Give your product away

The big music labels and filmmaking companies have really struggled with this one. It doesn’t seem to make business sense to let people listen to music free on Pandora or watch movies and shows free on Hulu. Yet it builds the brand and creates more buyers. Social media has inverted many traditional models, and it’s the indie market that’s proving that the economics work… for the most part.

Let me take this one step further. In Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni tells the tale of a consulting company that never sells. Rather than tell a client what they’ll do if they are hired, they start serving as if they are already hired. Sure, they’re opening themselves to being taken advantage of as they give away the goods, but Lencioni says 9 times out of 10, the client appreciates the generosity. They get a good feel for whether the product is what they really want, and they get a feel for whether your people are the ones they really want to work with. Lencioni didn’t just make this up; it’s his own company’s secrets he’s sharing.

As I learned early on from one of Atlanta’s public relations gurus, always add value. Everything you do or everything you send out should bring value to the person receiving it. We demonstrated it by offering free tips in all of our mailers. Yet every direct mail piece we sent out brought in a client.

My left brain can’t figure it out, but any time we’re open-handed, we end up with more than if we’re close-fisted. My pastor likes to say you can never outgive God. As you give away the things he gives you, he keeps giving you more. It’s not just a spiritual principle. I learned early on that generosity can be good business.

Romans 12 – sacrifice

I recently re-read Romans 12 for the first time. You know how that works, right? I swear that chapter wasn’t in my Bible the last time I read it; I think it stopped after verse 2.

If the entire chapter is not about leadership, then at least we can agree that it has a lot to say about leadership. Over the next few months, I’m going to spend some time meditating on its messages for leaders. Let’s start with the more familiar verses.

1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him….

3 Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us….

You can’t study this passage without overlaying Philippians 2: consider others better than yourselves, having the same attitude as Christ, who chose sacrifice and service over ambition. In a sense, Philippians goes one step further than this passage, both in evaluation of yourself — consider others better — and in sacrifice — “Be like Christ.” I hate that one, because it’s so out of reach for most of us.

The unique thing about this reference to sacrifice is that, in the Bible, most sacrifices involve death. When I was growing up, I remember one of my pastors saying that it’s easier to die for Christ than to live for Christ, because dying for him means sucking up all your faith and courage one time… and then it’s over. Living for Christ means making those decisions over and over, and living with the consequences.

Leadership is all about sacrifice. Good leaders put their time, energy, blood, sweat and tears into their role. It’s a life of faith and courage over and over, dealing with the consequences long after a decision was made. The Bible says it’s a life of accountability, where teachers and leaders are held responsible for the way their followers turn out. And many times, it’s a thankless role, drawing criticism from every direction.

Lest you think I’ve lost perspective, let me throw in something Tony Blair said at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. One day when he had a particularly high number of barbs thrown at him, and they were getting to him, his wife offered these comforting words: “What are you complaining about? It’s a privilege to do the job!” Yes, leadership is a privilege, but it’s also a living sacrifice. I think that’s how Paul felt.