What the Bourbon Boom Can Teach You & Your Brand

Categories Brands & Ads, Entrepreneurship, StrategiesPosted on

Whether you partake in the beverage or not, any business person has to admire bourbon’s recent track record. Fortune magazine referred to the phenomena as the “Billion Dollar Bourbon Boom” explaining that 2013 sales reached $8 billion. In 2014, sales grew more than 7 percent, capping off a wave of nearly 50% growth over the past six years. Experts are even wondering if the industry is going to run out of bourbon. 2015 reports indicated that, “Kentucky Bourbon production hit a 48-year peak of 1.9 million barrels in 2015, up 315 percent since 1999.”

Bourbon’s recent renaissance has been fueled by everything from television shows like Mad Men (Joan Harris pictured below) to politics.

Just after the November 2014 United States Senatorial Election, this quote about President Obama and Senator McConnell appeared…

One day after his party lost control of the U.S. Senate, Obama told reporters he would like to share some Kentucky bourbon with McConnell. The invitation was quickly dubbed the bourbon summit and has received lots of attention as the two leaders prepare to either work with or against each other for the final two years of Obama’s presidency. – ABC News

Mila Kunis became the face of Jim Beam in ads (above and below).

There are many things we can learn from the power of the bourbon brand. Here are 4 essentials or observations that I think you might find useful as you work to unleash the power of your personal or organizational brand.

1. Simplicity

Bourbon is a fairly simple product. I’m not saying it’s simplistic – just that it has few ingredients – corn, wheat, water, rye and/or malted barley pretty much round out the list. There’s a lot of value in keeping things simple. Of course there are plenty of bourbon producers all with variations on the standard process. However, at it’s essence, the base product is arguably fairly straight-forward.

Compare that to your company’s offerings…

  • Do you create a straight forward product that people can understand?
  • Are your customers confused with what they are actually buying?
  • Do you make it easy for customers to do business with you?
  • Are your services clear?
  • Do you have too many SKUs, confusing names, or conflicting messages?

2. Mystery

There is something special that happens in that barrel. It’s a bit of a mystery. You can walk through a bourbon distillery and watch the bulk of the process, but you never see what really happens in the barrel. It takes time and happens behind the scenes. The same should be true for your company and your products/services. Great brands have a bit of mystery – “What is Apple going to produce next?” “What happens behind the scenes at Disney?”

  • Is there a bit of mystery around the magic your company performs?
  • Do customers look at what you do and say, “heck, we could do that”?
  • Is there something special you bring to the table that makes your expertise, process, capability something special?

3. Visibilty

One thing that bourbon is benefiting from is terrific visibility in the market. Right now, bourbon is everywhere. Have you ever watched an episode of Mad Men? Don Draper’s favorite concoction is an Old Fashioned – main ingredient: bourbon. As previously mentioned, President Obama is considering a Bourbon Summit. It was recently lampooned on Saturday Night Live. Even Johnny Depp and Jennifer Lawerence, both native Kentuckians, are know to enjoy an occasional bourbon.

  • What about your products – have they found their way into the right hands?
  • Are notable people using your service; not just because you are paying them to do it? They don’t have to be celebrities – just influencers who can help you get visibility.

4. Irreplaceability

Bourbon is not easily replaced or replicated. It can only be produced in the United States – that takes the vast majority of the world out of the mix. Many contend that the best is produced in Kentucky. Plus, the process doesn’t allow for people to quickly play catch-up. If something new hits the market, you can’t replicate it overnight. Bourbon ages in a barrel for years and does best in climates with hot summers and cool winters. True, there are many producers of bourbon, but entering the market is no easy task.

  • What about your team or organization?
  • Are you easily replaced?
  • Can someone enter the market, undercut your pricing, and start gobbling up your business?

These are just a few quick thoughts on bourbon. Again, you don’t have to partake in the beverage to benefit from its wisdom. If you do enjoy bourbon, here are a few items you might find of interest that are springing up as part of the bourbon cottage industry:

But as always, Think Responsibly!

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The Power of Creating a Culture of ‘Owners’​

Categories Culture, Human Resources, Leadership & ManagementPosted on

In our forthcoming book on culture, my colleague, Shawn Moon, and I pose the question.

“Who washes a rental car?”

Our answer: “No one.”

Why? “Renters don’t own rental cars.”

As this idea settles in on you, allow me to expand a bit on the concept of ownership. In doing so, I’m going to argue the following:

Don’t give your employees another program in hopes of increasing engagement, give them something to own!

