What does it take to become the valuable business leader every company wants? To find the answer to this question, marketing consultant Donald Miller spent years analyzing successful businesspeople. He distilled what he learned into this guide to gaining MBA skills without spending years and a fortune earning an advanced degree. This easy-to-digest text takes you through 60 concrete actions – the subtitle says “60 days,” though perhaps some steps may take longer than others – that will help you gain the 10 crucial traits and 10 core competencies you need to stand out from the crowd and become the leader every company seeks.
- Ten character traits and 10 skills distinguish valuable professionals. You can take action to develop these pivotal skills.
- To be a good leader, shape and share a good story.
- To be productive, live with intention and purpose.
- To succeed in business, understand how a company really works.
- To shape strong messages, act as a guide for your customer-hero.
- To market well, build relationships.
- To become an exceptional communicator, be audience oriented.
- To succeed in sales, invite the customer into a story.
- To hone your negotiation skills, use four simple strategies.
- To excel at management, give the right people the right assignments.
- To execute well, launch goals, track them and celebrate success.
Ten character traits and 10 skills distinguish valuable professionals. You can take action to develop these pivotal skills.
Good character is a fundamental characteristic for a successful life – including life at work. For value-driven professionals, character includes 10 important traits:
- You see yourself as a good investment for an employer and as an economic product within that framework.
- You act as a proactive hero rather than a reactive victim.
- You know how to reduce the degree of drama in any situation.
- You welcome and learn from feedback.
- You appreciate productive conflict and use it to improve a situation.
- You would rather gain trust than have others like you; you use clear expectations, accountability and rewards to earn that trust.
- You don’t only generate ideas, you act on them.
- You invite clarity rather than using confusion as an excuse for not acting.
- You risk failure, but remain a relentless optimist about success.
- You use challenges, obstacles, efforts, criticism and other people’s success as opportunities to grow.
In addition to developing these character traits, valuable leaders and employees develop 10 skills by taking deliberate action steps.
To be a good leader, shape and share a good story.
As a leader, you are writing a story in which your team members are the lead characters. Invite your team to join you in living a meaningful saga in which each of you plays an important role. Set the course, explain why it matters and match participants with the tasks they need to accomplish to achieve their destination.
A brief, intriguing and easy-to-remember mission statement is an important component of your story. To create a strong mission statement, summarize, in a single sentence, what you aim to get done, why you want to achieve it and what your timeline is.
Establish the character traits your team needs to achieve its mission. Your team members may already have some of these aspirational and instructive traits, but they may need to acquire others. Identify three actions team members can do, every day, to move in the direction of their shared goals. These actions – like choosing to conduct a short meeting every morning – help keep the team focused on and working toward its mission.
“Stop telling your history, and start telling your story.”
Develop a storyline that inspires others to help you accomplish your mission. Describe the problem the organization needs your team to solve, show how you plan to solve it and paint a picture of the resulting improved situation. Use the “why” behind your mission to define an inspiring theme that convinces others that your mission is worthwhile. Add the word “because” to your mission statement, and use what follows as your theme.
To be productive, live with intention and purpose.
Productivity requires focus. To gain focus, see yourself as a hero on a quest. Reflection can help you build a purposeful plan.
“A hero on a mission lives with purpose and intention.”
Make two task lists each day – one with just the top three jobs that offer the best returns on your time and effort, and the other with everything else you hope to accomplish. Do tasks that provide the highest return for your time and work in the morning when you are fresh. Refuse to be distracted by low-priority activities. Divide your days into time blocks, and allocate activities to each block.
To succeed in business, understand how a company really works.
A business is an entity that makes money by helping customers solve problems. Think of your business as an airplane with five components that work together to keep it aloft: overhead, products and services, marketing, sales, and capital and cash flow.
Keep the body of the plane – your overhead – as minimal as possible, yet substantial enough to do the job. Categorize expenses into product creation, sales, marketing and overhead, and be strategic and conservative about increasing overhead.
“Keep overhead light so it does not bog the airplane down...you have to have enough cash to pay bills.”
Make sure that your wings – your products and services – are light and strong. Select goods or services that meet a strong public demand, and produce them in a way that allows you to sell at a worthy profit.
The right-hand engine – marketing – is crucial to moving forward. Boost your marketing by creating a web page for potential products that lets you sharpen your language and gauge consumer interest before launch. Keep the left-hand engine – sales – going strong by creating a step-by-step path for customers to follow toward purchase. Monitor their progress along the journey.
Cash flow drives the plane. Stay aware of how your decisions affect your cash flow and maintain sufficient funds to avoid crashing.
To shape strong messages, act as a guide for your customer-hero.
To attract buyers, you need a strong marketing story, complete with all the components any good yarn needs: a hero, a problem, a guide, a plan and a call to action that leads to success or failure. You may be tempted to think of yourself or your company as the hero, but, instead, cast your customer as the hero and yourself as the guide: a strong character who uses empathy and authority to help the hero achieve his or her quest.
“If you can clearly explain what sort of better life people get when they buy your product, you will sell more products.”
