Archive for July, 2011

The Power of No

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

2479027974_4a9b07efa7In the current debate on whether to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, you are seeing a perfect example of the power of NO, and how that one word defines the personal brands of people who use it to mean, “No. Absolutely not. Not now. Not ever. Uh-uh.”

Al Dunlap – a famous corporate takeover king during the 1980’s was called “Chainsaw Al,” because he was absolutely certain that ruthlessly cutting employees off payroll would raise short-term profits. He was absolutely right. Shareholders loved him. That is until the loss of valuable employees destroyed long term investment strategies, because once Al and his pals took their profits: these companies were shredded.

Absolutism works until if fails

On the other hand, how is that for personal branding? “Chainsaw Al.”  Can you imagine how it felt when you heard that Chainsaw Al was on the acquisition team alighting on your company? Like Attila the Hun was in the neighborhood. A very powerful personal brand.

All absolutism works absolutely until it fails, catastrophically. In the meantime, those people who win by virtue of a “take no prisoners” approach make dramatic heroes (oddly, even among the prisoners). It’s the Stockholm syndrome.

Fear or inspiration?

Absolutists inspire and frighten people with their certainty.  In either case, what’s enthralling is the depth and breath of their disregard for anyone else in the room. That’s how they can take what is “ours” and make it completely “theirs.” Like your lunch money in third grade.

So by its nature, absolutism is anti-social. Because absolutists enjoy the freedom of being concerned for only their own position, and like Al Dunlop, train a blind eye on consequences they won’t experience, they have an amazing advantage in negotiations. They are huge in business. Monsters.

Casualties abound

If you haven’t yet worked with a boss or colleague who takes this approach, you are in for a doozy of a career killing experience. Not theirs, yours.  Because these people are such terrors, a whole lot of bodies have to be bloodied and broken, before corporate gets a clue that the mayhem maker is worth tackling.

I’ve had it happen in my career.  It’s shocking to be hired to do a job, and then meet the person who makes it her job to make sure you can’t do yours. A decade later, I met her at a farmers market in LA. She was sitting there sunning herself, and waved me over to say hello.

I can tell you she had absolutely no idea what she’d done, even though by then she had been cut loose. The company? It’s been limping back. She absolutely had an impact. Much bigger than I did.

Disappear rather than dialogue

Absolutists are walking tall among us. So be careful about what you’re learning from the government or corporate scene, who inspires your actions and what you take away from the behavior of those who are in charge.  Remember, the clearest sign of their presence is that they disappear rather than dialogue. That you feel disrespected and oddly awed at the same time.

As you create your career and yourself, ask yourself if absolutism is something associated with you and your brand? I’m hoping you say: absolutely not.

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Who Asks You for Advice?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

02.17.11-Personal-Branding-for-Dummies-300x249Being indispensable is a good threshold test for measuring the success of your personal brand. Being indispensable – the right person to answer the question or otherwise direct the action – means you are the ONE, the ONE we count on to get it right or make us right or otherwise make the right thing happen.

It is a wonderful and terrible thing to be indispensable. It gives you job security, client control, superior relationships with the most important people – and those people will take your call (or return your email).

Close to invincible

For the feelers in our group: indispensable feels close to feeling invincible. It’s a very good feeling. You know you’re overdoing it when you feel like the world can’t rotate without you, which will never be true. Keep in mind that once in a while even Batman must look at the Gotham sky with the beaming klieg lights summoning him and think, why don’t they call Iron Man today? So, make sure you have a DND button or sign or a way to signal that even superheroes need a nap.

That should be your worst problem – too many things to do with all your talent, know-how and good judgment. So, let’s figure out how your personal brand can feel like we all can’t do without you.

Best above all the rest

You don’t become indispensable if you cannot carve out what it is you do – or how it is you view the world – or what subject area you are deeply committed to being an expert in. So make a list of things you do well – or want to do. Pick the one that’s most often the thing you do best or can learn to do it at a level above the rest of us.

Then, you’ve got to communicate that “thing” and the way you deal with that “thing,” clearly, crisply, compellingly and relentlessly. Or, have other people evangelizing for your personal brand.

What does indispensable equate to in business?

In business, being seen as indispensible looks like this:  You get referrals, recommendations, testimonials and offers without much effort on your part. You do have to answer your phone, return the email or open the door when opportunity presents itself. But overall being seen as indispensible lowers the overall effort you need for your personal brand promotion, and lets you turbo-charge your mastery over your subject or thought leadership.

Striving to be the one and only expert among your circle (or your circle’s circle) stops the roller coaster ride of feast and famine in new business development and juicy projects coming your way.

Not that the thrilling highs and stomach dropping lows aren’t unendurable. It’s just that after awhile, knowing you are going to get exactly what you want because you are who you are, makes it easier to have time to go to theme parks with real roller coasters – or do anything you really want to do. Even if the thing you want to do is build your empire by doing more, bigger and highly visible work.

If right now, you have more talent than you do recognition for it: let’s work on the fundamentals.

