Personal Brands: Don’t Pack More Than You Can Carry

LuggageAccording to Sunday’s New York Times, the new CEO at Xerox does her own grocery shopping and most of her own household chores. Ursula Burns flies on the corporate jet, but she parks her car in the parking lot and carries her own bags.

This is an extraordinary person. Reared by a single mother, along with her brother and sister, CEO Burns reports there was a lot of life learning to be had in their home.

Her mom took in laundry to pay the rent and cleaned doctors’ offices to barter for their medical care. Ms Burns recalls that her mother had many sayings; mostly blunt ones that she repeated over and over to ingrain their refrain in her children’s brains.

“Where you are is not who you are. Don’t act like you’re from the gutter, because you live in a place that’s really close to the gutter.” Wow.

Personal brands, answer these questions:

  • So what baggage are you carrying around?
  • Where does your behavior say you’re from?
  • Have you gracefully risen above the shortcomings and scarcity, or indulgence and extravagance, of your childhood?
  • When is the expiration date on the claim you’re a victim of whatever bad, even really bad happened, that you survived?

Among the best qualities CEO Burns appears to have is a brutal truth filter in her brain. On her climb up the ladder, she has listened to top management declare one new initiative after another (or again and again) while not holding anyone accountable. She calls the lack of productive conflict “terminal niceness.” Loosely translated that means people being so conflict averse that the culture kills the organization.  Her personal brand is characterized by honestly, ambition (for her company and herself) and cooperation.

Personal brands: how about you?

  • Do you tell yourself the brutal truth?
  • Are you holding yourself accountable for stating goals but straying from them?
  • Is your behavior killing your chances for success?

Of course, CEO Burns didn’t leapfrog to her position. She studied mechanical engineering as both an undergrad and graduate student. She joined Xerox as a summer intern, three decades ago. Take heart: she proves that internships are a great way to the CEO sphere.

Oh, and one last thing. Contrary to what the other CEOs have been saying lately: CEO Burns doesn’t like failure. In fact, she doesn’t even allow for it, because if you do: it happens.

Personal brands: ask yourself the hard questions. Do the hard work. And, don’t pack more than you can carry.

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