Our typical concept of ownership, especially in the Western world, stems from how society sees ownership. Owning something is protected by the legal structure and comes with a particular set of rights. We therefore think in terms of owning a house, a car, furniture, and even a business.

In this discussion, I’m not referring to this type of ownership. True, you can offer employees equity in a business, but their are limitations to this approach and the sense of ownership it provides.

Instead of focusing on the legalistic concept of ownership, let’s discuss what business scholars call ‘psychological ownership.’ Psychological ownership is not necessarily recognized by the legal system, but it is grounded in the individual who holds the ‘ownership’ feeling.

“We conceptually define psychological ownership as that state where an individual feels as though the target of ownership or a piece of that target is ‘theirs’ (i.e., it is MINE!).” –  Pierce, Kostova, Dirks

Some of you may be interested in reading the details of Pierce, Kostova, and Dirks research on the topic. Simply click here to do that.

Psychological Ownership in Action

I recently had a chance to see the power of this type ownership in action.

In my role at Vanderbilt University, I’m fortunate to work with students in a number of situations both in and out of the classroom. About a year ago, Tom Carroll asked if I would be willing to serve as an advisor to a group called Students Consulting for Non-Profit Organizations (SCNO).

SCNO was formed by students and is run by students. It isn’t a business. Students don’t have an equity stake in it. Revenue is not generated, but in every way possible, the students own it.

Each year SCNO sends out a campus-wide invitation offering undergraduate students a chance to apply to be a member. Membership is selective. Selectees are expected to devote their limited free time to help one of a select group of non-profits solve a business problem. Problems include issues such as technological advancements, operational improvements, or volunteer and fund raising support.

The year’s SCNO clients were Hands on Nashville, Junior Achievement, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Tennessee Environmental Council, and ThriftSmart.

These students give a tremendous amount of effort to the program. In addition to their coursework, they collectively spend hundreds of hours each year working on real business problems for real clients.

After the completion of the final SCNO event for the year hosted by the group’s president, E. B. Armstrong, I took time to reflect on what I learned. By allowing the students to ‘own’ their project, solutions, clients, and work, I saw six amazing takeaways.

  1. Overcome obstacles: Like any project team, the students ran into obstacles. Everything from scheduling conflicts to ‘scope creep’ emerged throughout the course of their efforts. Since they owned the projects, they also owned dealing with the obstacles. Their creativity emerged and allowed them to go around, move out of the way, or tackle any obstacles that hindered progress.
  2. Grow personally: The results delivered were a function of individual contributions to the team goal. While the team grew collectively, team members grew individually. Allowing them to own the work led to this individual growth.
  3. Find purpose: As I worked with the students over the course of the project, I found that some discovered a passion for consulting. Others learned that it wasn’t the right fit and a different career path would be more fulfilling. Many found working with non-profits invigorating. I’m sure some learned differently. The point is owning the work allow them to explore at a deeper level and find purpose along the way.
  4. Share burden: Let’s not sugarcoat the situation. I’ve worked with enough teams to know that burdens aren’t always equally shared. At times one person carries the weight of the project on her shoulders and others evade most responsibility. That said, my work with the teams revealed an amazing amount of burden sharing. Because they had many other responsibilities on their plates and collectively owned the work, the vast majority stepped up and willingly shared the burden.
  5. Deliver results: Overcoming obstacles, sharing burdens, and the like are all good things, but in the end, the teams had to deliver results. And, they did. Why? They owned them. There was no handing off to another person to finish the work, each team member stood up in front of the clients and owned the results of the team’s efforts.
  6. Build pride: As I watched the students present to their clients, I saw people with their heads held high. They made it happen. They owned it. In turn, they had a sense of pride in what the accomplished. Being prideful might be a bad at times, but being proud of what the group accomplished for their clients is a positive.

What about you and your people?

I fully recognize that your situation might be very different than the example I provided. You are likely not working with students who volunteered and were hand selected to participate in a group. You may work with people who you ‘inherited’ and seem not to volunteer for anything.

The situation may be different, but the concept of ownership is still very applicable. I encourage you not to dismiss the idea out of hand.

