The Not-So-Subtle Art of Being Weird: How to Be Successful by Standing Out

Great leaders know the best way to beat their competition is not just to be better, but to be different. They understand that weird often wins.

The Power of Being Different

I was listening to Mike Dillard’s podcast the other day about a remarkable leader who turned around a failing organization. His name is Jesse Cole and if you don’t know him yet, you should. He is the owner and operator of a summer college baseball team located in Savannah, Georgia. But more than that, he’s a man who understands the power of being different.

Jesse came to Grayson Stadium in Savannah after a minor league team left the area. He owned a small collegiate summer baseball team and decided to bring them to the city with a goal of bringing baseball back to this historic 4,000-seat stadium. He knew he was in a city with a long tradition of baseball but he learned quickly that it was going to be very difficult to attract people to a sport that was dying in America. People found baseball was boring and Jesse soon found his dreams were bigger than his cash flow.

Jesse decided to take a different approach, to think differently. Instead of just being in the baseball business, he thought of himself as running an entertainment company. He wanted to create a fun place for families to go and enjoy a memorable time together. So, taking cues from P.T. Barnum and Walt Disney, he decided to create something special and it started with naming the team.

The Critics

Like most team owners, he went to the community to find a name. After reviewing hundreds of submitted ideas, one really stood out. It was weird, it was quirky, and it fit Jesse’s vision of being a fun entertainment company. That name was ultimately chosen. His team became the Savannah Bananas – and the reviews were terrible.

The community was in shock. The critics thought it was outrageous. City leaders were upset. How could this upstart baseball owner choose a disrespectful name for such an important and historic baseball park? What was he doing?

Embracing the Weirdness

But Jesse went all in with the Savannah Banana theme. He had a unique logo created featuring a banana baseball player and he purchased bright yellow uniforms for the team. Jesse even bought a yellow tuxedo so he could act as master of ceremonies for the games. But it didn’t end there.

He and his associates looked at what other teams were doing and they did the opposite. They introduced a simple pricing structure to make it affordable for families: $15 got you into the game and included an all-you-can-eat pass. The players greeted fans as they came into the stadium and danced between innings. They had a breakdancing first base coach and a pep band. They even had a group of elderly ladies as a dance team called the Savannah Nanas.

The Result

The fans loved it because it was so different from anything they had ever seen before and the critics embraced it as well.

Jesse went from having only a handful of season ticket holders to selling out their stadium for two years straight. Even now there’s a waiting list to buy tickets. The Savannah Bananas became a sensation in Savannah and around the country. Jesse’s little team caught the attention of national media. He had created a fun place for families and a great place to work. The energy and excitement of being a part of this organization brought the team together as well. The atmosphere was good for baseball. The Bananas became so good they won the championship for their league.

Jesse credits his success to being weird, different, and standing out from the crowd. It began by thinking differently about his business and acknowledging he was in the entertainment business, not the baseball business.

Valuable Lessons

As business leaders, what can we learn from Jesse’s approach? What are we doing to be weird and different? How are we standing out from the crowd? What are our competitors doing and how can we do the opposite?

We are doing some of this right now in my business, Peak Demand. For example, my competitors are all big corporations. They have poor customer service and ship their products in six to eight weeks – so, as a small business, we chose a different model. We build-to-stock to ship our products in just 24 hours and make it easy for customers to do business with us. We even include a small “prize” with each of our products for the person who opens the box. It might be a sticker, a koozie, a pen, or a screwdriver – just something small to thank the users of our products, not just the person who buys them. We want our customers to feel special. As CEO, I also follow up with every customer 30 days after the sale to ask how their experience was and how we could do better.

After hearing the story of Jesse Cole and the Savannah Bananas, however, I think I could be doing a lot more!

How about your business? What are you doing to stand out? Reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you are doing that’s weird and different.

If you want to learn more about how Jesse Cole turned things around for the Bananas, I suggest reading Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out.

Photo Credit: Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Great Leaders Look for Opportunities to Show This

Great leaders know that success is the result of extra efforts by amazing employees. These leaders look for opportunities to show their appreciation.

Looking for Opportunities

Last week, I was out in the factory and saw my company’s top mechanical engineer working on a drill press. He was modifying parts so they could be used in production. I knew he had been there all morning reworking these parts because we had a big customer order that had to go out. It wasn’t his job but he did it anyway because he cares deeply about the success of our company.

As a leader, I couldn’t just walk by and ignore his efforts. I stopped and talked to him. I told him how much I appreciated him and the work he was doing. He didn’t have to be standing at a drill press all morning working on these production parts but there he was. I had to acknowledge his extra efforts.

