Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
December 26, 2011 3:53 PM

The Paradox Of Leadership

When you're right, you're a hero. When you take a misstep, you're a goat.

There's an often discussed paradox of leadership that attempts to quantify which trait is more important for business: being the first or being the best? The challenge (which seems rather obvious to me) is that everyone would chose to be the best (if given the choice), but it's hard to find any real data to suggest that the majority of those who are considered "the best" are the ones who were not the first (the leaders), but rather those who sat back and waited for the market to mature before swooping in and taking control of it.

It's also easy to be an armchair quarterback.

Chris Brogan just launched his latest business book, Google+ For Business - How Google's Social Network Changes Everything. I'm not sure why, but Brogan is a lightning rod for opposing views (maybe it's one of the reasons we like him so much on the Media Hacks Podcast). When he first announced the book, he took some heat (see: Beware the Google+ Experts) and he's taking more heat as it rolls out into the marketplace (see: Would Chris Brogan Take It Back If He Could?). In that last Blog post, Craig Peters ends his thoughts with, "My advice: Calm down. Let the slightly significant something be absorbed by both the marketplace and the marketplace of ideas. Then step back and take a look and see if it's worth all that and a bag of chips. Takeaway for marketers: Sometimes being the best is better than being the first."

Remember: someone needs to be at the edge.

I don't know if Google+ is the next big thing. Regardless, I don't think Chris is going to have to find another career should this book not sell as much as the New York Times best-selling business book, Trust Agents (which he co-authored with Julien Smith). I also don't think that the success of Google+ is the leading indicator as to whether or not someone should write a book about this new platform and what it could mean to a business. As a platform, we're comparing Google+ to Facebook and Twitter but forgetting that if Google deploys Google+ throughout all of their platforms (Gmail, Android, YouTube, etc...) it could well become a part of our daily connecting with one another - whether we like it or not. Is Google+ a raging success? No. Is it adding new members each and every day? Yes. Is it taking off like Facebook has? It may be a little too early to tell.

Lead or be led.

I don't think that Chris is betting on Google+ so much as he is betting on being a leader in this New Media space. Love Chris Brogan or hate Chris Brogan, his posture and business positioning is all about leadership in these connected channels. It's not about sitting idly by and then - suddenly - when Twitter becomes popular to jump all over it. He's the early settler... the one who is clearing the path for the rest of us. It's easy to call these people crazy or misinformed (imagine what everyone must have thought of Christopher Columbus in the 1400s). No, Chris is no Christopher Columbus, but he does walk the talk. He gets in early, explores, spends the time, pushes to see what it all means to businesses and shares what he's thinking in such a candid way, that those who aren't aligned are quick to pounce. Of course he won't always be right (don't get me started on how wrong I was about Second Life, YouTube and others), but isn't that the point?

Great leaders are rarely lauded for their efforts in the moment.

It's too bad that we're so quick to dismiss and not applaud those who take a leadership position. Do you remember what people said about Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and even Google in the early days? Do you remember what people said about MySpace, Cuil and Friendster in the early days? The discourse was (pretty much) the same: no one could see the business or business model. Do you think we would have had half of the innovations that have changed our lives had leaders sat back and not tried to be first in their market? Maybe we should all wait for market research or a white paper before moving forward? The point is that the majority of people will sit back and wait for something to prove itself before moving forward, but there's also a handful of people who must take the risks and lead for us.

My takeaways for Marketers: It's ok if you're not willing to take the risks. A lot of those risk-takers will be wrong. That being said, our industry needs more innovation and risk-takers.

By Mitch Joel