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Know Your Product: Leadership and Entrepreneurial Strategy

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: March 2012

As a leader do you have product?

Part 1 in a 3 Part Series:
  • March 2012 - Know Your Product
  • April 2012 - Show Your Product
  • May 2012 - Grow Your Product
It seems there is no end to the things that I would like to share with you. About the time I think I will be out of gas regarding something you might think is meaningful, something comes up in a client meeting, conversation or workshop that makes me think, "People might be interested in that topic." This time it was in a discussion we had with a client around good leadership. We talked about what the product of good leadership is (or should be) when all of a sudden I stopped listening and shot back to my roots in consulting.

Back in the early 90s as I was struggling to make my way into the field of organizational development (OD), a friend gave me some of the best advice I have ever received when he told me to get a job in consulting so I could learn how to do the work. My ego or determination or independence (you pick) had prevented me from such a thought, but poverty, combined with rejection, is a pretty powerful motivator, so I did exactly that - I got a job with a small consulting firm in Portland. This was an important part of who and what Priority Learning is today and it gave me early exposure to some of the most interesting consultants doing some of the most interesting work.

The founder of the firm became a close guide, coach and even a mentor in many ways and one of the more profound things he taught me was the difference between a product and a service. Sounds kind of simple, huh? The words may sound simple but in our sometimes passionate discussions about whether or not we should sell products or services was born the philosophy in what we do. You can't pay enough for that kind of education and, as I was listening to the conversation about good leadership mentioned earlier, it occurred to me that each leader needs to know what I learned from that 'wily old dog' way back when.

Know Your Product - If you come to see me as a budding entrepreneur (here is where the entrepreneurial part kicks in), I will routinely advise you to write down what your product is. Then I will ask you to write it over and over again until you really get your mind around it and can talk about it. If you are a coach, it can be hard to do and, if you are a strategic planner, it sounds easier. Your product is why you are unique. We all have a product to offer. Our product is our style, behaviors, consistency, integrity, determination, patience, vision, wisdom, user friendliness and drive to completion. It is what differentiates a person from another and cannot be duplicated by others because it is yours. People can learn from your product and try to copy your product but they and you will find that it is uniquely yours.

Example: Coaching for Performance - If you choose to be a personal performance coach, information is available to anyone these days through books, the internet and lots of media. You can learn to be a coach on-line or in a university setting and even get a qualification, which means you can say all the words, understand the techniques and even write articles and white papers. If, however, no one wants you to coach them, you only have knowledge. If people want you to coach them, it is usually because of you and you are your product.

Case Study - Here's an experience that became clear when we first started back in the late 90s. There was an organization in which the (Chief Financial Officer) CFO had a full package of the right knowledge and skill. Clearly this person was one of those people who can get all the numbers to make sense to even folks like me. To bring the organization up to date, he recommended new software (which was needed) for better practices and insisted that all the numbers were accounted for. The problem was that his approach had been so directive, confronting and conflicting that everyone in the organization sprinted in the other direction when they saw him coming. When he didn't get the reaction he wanted, his approach was to simply push harder. His skills were solid, yet his product as a leader was absent. He did not last and it was a bit sad. He had placed all his emphasis on being efficient and spent too little time on being effective.

If you are a leader, your product can be measured by your followership. Who follows you, why do they follow you and what is your ability to gather and keep followers? Go a step further and you can define product for leaders as their ability to influence positive change in all directions. Here is how you can tell if you have product or not. If you are low on product, you will have to rely on a title to get what you want, but if you are working in abundant product as a leader, you need little beyond your own will and product to help others.

Here is what you can do to find out about knowing your product - For some of you it may feel like this is "out there" a bit and, for some, the curiosity has just begun. Want to know what you can do? Try this: Ask five followers what it is that is unique about you, your leadership style or your behavior? Too direct for you? Write them an e-mail or get a friend to ask if it easier. If you ask five people, you will start to get themes.  These themes are the clues to your product. Check them off on the list below and as you begin to get your mind around your product; write it out and write it again until you know exactly what your product is. This is the beginning.

  • My style
  • Behaviors
  • Consistency
  • Integrity
  • Determination
  • Patience
  • Vision
  • Wisdom
  • User friendliness
  • Drive to completion
  • Other/What?

As you start to get answers to "Know your Product" join me next month and I will provide the next element of the product discussion - "Show your Product."

We'd love to hear from you so as you take the journey to Know your Product, please share your thoughts and ideas with us.  We will pass them along if you allow us and use your ideas.

See you next month and enjoy the spring weather!

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.