Archive for February, 2010

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

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

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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Personal Brands: I Heart You

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

In case no one else had time to tell you on Sunday: I love you.

heartThat’s it. That’s the whole message.

Can you imagine if you felt loved everyday when you go to work? Think of what it would be like to know that pretty much EVERYONE loved you? That your clients loved you? That your vendors loved you? That your boss or investors loved you?

Can you imagine if you didn’t have to be paranoid about the double talk, the stalls, the lies, the back-stabbing, the infighting, the turf wars and the rest of life’s ridiculous, draining and energy-robbing moments?

I am pretty much lucky at work. People who are excited, passionate, good at what they do and strive to do more seem to gravitate my way. I outright love some of my clients. I had an author fly in to Palm Desert, California from icy cold Massachusetts last week. I drove two hours to have dinner with him and his wife. I don’t think we solved world conflict or did more than talk about our families.  Every moment was a joy. A hug fest.

I had another author fly in from Ohio to the TED conference last week. I drove more than an hour in rush hour traffic to meet him in Long Beach for dinner. He was filled with interesting news about the conference and excited about his upcoming speeches.  It was joyful noise at our table. Another hug and kiss exchanged with real affection and respect.

And, I had a great Valentine’s evening with five close friends at a very delicious and perhaps the most expensive restaurant I’d ever been in. One gal offered to pay half of the whole bill just to make it easier on the rest of us. But no one accepted, and everyone chipped in.

I wish these were all the moments of my day and night. I wish they were for you, too, They aren’t. We’re lucky if half the time we feel what we do is respected, much less cherished. A lot of the time, and I don’t know why, there’s a crushing amount of insult and injury being slung, almost incomprehensively harsh ill will in business.

Here’s what I do understand. I have settled on part of my personal brand being “encouraging of others,” despite the madding crowds. I let my feelings border on love some of the time. I know it’s a risk to have faith in others if you’re in business or just in life. Mother Teresa says to realize the worst can happen but love, befriend, and extend yourself anyway.

Ask yourself if your personal brand could stand some humanizing. Is it appropriate for you to add kindness and generosity to your ambition?

Who should you say: “I heart you,” to today?

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Personal Brands: Be Ready to Answer This

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

In Sunday’s New York Times, the least likely person in American business is interviewed in the Corner Office column.

She’s Susan Docherty, who “leads” General Motor’s US sales, service and marketing team. In case you don’t get the joke, GM is one of the more famous bankrupt companies in the US, based on its resistance to building cars that Americans want to drive. If it weren’t for their pesky rebuke of its target market, GM’s sales, service and marketing team would be doing just fine.

You might expect Ms. Docherty to be keeping a low profile, since GM has reported record sales in China, Europe, Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Russia. That would be everywhere except the US and Antarctica.

In terms of a personal brand stance, Ms Doherty personifies the concept of “failing upward.” In fact, like so many business leaders, she loves to hire people who have failed because she wants to see how they recovered, grew and changed.

She also wants candidates who have a great answer to this question:

“If you could be in my shoes today, what would be the top three things you’d do?”

For whatever other value this interview might bring, it was worth the read just for that question. You must be able to answer that question –for anyone you meet in a leadership position, your boss, clients, prospects, investors – heck, the head of the CIA, President Obama and the owner of your favorite football team.

If you were asked that question by the people who play a role in your success or failure, what would you say? Think about the people you aspire to meet, those you certainly will meet, and those who are on your “must meet” list. Get to know their lives well enough, their past decisions and their future leanings, so you are prepared to help them.

It’s really preparation for your brand to be known as an informed, interested and trusted advisor.

TO DO: Make a list of the people you want to influence. Then go about researching the topics that matter to them. Be ready for your opinion to be asked – or the opportunity to weigh in on the issues that matter.

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Personal Brands: These Are Your Lucky Numbers

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

There’s something magical about these numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7 and 10. They are magically memorable when you’re speaking – and your audience is listening.

Employ these numbers as a way organize your services, map out your presentations and help others’ retain in their brains what it is you offer.


You might say: “I offer two services for small companies. One is writing narratives for slide shows and videos. Two is producing multi-media presentations from start to finish.” Notice that you are leading with a small bite of the elephant of services you offer. It keeps your audience’s resistance down.

3You might say: “Our clients consistently report we improve their performance in these three ways. One: peace of mind – they know they have a back up of their data offsite. Two: cost-sharing – they get the benefit of gang-run, because we batch them with others and give them the discount. Three: communication – a trained, live, employee is always just a phone call away.”

5You might say: ‘We have five success stories in your industry.  They range from one-person consulting firms to a multi-national with 12,000 employees. Where do you think you fit on that spectrum?”

