Peekaboo Toe Black High Heels 00331Let me start by asking a question – how early did you check your email inbox this morning? And how did you do it? Did you login to your computer from your desktop in the office? Did you use your laptop while eating breakfast? Or did you turn off the morning alarm, roll over, grab your BlackBerry and scroll through the latest and greatest?

Let’s move on from email – and ask about social networks. When and how often do you check Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Amazingly (to me), a report last year indicated that 53% of people surveyed check their social networks before getting out of bed. That is significant for business. It is significant because these people work in our teams. For me, it is yet another indicator of what I call the life continuum and the need for us all to manage outcomes, not process. But it is significant for another reason – because these people who check their networks, their email and source their news as a high personal priority are also our customers.

As leaders, when we talk about leadership, we often talk about vision. We seem to think that leaders – real leaders – have the ability to peer through the chaos and hectic daily activity of business, perceiving a clear path towards a promised (and promising) future. But, in my view, we are seeing a new form of leadership emerge. One which is less reliant on that leader’s personal vision. This new leader engages in what I call customer-oriented thinking. But it’s more than just thinking – it is about the eyes, the voice and the shoes of the customer.

  • Eyes: Today’s leaders must look through the eyes of their customers. What is your customers’ vision for the future? The GE corporate culture expects their leaders to take an external focus and see “around corners.” We need to do the same. We need an industry perspective and understand the way that our customers see their world. This, in turn, becomes part of our own customer insight.
  • Voice: We need to moderate our own terminology and begin speaking with the voice of our customers. We need to also listen to the way in which our customers describe their challenges and opportunities – and even the language that our customers use to describe the products and services that we provide them. Only by listening, learning and speaking in the voice of our customers can we truly begin to communicate deeply.
  • Shoes: As leaders we cannot any longer walk a path on our own. On the contrary, we must walk, instead, in the shoes of our customers. We need to understand – on the ground – what it means for our customers to live with our products and services. We need to seek out opportunities for co-innovation, collaboration and deeper relationships – and this should then inform the way that we speak, think and view our joined futures.

But what does this mean in practice?

Start by asking how your customers start their days. What keeps them up at night and what drives them to start their day connected to business and social networks? After all, we all want to do a good job, be recognized for our efforts and deliver value to our companies, our shareholders and our customers. How can you help your customers help their customers? Starting with the eyes, voice and shoes will get you a seat at the table.

Nina Nets it Out: We are all inundated with information yet only have limited attention. As leaders we must more deeply understand the lives, challenges and opportunities faced by our customers – and we can only do so by looking through the eyes of our customers, speaking in the same language and authentically joining them on their professional journey. It’s not just the best way to conduct business, it’s the most rewarding – for us all.