Joe Flacco

The Maturation of a Leader

Football has a striking resemblance to business sometimes.

Despite moving to Austin, my allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens remains as strong, and maybe stronger, than ever. It’s been an exciting offseason with lots of power moves and now training camp is in full swing.

For third year Quarterback Joe Flacco, this appears to be his coming out year. The Baltimore Sun ran a story about him the other day noting that this offense is now Joe’s offense. He’s taking command. He’s inheriting responsibility. He’s taking ownership.

He’s taking more command and making more adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s looking to become more effective in the red zone. And he’s tutoring new backup quarterback Marc Bulger when everyone thought it would be the other way around.

“I want to be able to just run the show and go up and down the field, blow out points on the board and come out successful,” Flacco said after a 75-minute practice featuring rookies and veterans coming off injuries. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s the mark of a leader and something that anyone who aspires to leadership is required to do at one point.

Since being in Austin, I’ve been exposed more and more to the startup life – something I used to live in as the Director of Technology at b5media, a company that used to be a blog network but now is something, well, frankly, unidentifiable.

As a result of my new exposure to a startup culture, I’ve already talked to a few companys to get a feel of how they do business. It reminds me of those early days at b5media. Four founders, making decisions by committee, and hoping for the best. Sometimes consensus was a blocker to real innovation.

This mode is common for early companies. Small group. Everyone needs to be on the same page to do anything. And they suffer from paralysis of no decisions. No one is willing to take charge and lead.

At b5media, once we took our first round of VC money, Jeremy Wright, became the CEO. He was forced into a role of trying to get consensus but not suffering from the paralysis of required consensus. Many times, those of us in those leadership roles diverged in opinions and advocated different directions. It was Jeremy’s role to distill this feedback, foster the discussion, and then ultimately take ownership of the situation and make his call.

Sometimes it was the right choice. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Imagine this. It’s a third and long situation. The Ravens offense is backed up on their own 10 yard line due to an unfortunate series of downs involving an incomplete pass and an offensive holding penalty. They are down by 13 points with 6 minutes left in the game. The safe call, and the one called in to Flacco by Cam Cameron on the sideline, would be a slant play down the middle to a slot receiver or tight end.

As the offense lines up, Flacco sees the defense showing blitz and crowding the middle. Understanding from experience that this is a situation fraught with disaster and the need for a big breakout play to energize his offense, he calls an audible. Ray Rice on a draw play – bait the offense to continue to see the pass, but then destroy them with an off tackle run. Rice runs for 24 yards and gets the first down and better field position.

If it wasn’t for the leader having the confidence and insight to see the minefield upon him, he might just go with common wisdom or, more naturally, the wisdom of his advisors. However, he decides that he has the information he needs to make a big play, owns the call and gets a win.

While it’s common for young startups to operate on consensus, sometimes it requires someone with enough balls to make a tough call and own it. A good team will support that and have their leaders back regardless. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be on your team.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

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It's Really Simple; Be Valuable and You Will Be Valued

Despite the crazy title of this post, it is not about personal brand. That’s a conversation that is happening elsewhere in the blogosphere and, though I’ve talked about it on this blog, it is not relevant to this post.

What is relevant is value. Actual value versus “perceived” value.

Late last night, around 2am, I was plugging away on a client project. Blinded by blurry eyes caused by hours of intense concentration, and creeping exhaustion, I switched over to check on an email that had just rolled in. It was from an editor at a well known financial publication. He was working on a story that asked the question, “What would I do if I lost my job today?” and he was soliciting feedback on a portion of the article dedicated to Twitter.

The portion of the article I read was very good, except that it missed something. It missed, what I call, the “secret sauce”. It described how Twitter worked, how to get followers and made the connection between number of followers and the ability to get a job.

My response to him was that he needed to include the secret sauce in the ingredients. Clearly, the secret sauce wouldn’t be secret if I told the world, so instead, I’ll share it with you as long as you only tell someone else if you find value in it. ;-)

The secret sauce is this: Be valuable.