The Problem with Most Leaders

The problem with most leaders, however, is they miss these opportunities. Most leaders are sequestered in their offices and oblivious to what’s happening with their teams. They are unaware of the extra efforts their best employees are doing every day. These employees are left feeling overwhelmed and underappreciated.

One of the most frustrating things I see in leaders is a negative or indifferent attitude towards people. Many choose a career in leadership who don’t have an appreciation for the impact they have on their teams. Unfortunately, these leaders usually find they are less effective when they lack a people-focused mindset. The reason is that leadership is inherently a people business.

“Leadership is a people business.” Jon S. Rennie

The entire role of a leader is to motivate a team of people towards accomplishing an objective. Great leaders know this and they know it’s important to show appreciation. They also know people are messy. People have issues, problems, emotions, quirks, hang-ups, baggage, and can be unpredictable. A great leader can see past the flaws, love their people, and motivate them to do great things. In my opinion, you can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

“Great leaders aren’t afraid to love their teams.” Donald Miller

A CEO who Cares

Donald Miller, founder and CEO of Storybrand, sees it the same way. I like his thoughts on this subject as he reflects on the culture he built at his company. One of the core values he put in place was to “make his employees’ dreams come true by serving clients faithfully.”  I thought it was interesting that he purposely intertwined serving customers with the dreams of his employees. In his view, loving your employees and showing appreciation means helping them reach their full potential.

“Great leaders can see the greatness in others when they can’t see it themselves and lead them to their highest potential they don’t even know.” Roy T. Bennett

Miller credits the growth of his company to the “secret ingredient” of love. Things changed at his company when they started to live out these core values. As he loved and respected his employees, they loved each other, and they worked as a team to better serve customers. He built a culture of respect with a foundation in love.

He has two fundamental rules which have helped him create a culture of love and respect:

  1. Hire people who are better, smarter and faster than you.
  2. Never mess with their hearts.

Make a Positive Impact

If you’re a leader, you have a deep impact on the lives and careers of the people working for you. You need to be patient with their flaws and take time to truly appreciate their contributions. The biggest problem with employee engagement in most companies today is that employees feel their bosses don’t appreciate them.

Imagine how they will react when they see their boss truly cares!

Reach out to me a Twitter and let me what you do to show appreciation for your team members.

Are Employees an Expense or an Asset? The Answer May Surprise You

“Being an employee of several different companies, I can honestly say that I’ve felt like nothing more than a line item on a spreadsheet somewhere that an accountant is desperately trying to eliminate.”

This comment was written by a reader on my recent article, Putting Employees Ahead of Customers, and it got me thinking. Why do so many managers treat their employees like a cost that needs to be eliminated?

My conclusion was that the problem may be related to accounting. Why? Because in accounting, employees are an expense.

Consider this. By accounting rules, the cost of workers is treated as an expense on the income statement. In fact, personnel expense is one of the highest costs a company incurs. Many managers see this sizable cost every month and conclude that people are expensive. They see people as a problem. By seeing people as a costly expense, these managers think that a quick way to more profits is by reducing people or salaries. They look at employees as an expense or a problem that must be reduced or eliminated.

“Assets are company resources which have future economic value.”

Great leaders see things differently. They consider employees as an asset. In accounting terms, assets are company resources which have future economic value. Instead of seeing employees as a problem, these leaders see them as a valuable resource. They know that people have the capability to grow sales, satisfy customers, improve processes, innovate products, and do countless other things that add money to both the top and bottom line. As a CEO, I see daily examples of this in my business, Peak Demand.

If you think of employees as an asset, as I do, you treat them differently. You understand the importance of keeping them happy and operating at peak performance. You recognize the importance of leadership. You realize your team will be at their best when they are loved, appreciated, respected, engaged, and acknowledged.

It seems simple to me but it’s not often practiced. I think one of the problems is the lack of leadership training in business schools. Most graduate and undergraduate students take multiple courses in accounting but they may only attend one or two lectures on leadership. The result is we are sending young managers to the workplace with a belief that numbers are more important than people.

“Great leaders know better”

In accounting, employees are an expense but great leaders know better. They know people are an asset that represent the future results of a company. They see their team as an important resource that needs to be led properly to maximize performance. They understand their team will be at their best when they are loved, appreciated, respected, engaged, and acknowledged.

Where do you stand? Do you see employees as an expense or an asset? Have you worked for a manager who treated you like an expense or a problem that needed to be reduced? How did that feel? Have you worked for a leader that treated you like an important asset? What was that like? Let me know in the comment section below.