I read a post by GE chief Jeff Immelt today - I read it, read it again a bit more slowly, and then I had to shake my head. Here's a guy who by all the usual measurements has me beat six ways to Sunday as a leader. He leads a bigger company, makes a lot more money, is a lot more important than I am... and yet, I just think he's off-base. 

He said these are the five most important things to ask about GE's top leaders:

1) Is the leader self-aware?

2) Is the leader committed to the company/organization; do they drive change?

3) Is the leader a "giver or a taker?"

4) Is the leader a critical thinker?

5) Lastly, does the leader have a dream for themselves and the company?

I'm not saying these are all BAD questions. I just think they're... dusty? Trite? A tad obvious? Then I started thinking that maybe my reaction is because Immelt is, by definition, an elite gentleman who lives in an ivory tower. Just like when there was a furor years ago over then-President Bush not knowing how the grocery checkout line works, so, too, is it challenging for a major-major-honcho to really be in touch with "the real people." 

Look, I admit I'm not poverty-stricken. I'm writing this on a nice laptop, overlooking the golf course at our country club, drinking an imported beer and killing a few minutes before I head to my singing group's rehearsal. But those are NOT the questions I'd ask of a leader. I might not have five -- might be more, might be less -- but here are a few that strike me as TRULY important:

A. Is the leader an ethical person? Does he do what he PROMISES? 

B. Does he treat his employees with respect? Does he break his word? Does he fail to communicate?

C. Does he have the willingness to work as hard as his staff? Will he do work he's OK assigning to others?

I see a theme here. It's INTEGRITY. For me, a leader must have integrity. He must do the right things right; he must care, genuinely and deeply CARE about his employees. You give lip service to that -- and you end up with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

I have worked with and for leaders who were at both ends of the integrity spectrum. Those with a high moral and ethical standard always come out ahead; those lacking integrity, fail. They always fail in the long run. 

How can YOU be a leader with integrity?

I was asked recently to provide a few tips on how to grow your business when you have very limited resources. I can relate to this, as I've "been there, done that" at different points in my career. 

Whenever you're starting something new, you'll generally never have the funds you wish you did. So you have to work with what you have at hand. Here are a few ideas:

1. Work your inner-circle radius: Even if you're an online company where your target audience could be "anywhere on earth" -- you probably don't have the budget to reach that far. So start in your own backyard, literally. I create a driving radius of where I'm going to focus at first, and I try hard to stick to that. Identify every possible speaking engagement, meetup.com group, and networking opportunity you can find within your geographic market, and stick as many in-person presentations as you can onto your calendar.

2. Use the zero-cost tactics to its maximum value: There are 100 tried-and-true Guerrilla Marketing tactics; here are just a few. Make sure every employee has a good "signature" on their email that tells a little bit about the company, and provides an offer if possible. Do the same on the back of your business cards -- and add an offer (a discount, a freebie, etc.)

3. Everyone sings the same song: Enforce this, it matters! Make your staff all memorize your super-short pitches: 7-second, 30-second pitch, elevator pitch, Tweet pitch… whatever you want to call it, get everyone comfortable with rattling it right off correctly any time they're asked about the company.

4. Hitch to somebody else's wagon: I'm a big believer in crafting win/win co-marketing efforts. Find a bigger company that has complimentary services, and figure out how you can pitch them with something that will help you BOTH. This works well on many levels.

5. Get Interns, and use their brains: Interns bring fresh ideas if you listen to them. Give them some freedom to "own" a few low-risk projects to prove themselves. Give them the ability to spread the word to their friends, too. Design interns are usually very useful, too.

6. Start a FIRE internally, at least monthly: create a sense of all-company urgency around a particular marketing tactic/event/time-specific project, and get everyone to rally behind it. Don't allow any group to feel "that's not my department" -- promoting the company is EVERYONE's job.

7. Lastly, if you haven't done this yet -- do it THIS WEEK: Immerse yourself in "The Lean Startup" methodology. There are a lot of great resources now, including books and sites by Eric Ries, Steve Blank, Sean Ellis, Brant Cooper, and Andrew Chen. Google "Growth Hacking" and subscribe to newsletters on the topic. The bottom line of Lean Startup philosophy is that you MUST know your customers!

