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Six (More) Business Leadership Lessons from Jean-Luc Picard

I had a great idea for a post lined up for today. Sadly, it looks like Alex Knapp at Forbes beat me to it, by about a year. Mr. Knapp, I curse your good taste and superior sense of timing. Fortunately, I had this post mostly written before finding Mr. Knapp’s article, and it seems that, although we were both inspired by the same source material, we took very different (though equally valuable) leadership lessons from it.

One of my all-time favorite shows is Star Trek: The Next Generation. Hulu recently provided free streaming of the entire series during the end of March, and I had a chance to catch up on some great episodes I hadn’t seen in years.

Looking back at the series now, one thing that struck me is how closely Captain Jean-Luc Picard resembles Jim Collins’ description of “Level Five Leadership” in his classic business book Good to Great.  As Collins describes it, Level Five leaders “act quietly, calmly and determinedly—relying on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate.” Picard may not have had the animal charisma of Captain Kirk, but he’s a much better representation of what makes a good leader in Starfleet, or in business.

For both science-fiction and business geeks a like, let’s take a look at six lessons in leadership you can learn from Jean-Luc Picard.

1.       Put the mission before yourself.

In the episode “Contagion”, the Enterprise and another Federation starship commanded by one of Picard’s best friends float next to each other in space. Picard is in the middle of a conversation with his friend when the other ship explodes. Despite suddenly and unexpectedly witnessing the death of one of his closest friends, Picard doesn’t hesitate. “Shields up!” he commands. Although horrified, his reflex is immediately to protect his ship and his crew. Even in his worst moments, Picard always thinks of the good of the team first.

2.       Be willing to look foolish.

In “Menage a Trois,” Picard must rescue a Federation ambassador who is being held by a Ferengi ship against her will. The only way to get her back safely is to pretend to be a jealous lover, not an easy task for the famously stoic Picard. Nonetheless, the captain gamely launches into a Shakespearean sonnet and pronounces his undying love in front of his amused crew. Although the degrading ruse makes him obviously uncomfortable, Picard is willing to cast aside his pride to accomplish his mission.

3.       Know your organization inside and out.

“Do you know where we are?” asks Nella Daren in “Lessons”, while she and Picard crawl through one of the Enterprise’s access tubes. “Fourth intersect in Jeffries tube 25” Picard says without pausing. In a later episode, Picard is trapped alone on the Enterprise with a group of thieves that he has to outwit using his in-depth knowledge of his ship. The viewer suspects that Picard has the ship’s entire schematics memorized. Whether it’s a question of the Enterprise’s warp speed capabilities, internal design, or the names of his crewmembers, Picard knows it backwards and forwards. The Enterprise, both the ship itself and its crew, are Picard’s organization, and he makes it his business to know as much as he can about it.

4.       Willing to sacrifice.

Picard isn’t just willing to let others take all the risks. Even though he’s captain of the ship, when the situation calls for it, he’s always ready to put himself in harm’s way for the good of the mission. It’s equally important for business leaders to be willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of their organizations. This might come in the form of working longer hours than the rest of your team, or taking a pay cut to open space in the budget to make sure your employees are sufficiently rewarded. Being willing to sacrifice won’t just help the other members of your team: it can help earn their respect for you. And that, in the long run, is in your best interests as a leader.

5.       Fight for the people you lead.

Early in the series, Picard must defy his superiors in order to protect Data, an android member of his crew who has been ordered to allow himself to be disassembled in order to help learn more about how he is made. The captain mounts a passionate legal defense of his crewmember. As a leader, nothing is more important than the men, women and, well, androids that serve under him, and he goes to extraordinary lengths to protect them.

6.       Be willing to trust, even when it’s a risk.

We can’t spend all of our professional lives dealing only with forthright, honorable people who work for us. Sometimes we have to deal with unqualified team members, unscrupulous competitors, difficult suppliers…or Romulans. In short: we have to deal with people we sometimes have no reason to trust. And sometimes the only way to deal with those situations is to take a risk and make a leap of faith. This decision won’t always be the right one: sometimes you will be betrayed by people in whom you placed your trust. But, as Picard teaches us, sometimes the only way to win is to gamble on the other party’s good faith.

That’s it! If you have any other leadership lessons you’ve learned from Captain Jean-Luc Picard, we’d love to hear about it!


