when the kids are napping or when you have a few quiet moments with your team, remind yourself how lucky you are, how blessed you are to have those around you and the opportunities to succeed. The next storm is coming, but you're ready. And you wouldn't have it any other way.


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