Recently, as the economy has soured even more, and layoffs continue to happen around us, many people who have benefited from great jobs have found themselves looking for work. Folks who have cultivated massive numbers of followers on Twitter are on the street looking for work and finding it hard to drum up anything. They’ve discovered that despite their social media popularity, they are not necessarily valuable to employers.

Employers are looking for the people that stand up above the crowd. They stick out, not obnoxiously so, but in a smart and efficient way. They are not looking for marketers or personal brand evangelists. They are not looking for celebrities. Indeed, these people might cost them too much anyway.

They are looking for the people who don’t just talk about Health 2.0, for instance, but who clearly demonstrate through their own conversations, writings and actions, that they are valuable!

Marks of value are demonstrated when someone shares their knowledge with someone else who is asking questions. Value can be shown in the ongoing conversation around a topic (It is obvious when someone is simply repeating talking points, and when they know their field). Value is on display in quiet genius, not simply frequency (or loudness) of messages. Someone is clearly valuable when the content they are discussing, respectfully (as a key identifier), is put into action through their careers, thought leadership and social interaction.

Clearly, value is not simply being a subject matter expert, but it is also in the conversational and socially interactive approach that the person assumes. Identifying a valuable person is much easier when they are in their own element and not looking for work or otherwise performing. How they behave among their peers and the respect and authority bestowed on him by his peers is a clear indicator of value, not in a celebrity way, but in an influencer kind of way.

The principles behind the secret sauce on Twitter are the same principles that apply in real life. When former HP CEO Carly Fiorina was forced to resign, the HP Board didn’t put out a job requisition for a new CEO. They identified Mark Hurd, the then CEO of NCR who demonstrated amazing ability in turning NCR around, as the guy they wanted to run Hewlett Packard. It wasn’t because Mark had the right salary requirements, or was out there cultivating his brand on NCRs dollar. In fact, it was exactly the opposite. He was demonstrating his value to NCR so HP went after him.

Value is one of those things that is subjective and hard to achieve. But understanding of the community, the social aspects of people and cultivating a subject matter expertise does begin a person down the road to being valuable. Certainly, there is more that can be said, but probably enough to chew on for now. :)

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8 Traits of Highly Effective Influencers

This is a 10 page article. Be sure not to miss the rest of the story!

The cult of personality has so pervaded all aspects of our lives. From Obama to Tom Cruise to Derek Jeter and even web celebrities. It pervades our culture thoroughly and it’s not entirely clear why.

In most cases, we don’t know anything about the objects of our affection aside from their names and their public work. Strangely, it’s the stuff that happens outside of the public eye that really makes people who they are validating what has been said, that character is what we are when no one is looking.

This mentality is frightening because it is the product of “no thought” following of someone. Whether you believe in the concept of “personal brand”, or you dismiss it outright, the desire to latch onto a recognized individual plays out everyday.

Being a celebrity is a dead end road. Celebrities simply wow people with imagery and public facing acts. Being an influencer involves changing games and lives and moving needles.

“This cult of personality is frightening in itself because it is the product of a “no thought” following of someone.”

Several years ago, I posed the question, ” How much do people talk about you?” In asking the question, I suggested that a person has arrived if they don’t even have to go to an event and still are name dropped in conversation.

My next question, rhetorically, is to find the value add of that conversation? There’s a fine line between being mentioned at a conference in the context of influence and knowledge, and simply being name-dropped just for the effect of, “Wow you know that person?!”

To be an influencer, you’re going to have to balance that self brand, personal marketing for the sake of being known with providing absolute, unquestioned value to the greater community. Carrying the mantle of an influencer means being a celebrity for the community. It means always giving of yourself so that the rest of the crowd benefits. It’s almost self-sacrificial, flying in the face of personal brand or celebrity.

To rip off the gist of the great John C. Maxwell‘s great series of books on leadership, there are ten traits of highly effective influencers. These traits do not include getting included on lists published by obscure bloggers, or gaining high numbers of “friends” on the social networks. Alone, these effects are not bad, but they tend to be self serving effects of minor celebrity and do not constitute “influence”.

Ride with me through this article. If you can last, then I hope you come out better on the other side. Share it with your own audience, churches, schools, social networks or office mates. The principles here transcend venue. In other words, an influencer in social media is not different, on principle, than an influencer in government.

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