Define the problem your product stands ready to solve. Include a call to action that makes it clear what your audience should do with the information you provide. Let your audience know what risks they impose on themselves if they choose not to follow your guidance.
To market well, build relationships.
Marketing is about building relationships between what you produce and the people you want to engage with your products or services – inside and outside your company.
Relationships of any kind have three phases: curiosity, commitment and enlightenment. Your marketing efforts can walk prospective customers through these phases and toward a relationship with your product or service by showing them how it connects to their well-being, sharing insights about your product and, finally – when the time is right – asking for a commitment.
“A sales funnel is one of the simplest, most inexpensive and yet effective marketing strategies you can implement.”
Start with a one-liner: a single sentence that describes a problem, how your offering helps solve that problem and how life will improve once the change occurs. Your one-liner piques consumer curiosity about how your product helps them. Post the one-liner under your email signature, on your website, and anywhere it can catch and capture your target audience’s eye.
Design a webpage that communicates, at a glance, what you have to offer. Describe how your product or service will improve your audience’s life and how they can obtain it.
Produce a tip sheet, video or other item of value to your customers that you can offer free through your website. Make it available when prospects share their email addresses. Use those email addresses to develop a relationship with prospective customers that will lead them to buy your offerings.
To become an exceptional communicator, be audience oriented.
Begin a presentation by describing the problem your product or service helps solve for your audience. An excellent presentation addresses five audience questions: What problem are you going to help me solve? How do you propose to do that? How will that affect me? What do you want me to do? What do you want me to remember?
Weave a storyline consisting of up to three subplots as parts of the overall narrative that outlines a clear path from a distressing problem to a satisfactory solution. As you tell the story, foreshadow the climax to keep the audience looking forward to what comes next.
Include a call to action. What, exactly, do you want your listeners to do? Check out your website? Make an appointment for a consultation? Sign up for your newsletter? Let them know how to follow through. Wrap up with a concluding statement that summarizes the theme or main point of your talk, and helps your audience retain the take-home message you intend.
To succeed in sales, invite the customer into a story.
No matter your position in a company, you must know how to sell. Successful sales start with identifying your best prospects and focusing your sales efforts on them. Tell a story revolving around those prospects that describes a problem they face, the frustration the problem causes, how you can solve it, how you have solved it successfully for others and how the consumer can engage with you to get the solution for themselves.
Play the guide to the customer-hero. Clearly and repeatedly remind customers of the need they have and how happy they will be if they allow you to help them meet that need. Know your talking points by heart; say them often. Summarize your main points – the customer’s problem, your product and plan, pricing, options, and happy outcome – in a proposal customers can refer to as they make their decision about what next steps to take. Get past your fear of failure and make the final ask.
To hone your negotiation skills, use four simple strategies.
Every value-driven professional develops and polishes sound negotiating skills. Follow these tips to dramatically improve your negotiation abilities: Distinguish between competitive (win-lose) and collaborative (win-win) negotiations. If the party with whom you’re negotiating is competitive, underscore how much you’ve given when you finally reach the deal. Then, both of you can feel satisfied with the outcome.
“A good negotiator can make or save a company millions each year.”
Consider what nonmonetary values are at play in your negotiation and include those in your offer. Be the first to make an offer. By putting a stake in the ground, you choose the anchor for the negotiation to circle around – and that will play a big role in the final agreement. Try to stay as objective about the results as possible to avoid connecting emotionally with an outcome in your favor.
To excel at management, give the right people the right assignments.
Being a good manager requires understanding your team members’ talents and abilities and aligning them with what needs to be done. Develop a clear picture of your priorities and desired results. Make sure the output from your team is measurable, profitable and scalable.
“Management is all about helping other people win so the overall team can win.”
To define expectations for your team members, know your key performance indicators (KPIs). These include lead indicators – what will generate success – as well as lag indicators – what you already accomplished. Have a standard you can use for comparison so you know when you hit the mark.
Consider what might go wrong and proactively manage it. Create streamlined processes to maximize output for effort by continually asking yourself and your team members how you could improve your processes.
Compliment your people regularly and give actionable feedback. Praise and constructive criticism help your team members. Be a coach and a cheerleader. Provide team members with specific guidance for how they can best contribute to achieving their team’s goals.
To execute well, launch goals, track them and celebrate success.
Launch each project with a meeting. When you announce a new project, complete a worksheet defining its scope. Draft a precise, measurable description of the task. Assign clear leaders for various aspects of the project. Make a list of needed resources, and create a timeline with milestones and goals.
Have each team member complete a one-page summary describing departmental and individual priorities for getting the job done. Have them keep it front and center, and update it, as needed, so everyone stays on track. Hold weekly – or more often, if necessary – standing meetings to review the one-pagers, assess progress to date, clarify top priorities moving forward and identify issues that need solving. Create a public scoreboard to keep quantitative track of up to three lead measures for each team member.
Finally, celebrate success. Take note of accomplishments, memorialize them and praise those responsible.
About the Author
Donald Miller, the CEO of the StoryBrand consultancy, is The New York Times’ best-selling author of Marketing Made Simple and Building a StoryBrand.
This document is restricted to personal use only.