My inbox, recently. I remembered when I was the marketer behind those seemingly automated (but, surprisingly, written by a human) messages of ‘love.’
“Don’t ever miss this again…,”
He called me late in the evening over a 3-day weekend, I forget which.
“I want every, single, major Hallmark day on our promotion calendar from now on.”
I wasn’t sure what a Hallmark Holiday had to do with our product, but I — and we both in that conversation — inherently understood the truth:
That tactical maneuvers will work on this week’s numbers, and that marketers are ‘supposed’ to run promotions for seasonal events from St. Patrick’s Day to the Super Bowl to Valentine’s Day.
So I obediently ran the promotions on every single major ‘holiday’ and I put our sales numbers up on a giant whiteboard in our office to show off the week’s winners and humiliate the losers.
“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it…
When companies or organizations (or people) do not have a clear sense of why their customers are their customers, they tend to rely on a disproportionate number of manipulations to get what they need.” (Start With Why)
Manipulation is a strong word. Instead for now, let’s call it substitutions.
Both the holiday promos and the public shaming leaderboard were substitutions that worked pretty well in the face of product confusion and inexperienced leadership (my own).
I hadn’t discovered what leadership meant, and substitution seemed better than failure.
In other words, I mistook substitutions for substance. I relied on my proficiency in influencing people’s short term behavior — whether that was our customers’ or my team’s — to get things done for now.
But substitutions can be dangerous, too. They’re addictive because they’re easy, and like most addictive things, they are alluring distractions from our present problems and our real opportunities.
What the Big ‘L’ Is and Isn’t
I had two problems in my life at that time.
One was that whiteboard, how it didn’t feel right but it seemed to work (and people whose names weren’t on it applauded me for creating it). My whiteboard problem was a big shiny plastic-coated symbol of my uncertain leadership.
The other problem was love.
Love sparked unsettling questions for me, namely:
Where did love live? How could I find its address? How could I get invited to its party?
If only I could find love, then I could focus my attention back to Whiteboard Leadership.
Eventually, and only by dragging myself through months and months of unlove, I began to understand what love had to do with my whiteboard problem, that love is itself a form of leadership inside your own life.
L isn’t talking about L, while implementing the opposite.
L is doing the work, especially when it’s hard or I feel lazy.
L is holding the other person accountable to do their work, even if it’s uncomfortable for them and especially if it’s uncomfortable for you.
L is stretching beyond your ego to be or do what the person in front of you needs most.
L is holding their gaze during a moment of uncertainty.
L isn’t offering a thrill-of-the-moment so you can get more out of your audience (partner, customers, team) today at the cost of tomorrow.
L isn’t automaticity. It’s doing things manually, bodily, artfully, and fresh each time.
L is listening — to your customers, your friends, your audience, your team, your one and only. It’s being in direct relationship with those people, the subjects, not objects, of your L.
My search for Love, and also for Leadership, led me on dates and meetings I should probably have skipped, through the self-help section of Amazon, and right back to my whiteboard.
In my office, I learned to witness my own inauthenticity — my own outside-not-the-same-as-inside.
If we look, we all know how to recognize it in ourselves. And through observation, I started to change, sometimes begrudgingly sometimes slowly, but ever surely.
Outside of work, I learned the exact same thing.
The reason I wasn’t finding love then was the same reason I wasn’t embodying leadership, was the same reason good marketers send out mindless promotions on Hallmark Holidays.
We all lack substance sometimes.
But attracting love, embodying leadership, and doing great selling demand substance as the prerequisite.
How do you build substance?
You go out and do the work.
The 100 best books of all time
I was having dinner with an acquaintance who did sales for a mobile ad network. We weren’t friends, but he was the kind of guy who was an extra-proactive networker so there we were, eating together in awkward quiet in a Soma restaurant whose name I can’t even remember now.
I asked him about his fiancee, and we got on the topic of breakups of our younger days.
When his college girlfriend of 6 years broke things off, he found himself suddenly alone. An overweight and boring guy, now also devastated and depressive.
“So I took an oath that I wouldn’t date — at all — for a year.”
He realized his well was empty.
Instead of avoiding loneliness and depression by throwing himself full-on into the San Francisco dating scene as I probably would have done, he set aside one year to adopt a disciplined gym routine, a healthy diet (both of which have stuck now for 10+ years), and challenged himself to read every single book of the “100 Best Books of All Time”.
He chose to do the work alone — systematically building substance, workout by workout, book by book.
You can forget my birthday.
You can forget my birthday. You can forget it’s Valentine’s Day.
You’ve never brought me flowers, and you’ll never have to.
I like chocolate, I like flowers.
But I like unconditional, disciplined support even more.
I like getting what I need to be my healthiest and strongest, honest and inspired, because this is the direction I’m heading in and you’re always going my way.
I like when you do your work, and especially when you help me do mine.
We are Love Humans, breathing organisms looking to leap over the fence of our egos and become closer, closer, one.
Not Love Machines, programmed to seek impossible wants, invented needs, and to make those fences revenue-generating.
Machines get better by optimizing the shortcuts. Humans get better by doing the work.
I have nothing against marketing. In fact, I have everything for it — a believer and a bard for the power of a compelling story and a convincing rationale. I think everyone should learn these skills, practice them, and get really good.
But first comes Substance, then comes the Sell. And there’s only one way to build substance, one simple, guaranteed way that anyone can master: get up and do the work.
PS — If you liked this post, then two things next: