Small Business

A leadership lesson from Woody Allen

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Last year, I sat in adjoining booths with Woody Allen in an Upper Eastside diner on Madison Avenue in New York City but I didn’t twig until his companion started to leave. The experience underlined a lesson that many leaders in business have to learn, that we often don’t see opportunities that stare us in the face.

The irony of this chance encounter was that at the time, we were sitting with friends in the diner discussing trivial subjects that had been magnified in importance — Woody Allen style.

But because we weren’t in the diner to spot stars, we nearly missed out on a memorable brush with fame.

The same happens in millions of businesses around the world every day. Robert H. Bloom, the former CEO of the giant advertising group Publicis Worldwide, explains it succinctly in his book The Inside Advantage.

Bloom was not just an agency CEO, he helped build a family business that started in Texas and grew into one of the most influential advertising businesses in the world.

His agency’s brief was not just to expose clients’ wares but be a part of the business’ growth process. And his clients included Nestle, L’Oreal, Perrier and Southwest Airlines, which remains one of the great airline case studies used on how to build a great business brand.

Bloom says businesses have hidden assets that can be the source of strong growth.

“It’s been my experience that every enterprise has at least one under-utilised existing strength that can be the centrepiece of a powerful growth strategy,” he argues. “This unexploited strength is often hidden deep inside the firm waiting to be discovered and put to work.”

When this happens, this discovery becomes a business’s Inside Advantage.

The discovery process involves deconstructing your business and asking, who is your core customer? What is your uncommon offering? How will you come up with the persuasive strategy to get core customers buying? And finally, how will you own these customers?

The hidden asset many businesses fail to see ultimately is the uncommon offering.

“Your uncommon offering defines the existing asset in your business that you can own and leverage,” Bloom explains. “It must focus on the customer benefits and emotional appeals that give your business an inside advantage.”

A company such as Southwest sells airline services like all airlines but its management actively cultivated fun in the workplace and it has spread from employee to customers.

Leadership guru, John Maxwell, in his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, raves about the leadership at Southwest Airlines. He pointed out that on Boss’s Day in 1994 the employees took out a full-page ad in USA Today to thank their employer — Herb Kelleher.

In the ad, they praised him for remembering their names, for helping load baggage on Thanksgiving, for letting them wear shorts and sneakers to work and nine other great actions that his staff appreciated.

One was “for listening”, which is a hallmark of a great leader but the token of appreciation from the staff, demonstrated that Kelleher understood his uncommon offering. It was his staff empowered by a happy and inclusive ethos, which was encouraged by management.

The simple message in a challenging business environment is seek and you will find a lot more than Woody Allen in New York.

Speaking of John Maxwell, he’s in town next week, sharing his leadership lessons to audiences in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Don’t miss this opportunity to better your leadership!

Published on: Friday, June 24, 2011

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