September 13

Inbound 2019 Takeaways That Will Make You a Better Leader

Written by: Patrick Dodge |

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I attended Inbound 2019 with the same agenda I have for the last three years.

  1. Get to as many keynotes and spotlights as I can.
  2. Take notes like a madman.
  3. Leave plenty of time for networking.

I don’t worry much about attending the workshops (many of the tactics they teach are outdated by the time the session ends). I go to Inbound for INSPIRATION. I’m there to find SOLUTIONS – for myself and others. I’m there for the awesome BOSTON SEAPORT FOOD!

I didn’t get to everything I wanted to, but every speaker I saw was fantastic. Throughout each of their sessions all I had my notebook in my lap – yes, a paper notebook. I insist on doing this stuff analog. If I open my laptop, the temptation to check email and social media is too great.

Here are a few gold nuggets about leadership I wanted to share with you all.

“Individual Situations Matter.” - Tara Westover

Tara Westover is a best-selling author whose first book, Educated, sat at the top of the New York Times list for more than a year. She was raised with six siblings in a family that practices some extreme type of Mormonism, living off the grid on an isolated spot in Idaho. Home schooling consisted of whatever she could learn from books after her chores were done.

Determined to leave a life of abuse and mental illness behind, Tara taught herself enough to take the ACT. Through sheer determination, she overcame huge gaps in her learning and eventually earned a doctorate in history from Cambridge University.

I was struck by her grace and humility as she spoke about her amazing journey through life, which unsurprisingly led to estrangement from her family. But the above quote really resonated with me. She was talking about societal attitudes about science and how important it is to embrace a systematic way of thinking – but not without remembering that individual situations matter.

Despite widespread evidence that breastfeeding benefits infants, someone's personal situation might make it unhealthy for the mother. This is just one example she gave.

Tara applies this same juxtaposition to the subject of white male privilege and the isolation they feel that often leads to suicide.

“There is a great cost to sticking people in boxes,” she says. I couldn’t agree more.

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“Fall in Love With the Customer’s Problem – Not the Solution.” - Brad Smith

The spotlight by Brad Smith, executive chairman and former CEO of Intuit, drove three points home: empower your employees, show gratitude, and never stop disrupting your own business.

Before assuming the top leadership role at Intuit in 2008, Brad led the company’s small business division which includes Quicken, Payroll, and Quickbooks. He stepped down as CEO ten years later, leaving the brand in the strongest position in its history.

He says Intuit thrives because it treats itself like a 36 year old startup. Change can happen to you or through you, and leaders have to paint the art of the possible and fall in love with the customer’s problem – not the solution.

This is a key difference because when you are obsessed with the challenge your clients face, it forces you to adapt to the changing circumstances surrounding it. It’s much harder to reinvent yourself and your company when you are focused on the solution.

Brad also emphasizes you should become who you aspire to be without losing yourself in the process. He learned this from his mother, who still makes a point of telling him he can “find his GI Joes in his room” whenever she greets him at the door of the house he grew up in.

How can you not love this?

Brad also commits to hand writing thank you and birthday cards to the staff at Intuit, estimating he writes approximately 200 or more messages a year. If someone in the top job of a massive corporation can find time to do that, surely you and I can too, right?

 

“Be an Experience Disrupter, Not a Tech Disrupter.” - Brian Halligan

I was eager to see what HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah had cooking for us this year, and I was not disappointed.

Halligan took us deeper into the rabbit hole of customer experience, showing us a “new species of disrupter” is now on the scene. Instead of focusing on the product-market fit, brands that are shaking up their industries are doubling down on the experience-market fit.

“How they sell is why they win,” he repeated throughout the presentation, illuminating innovators like Atlassian, Carvana, Netflix, Warby Parker, and Chewy as examples.

Carvana was one that stood out to me. They’ve completely erased the friction that everyone hates about buying a car. They’ll let you buy one online, deliver it to your door, and give your money back if you aren’t satisfied in seven days.

The one criticism I want to make is I wish Halligan could find case studies that are a little more accessible to the average business owner. We all know why Netflix is amazing. They personalize the hell out of their service, and it works beautifully. We get it. But most of us don’t have the resources to build a revolutionary platform that flips the industry on its head.

It’s the principle that counts of course, but I would love to see examples of how small, less-techy companies are killing it with CX, like a commercial construction company, accounting firm, or medical device provider. That would really help bring some of these concepts down to earth for the audience.

 

“Resist Fear of Commitment.” - Dharmesh Shah

Dharmesh might be the most entertaining speaker I’ve ever seen onstage, thanks to his amusing confessions about being an introverted, insecure, yet immensely talented dude. His fearless vulnerability makes you want to know the guy, which is ironic because his entire presentation was about fear itself.

He talked about the fear of differences (“the time for diversity is now.”), fear of change (“give respect to your remote workers. Your employees are customers too.”), and fear of disappointing (“don’t be afraid to disappoint a few to delight the many.”).

He also talked about fear of commitment. Most businesses hesitate to commit to a niche because they want to hedge their bets. According to Shah, when you narrow your focus, it’s easier to grow.

But the greatest fear he discussed is truly universal, something we all dread like nothing else in this world – the low battery warning on our phones!

Shudder...

 

“Never Be Embarrassed to be a Beginner,” Katie Couric

Since her earliest years on the Today Show, I’ve always loved Katie Couric.

I worked at an NBC station early in my career, and Katie, Matt Lauer, and Al Roker were always part of my morning as I worked on local news promos. I didn’t realize how much I’ve missed her until I saw her at Inbound.

A truly remarkable journalist and insightful thinker, Katie gave us all a lesson in transparency as she recounted her successes and failures in life. She touched on some painful stuff, including hurtful questions she asked people on the news and later regretted. She also talked about her failure to win over the CBS Nightly News audience.

Much of that last one can be written off to misogyny, as a lot of the criticism levied against her was about her appearance and “bubbly personality.” She laughingly said one critic accused her of lacking “gravitas,” which she later surmised to mean “testicles.”

Like her or not, Katie has done an amazing job at reinventing herself and bringing her passion for quality reporting and storytelling to social media, especially Instagram. She has established her own media company and stays relevant by embracing new challenges wherever they appear, including the devastating loss of her husband to cancer. She is a true inspiration.

 

There is no way to capture all the great insights Inbound has to offer on your own, and there are many spotlights I had to miss. But I saw enough of them to see a pattern in these speakers.

They all have great vision and prioritize self-disruption. They are adaptable and have an indomitable spirit. And they feel a great deal of empathy and gratitude for the people around them.

This is what leadership looks like today, and it has me looking in the mirror. It’s nice to recognize a few of these attributes in yourself and think about how to do better with the others. Care to join me?

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