Don’t get taken advantage of

Read this before you hire any SEO, digital ad agency, or online strategy consultant.

Online strategy consultants know more than you do, at least with regard to online strategy. That’s their job. That why you want to hire them. But that same knowledge can put you, the client, at a severe disadvantage.

Consulting can be a bit like taking your car to the mechanic or dentist. Both are privy to information asymmetry: they know what sort of services we need better than we do. As a result, it’s difficult to objectively evaluate which services we actually need, and we find ourselves at the mercy of the advice of highly informed service providers.

The same problem can be found in consulting. Many times, unscrupulous consultants will recommend that a client pay for practically every service available  in an effort to extract as much revenue as possible (although this is ultimately a terrible, unsustainable, slash-and-burn business model). The client finds themselves in the unenviable position of having to evaluate the necessity of services and strategies they may not fully understand or have the ability to accurately assess.

There are two ways to avoid this situation. First and foremost, educate yourself on the most effective means of promoting your business and your sector online. Unfortunately, most business owners and executives don’t have the time to keep up with every development in the world of online promotion. Search engines like Google are constantly altering their algorithms to include new inputs or rebalancing the value of existing inputs.

Tenuki  educates potential clients on which online promotion strategies are currently the most effective. Make sure that any consultant you hire does the same. Anyone unwilling to help you understand the value of the services they offer should be a red flag.

Second, ask for an upfront evaluation. For example, before Tenuki contracts with any client, we perform a complete evaluation of that client’s existing promotion strategy including on-site SEO, content generation strategy, keyword optimization, and social network presence. After we evaluate a client’s existing strategy, we provide a list of recommended actions categorized as critical, highly recommended, and ideal, along with a full cost estimate. The client then has the option of contracting Tenuki to implement those recommendations, or take that same list of recommendations to any other consulting firm.

If you or your company are considering hiring an online strategy consultant, make sure they perform such an evaluation prior to hiring them. Ethical strategy consultants should have no problem doing so.

Don’t let consultants take advantage of their information asymmetry. Ask for a complete evaluation of your existing strategy before hiring a firm to implement a new strategy. Or contact Tenuki for a free, no-obligation evaluation.

The Power of Narrative

There’s an excellent post by Jonathan Gottschall over on Fast Company about the power of narrative in the business world. Gottschall points out that a good story can actually alter they way that our minds process information. ”Results repeatedly show that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story,” according to Gottschall.

To some extent, this is not new insight, but one that has guided the world of marketing and advertising since their beginnings. National governments have long recognized the power of narrative, which is why every government in the world spends resources on propaganda.

Despite this, a surprising number of organizations remain either oblivious to the power of narrative to drive sales, or simply ignore its potential. I thought of this the other day while talking to a potential client. This company is a European clothing manufacturer that’s been around for over a hundred years, owned by the same family for four generations. This family makes a hand-crafted product of exceptionally high quality. They’ve sold their product to Hollywood actors, globally recognized CEOs, a former First Lady of the United States, and royalty. You can see one the world’s most famous artists wearing their product in an iconic photo. The New York Times has written multiple stories about them. As we were speaking, I frankly wasn’t sure that there would be anything Tenuki could do that would get him more or better exposure than he already had.

Yet despite a slew of globally recognized celebrity clients, a brand synonymous with Old World elegance, and international press coverage, their online store represents less then 10% of total sales. The great grandson of the founder is now worried this iconic brand will soon have to close up shop due to lack of sales. Why? Because his company is failing to capitalize on an incredible story. They aren’t telling their story in words on the site. They don’t have a communication strategy. They aren’t connecting with potential clients. They aren’t focusing on the right keywords for their industry, building links, and engaging with their public. The result is that they don’t appear in even the first 20 pages of results on Google when you search on the most common keywords for their product.

It breaks my heart that a brand with a rich tradition and wonderful history is in danger of closing its doors. But a great story is only valuable if you know how to leverage it. We’ll get into some different ways to do that in a later blog post but obviously the first thing you can do is hire a content writer for your site if you don’t have someone onboard to do so yourself. This includes someone to write copy or your main site as well as maintain your blogs and social media accounts (you’ve already set up both, right?) Remember: a great story is your most powerful weapon. But even your most powerful weapon is useless to you if you leave it in your holster.