Monthly Archives: September 2010

People Buy with Emotions and Justify with Facts

While attending a recent session on category management for the consumer products industry, I was reminded of the title statement above that has been the basis for one of the leadership development programs that I have conducted over the years. Consumer Product Companies have known the truth of this axiom for years. In fact, significant dollars have been dedicated to the development of technology that can actually track the eye movements and brain activity of shoppers as they look at products on store shelves so they can actually know what catches the greatest interest of the shopper. The speaker at this recent session explained several things, such as the customer experience or other personal factors that lead to psychological or somatic reactions that reinforce a decision to buy or not to buy a product or shop at a particular store.

The truth of this axiom is also the reason retailers have “impulse items” at the cash register, and “Action Alley” in the most heavily travelled area of the stores. Though I seldom shop, I confess that periodically I fall victim to this method of marketing, especially if Mars has been fortunate enough to get the shelf space to feature Peanut M&Ms near the cash register. I would never go through the store to find and buy these, because my weight management program clearly states that I don’t need them. However, when I see that yellow package with all those lovely little colored morsels appealing to me while I am standing idly at the check-out line, I begin to justify that purchase with all kinds of rationalizations, one of which is “no one will ever know I just downed the whole bag.”

What does this have to do with exceptional leadership? Exceptional Leaders are aware that their employees are doing this same thing every day as they develop their perceptions of them as leaders. They are also aware that they don’t have complete control over where their employees come up with these perceptions. So go ahead and ask yourself, Where do my employees gain their perceptions of me as a leader? This question is especially critical the higher you sit in the organizational hierarchy, or if you hold a role that only allows your presence among those you lead on a periodic basis. Some of the answers you may come up with may be things like: from direct observation, whether that is through daily interactions or brief vignettes gathered as you make your rounds or meet them on the shop floor; from stories told to them by other employees; from their experience with past managers or leaders; from their relationships with previous authority figures in their lives, including their parents.

Think about this for a moment. A new employee is hired in your 300 employee operation. You met them at new hire orientation, but you really did not get to know them well. Since they don’t know anyone in the organization very well, they tend to gravitate to the people who happen to be the most friendly toward them. That may or may not be a good thing for you, depending on that person’s perception of you as a leader. (by the way, that is why a formal on-boarding process is important) If that person has a negative perception of you and shares it with the new employee, the new employee has a choice. Do I trust this new “friend” who has shown good taste by being friendly to me, or do I trust you. Most will put you in a “wait and see” category. They will then wait for the facts to justify the observation they are most emotionally inclined to. If, on the next day, you quickly pass them in the hall on your way to a meeting and you come across as too busy to notice them, which perception has just been reinforced?

Exceptional leaders work extra hard to keep a pulse on the organization and spend considerable time managing their communications. They know they are under constant observation and are aware their interactions are helping people develop their perceptions of the company leadership as well as of the company as a whole. They are intentional about ensuring that they leave people with the right message.

The literature on emotional intelligence (EQ) calls this social awareness and relationship management, and has proven that it is critical to a leader’s success. The example above is just one example of how these two factors of EQ can be applied.

Exceptional Leaders are Self-Motivated

Exceptional Leaders don’t wait for others to motivate them.

Did you ever notice that the word “motivation” appears to be the combination of to words, “motive” and “action”? In other words, “Motivation” is your “motive for action”. There are two types of motivation, internal and external. External motivation includes things like praise, rewards, fear, recognition and approval. These are definitely motivators, but over time they need to be constantly sweetened in order to maintain their appeal.

You don’t want to be like the old boy back home who owned the farm. He and his wife worked the farm together every day. They would get up early to go out to do their chores for the day. It took both of them to keep the farm productive, and it served them well and provided a decent income.

One morning the old boy woke up and was not feeling well. He couldn’t even get out of bed. When his wife came in to ask him why he hadn’t gotten out of bed, he told her, “I ain’t feeling right pert today, sweetie. I guess you’ll have to do the chores without me today.” Well as soon as she completed the chores she got him up and took him into town to see the doctor, who looked him over thoroughly. The doctor then asked him to leave the room while he spoke to the wife. He told her that her husband was in pretty bad shape, but he thought they could save him, if she would do just three things. Well she was eager to know what those three things were, so the doctor told her that first, she would have to cook him three meals every day. Secondly, he told her she would have to wait on him hand and foot. And finally he told her she would have to bow to his every need. She asked the doctor, What will happen if I don’t do those three things?” The doctor said, “Well, he’ll likely die.”

When she went back to the waiting room to see her husband, he anxiously asked, “Well, what did the doctor say?” She responded, “The doctor said you’ll likely die.”

The moral of the story is that you cannot always count on external motivators to keep you going. That being the case, it may be wise to consider the alternative, which is to develop internal motivators that are within your control, things like attitudes, beliefs, assumptions, interpretations and paradigms. Some of these are so long held that they are not easily evaluated. However, the truth is, any particular belief or attitude that you hold can shape the way you filter and interpret all incoming information, and can be changed. For example, in the 1960s the words “Made in Japan” stood for cheap trinkets that would not last. The early automobiles imported from Japan validated these beliefs. It took several years with above average performance before consumers shifted their belief. Today the automobiles and other products made in Japan are the epitome of quality.

The same goes for perceptions or beliefs you hold about yourself or others. If you see yourself as a failure, you are likely to call up all instances that reinforce this belief, and will continue to project that outcome on future situations, such that you convince yourself of your inability to succeed. You will likely hear other’s comments and evaluations of your work as reinforcement of your preconceived ideas of failure. When this is the case you will find yourself in a perpetual cycle of self-destruction that will keep you from ever achieving success.

However, those beliefs and interpretations are simply that. They are not necessarily accurate, nor do they have to lock you in to your current situation. You can change the beliefs. You can reinterpret and reframe the events in your life. You can break free from the old paradigm and can adopt new assumptions that will serve to motivate you rather than discourage and defeat you. It will take a new discipline of healthier self-talk, but it can be done.