Overall, you need to be bold, to know when to say NO, and how to keep FOCUSED. That's the most valuable thing you can do when your resources are limited. 

So, earlier this week I was in a meeting with a local media person, who told me about a very successful serial entrepreneur who had just launched yet another new business. I jotted down the name and looked it up when I got back to my office. Nice web site, interesting and intriguing idea for something that sounds like it has the potential to be useful.

I'm not going to name it right now, because I am positive their team must have worked their butts off to create it -- but... man! In playing with the app, I saw so many things that jumped out at me that just flat-out annoyed me. And they all boiled down to how the in-app descriptive "newbie" text was presented.

As I understand it, this new app targets small business owners at a neighborhood level. Cool idea. Lets you add text overlays and create rather polished-looking "mini-ads" (for want of a better term, since they didn't present a catchy description). In principle, I love the idea! But in practice... I bumped into one of my biggest pet peeves: apps that READ like they want to take over your life. Just trying to authorize the app so I could test it, I had to let it "manage my pages" in Facebook, "manage my photos" on my Camera Roll on the phone, and essentially (the way it read) greenlight this app I don't even fully understand yet -- or know if I'll want to use at all -- total, unrestrained and complete access to pretty much my entire social media existence. 

I no like that.

So what's the problem? I'm sure the app developer will think I'm just being overly cautious, because, ya know, "evahboddy" lets apps control their lives, riiiiight? 

It's not THAT... it's the WORDING.

If your tech needs "permission to access" my Camera Roll just so it can store the image I just created -- maybe tell me that's the reason. If you want to "manage" my Facebook Pages -- but really, you just need a permission so your backend can do what I just asked it to do -- namely, post the image I just created, that I WANT to have posted -- just tell me that. 

When an app starts dictating that it will "control" everything for my ease and comfort... I usually back out and look for something else.

So what am I to do on this one? It's a local company, it's brand-spanking new and I'd like to support them -- but I just don't get the PROCESS of the app. Maybe it'll get easier with time -- but then again, do I have the time to go back to it and give it another shot? Because of the reasons above, it's maybe 50/50. Otherwise -- probably not.

We live in the "high desert" -- and water is a precious resource. It's summer, and this is the time when homeowners think about water more than any other time. My "even" address says I can only water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday -- never on the other days. Our little water district web site lists lots of YouTube conservation videos. At the same time, their rate sheet makes it clear that water is almost as precious as gasoline!

A local company is thinking up ways to make it easier to take control of your water budget. I find this an intriguing idea -- but honestly I'm not sure what their name is, because their web site isn't clear. I've got my fingers crossed for them, though!
I had a birthday recently... and I was really touched (and a little creeped out) by all the "Happy Birthday" wishes I got from Facebook friends. The weird thing is that there were a bunch of people who I really don't know -- who went out of their way to say Happy B-day. I think it's a "new social etiquette" thing... but I don't get this notion. 

One way I can tell my  real friends, is that I DO know when their birthdays are -- and that's not a huge list. Just because a software app broadcasts birthdays? I'm really on the fence about whether this is thoughtful, or pseudo-thoughtful. 

But yes, it was nice to get all the messages!
I build this site, plus several others, with Weebly, a startup out of (where else?) San Francisco. They recently did a huge interface upgrade that has me tapdancing, it's so easy to use! 

I'm absolutely a FAN of this company. Why?

Their product is easy to use, and they care about customer service.

They respond when I have a question -- and their responses are actually helpful.

They continually innovate and improve their product -- they have not let it get stale.

And, they have a great brand voice -- the company comes across as "real people." 

Because of these things, I am HAPPY to pay for a PRO subscription. And when I get my renewal notice, it just reminds me that I'm glad I picked a company I can be proud to  work with, even though I'm just a lowly consumer-customer, with a handful of sites and not running a mega-business. But from Weebly's perspective, it's people like me that pay their paychecks and keep them in foosball tables and Aeron chairs, so they must be happy with me, too!

How do you feel about YOUR company? Are you a fan of the company you work for? If not... can you change it, or should you leave it?
For the second year in a row, I've been asked to be a mentor for a class for a local university's MBA program. Every time I  get the opportunity to be part of a more structured mentoring program, I get pretty jazzed. I love learning new things and sharing what I know -- and one thing I've learned again and again through my career is that when you mentor someone, you only know it's working if YOU learn things, too. 

