Everyone has an opinion in our world, especially when it comes to somebody else’s work. Work of our bosses, of government officials and corporate executives. We often think that we know better how to do their job. Although, the opinion that we might give is given from a very limited perspective. We may not fully understand the issues and weighing the interests of various constituencies that our boss has to consider in order to make an important decision. But, if you want to think like a leader you need to start thinking in a broader perspective – you need to think like an owner of business.
Jim was a vice president of a consumer goods company, and one day he called his college professor to ask for an advice. Jim was a member of a team that was working on the launching of a new product. The team was charged with conceiving of all aspects of the new product’s design, packaging, marketing, and distribution strategy. This product was vital to Jim’s company, because the market share of several of its core products was eroding, and senior executives urgently needed to find new avenues for growth.
Each member of a team was responsible for one aspect of launching a product. Jim, in his turn, had to focus on the point-of-sale promotion for the product. And Jin thought it was a pretty good opportunity for him. For several weeks Jim has worked on a detailed plan regarding display and placement for the product within each retail context: grocery stores, drugstores, and other consumer outlets. In addition, he developed alternative point-of-sale materials to be used in some of the regional product tests that were about to be conducted.
Team met once in a week to report on everyone’s area of work. Team members were supposed to question each other and learn about each other’s assignments, and thereby produce a more effective launch strategy. When Jim came up with a detailed plan, he thought he did a very good job. That’s why he was very surprised with what happened next.
It was one of the late-stage project team meetings, Jim was asked to present his final recommendations. And he was very surprised when several members of the project team criticized his work. They felt it was out of step with the nature of the product, price point, and likely consumer buying behavior. In particular, the members of the larger team felt his point-of-sale positioning was more consistent with an impulse purchase, whereas they believed strongly that this product should be positioned and priced as much more of a premeditated buy on the part of the consumer.
Obviously, Jim was shocked. After the end of the meeting the team leader took him aside and asked him how much he really understood about the product being launched: “Who do you think should buy this product? How should it be priced? How should it be packaged?” Jim admitted that he hadn’t really thought about these issues because they weren’t explicitly part of his specific assignment on this project. Other team members, he argued, were supposed to be worrying about those questions.
The leader wasn’t happy with Jim’s answers and he gave him an advice to to think about how he would answer these questions if he were the team leader, rather than simply a member of the team.
Jim thought it was a strange advice and that’s why he called his professor. To his surprise professor told him that team leader has given Jim some great advice and agreed with him.
After that conversation Jim decided to take this challenge seriously. He interviewed other team members and applied his broad skills and talents to think through every aspect of the product positioning. He even conducted some of his own research at selected retail outlets, looking to see how competitive products were being positioned. After doing all this work, he began to realize that his initial recommendations were at best superficial, and at worst radically misaligned with what he now thought would work for this product launch.
He decided to summon his courage and apologize to the team leader and the entire project team and proceeded to explain the new positioning recommendations, which his teammates quickly approved. Jim promised himself that in the future, he wouldn’t think like a narrow functionary, but instead approach his work as if he was an owner of the company. This new mind-set helped make his thinking much clearer and his work much more effective.