I encourage you to look for ways to increase ownership among your team members. To that end, I offer a few questions to consider about how well you are transferring ownership to your people:

  • Do you give guidance and suggestions to your people, but allow them to own it? Or, do you step in and direct or takeover?
  • Do you look at the risks associated with failing on a task and work with your people to determine who owns what? Or, do you assume they can’t do it?
  • Have you fallen into the trap where you feel you are too busy or too important to invest the time needed to let them own it? Or, do you make the investment now to reap benefits in the long-run?

Here’s your challenge. Find one way this week to allow a team member or colleague to own something.

How Great Leaders Communicate: 5 Key Choices…

Categories Culture, Human Resources, Leadership & ManagementPosted on

“Leadership is first, and foremost, a communication activity.” – Hackman & Johnson

We’ve all benefited from the communication efforts of great leaders.

We’ve also suffered through the pains of poor communicators in leadership roles.

I’ve found that great leaders regularly make five communication choices. I invite you to review each, assess how well you are doing, and consider a few quick challenges to improve yourself. I also recommend you share these with new or struggling leaders to help them improve their performance.

1. Choose to Address Poor Performance

Key Question: How did we get to the point where not providing performance feedback, or doing it poorly, has become commonplace?

Brief Thought: Keeping your mouth shut when an issue should be addressed does not lead to things getting better on their own. Avoiding the issue might seem an easy route in the short-term, but you will pay a price. Your reputation will be negatively impacted, your influence will weaken, and others team members may become cynical or disengaged.

In addition, the under performer is not being protected; he’s actually being disrespected. As GE’s former CEO Jack Welch put it, “A person shouldn’t come to work not knowing where he or she stands. That’s the cruelest form of management.”

Quick Challenge: If you’ve allowed a performance issue to go unaddressed deal with it this week in a respectful and productive way.

2. Choose to Understand What Motivates

Key Question: Why do we assume that everyone wants to be treated exactly the same?

Brief Thought: Look around. Everyone is different, and that’s a great thing. In the best organizations, the strengths of one team member makes up for the weaknesses of another. Unfortunately, in an effort to treat everyone the same, some leaders have turned a well-meaning concept into an ineffective behavior. As a result, they fail to tap into the unique potential of each employee.

Treating people as individuals doesn’t mean that you apply policies differently among your team members or that you use unfair and inconsistent promotion practices. It simply means that you recognize that what motivates one employee doesn’t necessarily excite another. Or, that the potential of one person for a certain role is different than that of another. The key is to see and appreciate each person for his or her unique commitment, capabilities, and contributions.

Quick Challenge: Speak with two or three team members this week to learn what really matters to them.

3. Choose to Listen

Key Question: Does it seem that many leaders chose to talk more than listen?

Brief Thought: The expression, “you have two ears and only one mouth, use them in proportion,” is lost on some leaders. Whether the function of an organization’s culture (leaders talk; everyone else listens) or the personality of specific leaders, talking too often should be unlearned.

The ability to ask one good question at a time and then listen (really listen) with the intent to understand is a key leadership skill. Many issues would be avoided or more quickly resolved if more leaders chose to listen first.

Quick Challenge: The next time you ask someone a question, ask only one question and listen to the answer with the intent of truly understanding. Don’t get wrapped up in your own head preparing a response. Instead ensure that you truly understand what is being shared with you.

4. Choose to Talk Straight

Key Question: How have we come to think that someone can become a great leader without being controversial or upsetting at times?

Brief Thought: Leadership is a tough, often isolated role. The leader must make decisions, deliver messages, and convey information that can upset some. Not every leader is up for this task. As a result, some leaders water down their messages or avoid addressing a subject in a timely and direct manner. This helps no one.

The business goes down the wrong path, money is wasted, and lives are impacted. If something needs to be said, “say it.”

Quick Challenge: The next time you are faced with conveying bad news, chose to speak the truth in a respectful, timely, clear, and compassionate manner.

5. Choose to Share Perspectives

Question: Have you or your people ever refrained from sharing an insightful perspective out of fear that you may sound silly, uninformed, critical, etc.?

Brief Thought: Your organization hires people to collectively produce better results. To do this, ideas need to be thrown on the table, critiqued, and ultimately selected for implementation based on their individual merits.

You should create a culture that is open to new ideas and not one where individuals are unwilling to share certain perspectives out of fear that they might upset someone.

Quick Challenge: If a potentially productive idea pops into your head this week. Chose not to squash it out of hand. Instead, elect to speak up and share.


This Road Warrior Remembers True Warriors

Categories Inspiration, Leadership & Management, Your CareerPosted on

My plane pushed back from the gate at 6pm this past Thursday night – 4 1/2 hours of sitting on the tarmac it returned to the same gate at 10:30pm.