I've been part of formal, informal, and totally nonstructured mentoring engagements since I was a pup. Mostly, the formal ones don't tend to work as well, because if there's no spark there -- it doesn't go that far. But in other situations, it's been one of the best and most rewarding experiences I've known. I think this is going to be a good group -- even though it's structured, and is set as an eight-week program, I got a good read off many of the participants at a recent meeting.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about a small group of people I know who are all in their 70's. They're all celebrities of one sort or another, many of them authors or musicians or actors, but a lot who were at one point really well-known business stars. Now they're all at varying stages of being retired,and are mostly giving away their time. I'm thankful I know these people! Sharing your wisdom is critical, especially as you get older.

And for those folks who've helped me get smarter over the years -- thank you a million times. It's meant the world to me. 
At one point, I had gone gung-ho creating a bunch of how-to content. I had a bunch of stuff up online, but then I pulled it down, and when I changed hosting providers and moved to a new domain, I never put it up again. But yesterday I found a treasure trove of all sorts of really useful things I had written up, that really should go over to Slideshare. Time to make that a reality.

I wrote up articles and presentations about:

How to create and run a customer reference program

How to write an interesting case study

How to create a Surveymonkey survey

Survey best practices

How to do fast research

How to find and hire a freelancer or intern

... and a lot more. 

It was cool to find all this good info! Now I've got to start getting it organized and back online. Because that's what it's good for, right?
Wow, what a dustup! I love scenarios like this; it shows how much things have changed regarding "rapid-response PR". 

I won't go to the point of rehashing the whole boo-boo; but I imagine some marketing and PR folks are in the hotseat today, and wishing it was over already. The short version is that GoPro sent a nastygram to an online reviewer/seller of cameras -- and the Interwebs just blew up with, ahem, "feedback" about the action.

What struck me at a fast scan of this article (and not taking the time to dig into the apparently vast array of source material that has materialized) is that the corporate communications seemed to be a ham-fisted mashup of warm 'n' fuzzy informal outreach ("Hey Greg, we're posting to Reddit..." the corporate head of communications says to a reporter) alongside a legal bray about copyroght infringement. Just a strange tactic.

Look -- I think GoPro's got a great product; I don't have anything negative to say about them. It just seems that their comm and PR folks got caught making a mistake -- WHICH ANY OF US COULD DO -- and now it's just going to leave a negative impression.

You know what this makes me think of? The "Gotcha" speed-rounds of political maneuvering you see during the heat of a campaign (go back and watch Wag the Dog again).

And for the many "armchair attorneys" who've chimed in -- it's a tidbit of entertainment, and then on to the next.

We live in strange times! 

I read an article today citing a recent Pew Internet Research study that notes that (surprise!) some people are getting bored with Facebook. Articles predicting the demise of Facebook started cropping up not long after the mass market began to get familiar with the site. One reason seems to be that young early adopters don't like the fact that all these mass market/laggard/Luddites started stinking up the place, and sucking the cool out of the site. I know a young twentysomething who was an early adopter who dropped Facebook years ago -- only to find that she had to reluctantly re-engage with the site as part of her job working on the social media team for a cell phone company! Why is her company there? Because customers are there, and they reach out for customer service support, to give feedback, and to complain.

So, what's a marketer to do? Drop Faceboook? Reduce the emphasis on it? Stay the course? 

Depends on your customer base. Monolithic thinking never helps with marketing; what works for one company might totally bomb for another. Sure, people get bored with "the same old thing" over and over... and honestly I would not use Facebook at all if I didn't have to because it's pretty much expected, given what I do for a living. My reason is simply because as we all know "there's no such thing as a free lunch." 

Facebook is free to use -- because WE, the users, ARE the product. That's how they make their money -- highly targeted advertising and promoted posts. Facebook is a mechanical sifter of your individual interests that ensures access to you can be bought. We do this at my company every week as we place Facebook ads and promote posts: we're buying your attention. 

Sure, some people are going to drift away to something else... but then again, some people are passionate and totally "into" their Facebook lives. 

Thank heaven, we all have choices, and don't have to do the same thing!