7You might say: “As a communications consultant I can tell you the seven reasons why people buy. If you like, I’ll use your company’s products to illuminate those.”

10You might say: “We have a ten point plan to optimize your presence on the web. Would you to like look at that map and see where you might be missing out on some key success factors?”

It’s almost as easy as 1-2-3 to keep your message organized in your mind – and retained in your audience’s brains.

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Personal Brands: 3 ways to keep your brand identity alive

Friday, February 5th, 2010

1. Spend 30 minutes a day – maybe in 10-minute increments – on an aggregated news site to get Tweet fodder. I use the New York Times, Huffington Post and sometimes a mind stretcher like Science. Read the headlines with your brand identity in mind. Ask yourself: How does what I do or who I am connect with this story?

2. Use Hootsuite or another Twitter-oriented program to stock up your tweets and schedule their appearance on your followers’ pages. Ask yourself with each tweet: am I delivering valuable content from the perspective of my core brand message? Consider whether what you tweet is worth duplicating on your Facebook and LinkedIn profile.

3. Never underestimate the power of a branded magnet, pencil or booklet. When you get out and about – whether you’re with clients, prospects, your physician or hair stylist: ask yourself: how could what I do or who I am service to their goals? Before you leave the conversation: give them something easy to carry that puts your brand in their hand – or on their refrigerator.

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Personal Brands Never Rest

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

HollerLike big product brands, your brand identity must be clear, crisp and compelling – and YOU need to be relentlessly advocating for it.

Before you start advocating: get what you do down to 7 words or less. I know it’s hard, but big brands do it – and so can you.

Volvo chooses one word: “safety” to stamp its brand in our minds.

Apple uses “imagination.”

Coke uses “pause that refreshes.”

Disneyland uses “happiest place on earth.”

So unless you are more complicated than any company in the Global 2000, you can find a way to explain what value you bring to people in less than a paragraph.

Love to see you define yourself in the comments for this post!

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Personal Brands: Be CEO of Something, Anything

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

In Sunday’s New York Times, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus describes his method for swelling up his company with CEOs. Yes, he wants a company brimming with CEOs – people who are CEO of a plan, project, or program. On a wall, he tacks up a poster-sized white sheet for each employee – and puts the employee’s name at the top. Then, he gives everyone one week to commit to what they are CEO of, and it has to be “something meaningful” written in bold letters for everyone to see.

You’ve got to feel pretty stupid if your name is up there with nothing below it. And, it happens. Mark just doesn’t want people who don’t own their portion of the enterprise – or are afraid to take risks.

What if you were hired to be a drone?

There are plenty of companies that recruit people because they are followers, have little imagination and want to put in an 8-hour day for 8-hour pay. Personal brands don’t have to long suffer those circumstances if you’re managing your life, work, reputation, output and relationships. But you might use the salary to become your own patron. In other words, keep your day job.

You still can be CEO of whatever ideal venture, book, website, or business you do away from your day job. With your own income funding you, you don’t have chase down venture capitalists and beg for money. You can self-fund. That means keeping your day job because it provides the resources for your new project.

Fail upward

Mark Pincus also likes people who have excelled at something – perhaps athletics – and then FAILED. He’s looking for resiliency – and people who are hungry to get back on top of something big. Hungry people have unmet goals (that’s why they’re hungry). Hungry people exceed their goals because they set a bigger goal each time they see they’re going to make the last one they set.

What are you CEO of? Do you have it written down somewhere? Everywhere?

Is someone or something holding you accountable?

Do you have a roadmap, milestones and clear signs laid out to prove you’re succeeding (or not) on the path to your success?

Do you know what EVIDENCE you’ll need to see – not feel – that proves you are making progress?

Do you have alternatives ready if you can’t clear an obstacle with your original plan?

Do you know the people who must say yes, support you, believe in you and provide the resources you need? Are you establishing relationships with them?

Do you have all the skills, experience, judgment, and work ethic you’ll need – or a plan to get them as you go along the road? Just-in-time skill building is perfect, since almost everything is so dynamic, you don’t want to train too early – or too late.

Venture capitalist John Doerr is one of Mark Pincus’ advisors. John has a simple system for keeping you on track with your goals and roadmap. Here’s how you can get started on your CEO status, once you’ve identified exactly what you own.

On Sunday night, you write down your top three priorities along with three measurable outcomes you’ll achieve by week’s end.

It’s put up or shut up time for personal brand builders. Put up that big white piece of paper with your name on it. Jumpstart your progress by filling in these blanks:

I am CEO of:

This week my top three priorities are:

The three measurable outcomes I’ll see this week are:

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