Nearly 24 hours later I finally made it home.

I then remembered it was Memorial Day Weekend and how quickly I forgot the lesson I learned just a couple of years ago. This post, from three years ago, will hopefully help all of us to keep things in perspective.

Original post follows…

October 2014

I just landed in Atlanta on an early morning cross-country flight. It’s been a long couple of weeks and, frankly, I’m tired. Admittedly, I have been feeling a bit sorry for myself. I’ve been on the road a lot this year – a lot! The last several days, I’ve worked in North Carolina, Washington DC, Michigan, and California and traveled on 14 different flights. To further add to my pity party, I was thinking about how the weekend was going to be cut short because I fly back out for work on Sunday.

Life was quickly put into perspective as the plane began its final approach. The flight attendant asked that everyone remain seated as a military escort, traveling with a fallen military member, disembark the aircraft.


My intent in sharing this is not to exploit the situation, but to remind all of us that we need to keep our lives and work in perspective.

As a former military member, I’m familiar with the sacrifices people make so I can travel on a plane, perform fulfilling work, raise a family, hang with friends, and occasionally feel inappropriately sorry for myself. I thought about not sharing; however, my hope is that others will benefit from putting things in perspective.

I’m going to make sure I do these 3 things this weekend. What will you do?

  1. Take the time to truly express thanks to my family for making my life a rich and enjoyable experience.
  2. Reconnect with my purpose and accomplish one thing this weekend that will make a difference.
  3. Reach out to someone who might benefit from some encouragement or support and offer to be there for him/her.

Share a Coke & Learn Three “Refreshing” Leadership Lessons

Categories Brands & Ads, Leadership & Management, StrategiesPosted on

Coca-Cola launched its Share a Coke® Campaign again this summer. If you haven’t seen it, odds are you simply aren’t paying attention. If you hustle to the grocery store, you will likely discover bottles emblazoned with first names – perhaps even yours. As a twist this year, coke products also feature a select group of last names. I doubt Leddin is on the list, but maybe your last name made the cut.

A while back, I traveled to Iceland to deliver a leadership workshop. While in a convenience store, I snapped this picture (see below). Take a look at the names on the bottles, depending on where you live they might be pretty uncommon. They certainly are different than the ones I found in the store closest to my home.

As I reflected on the picture I took of the bottles in the Icelandic store, I considered what made the campaign so effective and what leaders can learn from it. Here are 3 “refreshing” thoughts to consider:

1. Recognize people as individuals

Imagine picking up a bottle of Coke with your name on it. It’s not a generic bottle – it’s your bottle. We like that feeling of personal connection. It works, People will go from one store to the next to find their bottle.

The same concept applies with the people you lead. They aren’t just warm bodies in a cubicle maze or interchangeable parts in a machine. They are individuals, each with unique capabilities, hopes, dreams, and a wide-range of other characteristics that make up the human experience. Your people want to be recognized as individuals. You should know what matters to each of your team members. You should understand what motivates each person. Don’t assume you know; ask. You might be surprised by their answers.

2. Invite people to participate in something bigger than themselves

The Share a Coke® campaign invites people to join in the process. You can go to Coke’s website, search for your name, watch videos from around the world, share your thoughts, etc. People aren’t just buying a soda, they are participating in an effort, one that is bigger then themselves.

The same is true at work. The best leaders invite their people to participate. They ask them for their feedback on goals, they solicit how best to accomplish work, and they encourage team members to openly track and talk about work progress. Along the way, the team members build something together that they could not do on their own. As Stephen R. Covey wrote, “without involvement, there is no commitment.”

3. Create positive-memorable experiences

Coke isn’t simply satisfying someone’s thirst, they are working to create a great experience that extends beyond the moment. People get excited when they see their names, they save the bottle, and they talk about it. A memorable experience is created that doesn’t end when the bottle is empty.

Think about a great team you have been part of – you likely worked hard, accomplished things that truly mattered, forged enduring relationships, and created a few memories along the way. Ten years from now, your people won’t remember the specific goal your team is working on today. They won’t recall how many items sold, how much revenue generated, what costs were cut, etc.; however, they will remember what it feels like to work for you. They will remember what it was like to be on your team. Make their efforts a positive-memorable experience.

Do you want to know if Coke has a bottle with your name on it? Go to this site and see.