Indispensability’s step one: Give great advice.

Every octosecond on LinkedIn, someone wants to know something. And, in your on-ground life, you’re in casual conversations, much less meetings or presentations, where someone is talking about something that at least brushes up against your expertise, even if they don’t know it.

Take people seriously, and give considered, respectful and forwarding thinking advice. Great advice is never a yes or no. It’s your reflection on the question – which you might understand as only the tip of the iceberg.

For example, make sure to indicate what might be at stake that’s larger than let’s say: should our new logo be red or purple? If you are an identity specialist, you’ll weigh in with the symbolic meaning of color and the fact that while needing to be on trend today, the logo has to have a long life because great brands live long and prosper.

Okay, now you. Consider what you know, who needs to know that, and the best way of sharing your deeper than we knew knowledge.

Because we all need great advice, and you could become our indispensable resource.

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You’re Not Stupid Until

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

sucessYou betray yourself by arguing for the status quo instead of collaborating on something better.

You rebuff a colleague for attempting to help you, because this is how you always do it.

You stick to your routine when you’ve been told to up your game.

There are 60,000 times each day when you have the opportunity to think about what you are doing and improve it. That’s the number of thoughts neuroscientists believe the average human has each day.

Accomplishments and defeats

But, these aren’t just thoughts you are having. These are the micro-decisions that lead up to your accomplishments or defeats. Some of them you probably have down.

  1. Wake up.
  2. Shower.
  3. Show up at work.
  4. Meet deadlines and quotas.
  5. Consider the consequences of what you are doing and make changes accordingly.

Always consider the consequences

Oh. The list starts to get not-so-easy after “show up at work.” That “meeting deadlines and quotas” thing, isn’t reflexive for most personal brands. Those stellar qualities are reserved for the people who succeed. And, the “consider the consequences of what you are doing and make changes accordingly?” Who does that? Only the hyper-successful.

You know, these are people you at first admire, then envy and finally sabotage. So you argue with them. Or ignore them. Or decide that they are working much too hard, with unreasonable expectations of themselves and others – and you certainly don’t want to be one of those “unbalanced” people!

Unbalanced versus focused?

Unbalanced used to be the polite word for crazy. Now, balance – which used to be a fundamental motor skill that stopped you from tipping over when you walk, is now 16 hours of free time for the eight you generously call work. Apparently, balance is evidenced by people who know which people were voted off Idol, or the island, or Chopped. Maybe worse are the negligently unbalanced: those people who are putting in 12+ hours a day, so you feel like you are killing yourself at work, but the lack of results hasn’t changed a thing you think or do.

Who wants to be one of those laser focused results-oriented, ridiculously hard-working, amazingly creative, powerfully assertive, reliably self-motivated people who refuse to believe that failure is the only option? Has it occurred to you that your latent success gene is being dominated by your “This is what I am comfortable doing” gene?

If your personal brand has a “I work hard – but refuse to work smart” ethic, or a “nobody ever asked me to do that before” skepticism, then we don’t know what to do with you anymore in business. My guess is you have been counseled, coached, coaxed and coddled to no avail – or you’ve been a work around for people who are successfully moving and shaking. There will come a time when you find out that there just isn’t a place, except in dying businesses  – maybe even your own, that you aren’t killing softly every day with how little you think about what COULD be done.

Quick assessment – working harder or working smarter?

Here’s a quick assessment. Are you are making file labels instead of cold-calls? Do you take four hours to write a blog post instead of using one hour and taking the balance of time to jump on social networks to connect with prospects, customers, investors, analysts, suppliers and the media?

A group of managers and I were having a round-table discussion about the best qualities of people we have working for us, and their opposite numbers. Shocking but true, we all had about 25X the “left checks and valuable mail unopened in a drawer” stories for the one that is “the kind of person I would leave my business to if I die, they are so great” story.

Meant to succeed

Personal brands: think about what happens when you go to work. It’s not a place to keep doing all the things that don’t lead to real success for you and your organization. It’s the place where you are meant to succeed, by seeing the possibilities, planning your work accordingly, doing it, changing what you’re doing when it turns out not to work, and surmounting the obstacles and pressure that are necessary parts of life – not just business.

Don’t be stupid. Decide to be bold. Be brave. Be brilliant. Take a fraction of the 60,000 times each day to be smart, and be successful.

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You Aren’t Paid To Hate

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

angry womanMy personal brand has three pillars: encouragement, invention and freedom. While I mostly deal in small freedoms – your right to pursue any goal, any career, or engage in nearly any pursuit that brings you success or joy – occasionally it’s imperative that I should weigh in on our larger freedoms: speech, press, privacy, and the like.

Brand attributes and expression

It’s become an issue because in my country, the USA, freedom is under attack. I am a relatively well-known commentator on communication; hence I am on alert because this attack started with communication: the words you hear and the words you use. After all, words are the seeds of all great and terrible events. So, from my brand and standing to you and yours, here’s what’s at issue.

The USA is being attacked by people who want our government to fail. You may be setting yourself up to fail by engaging in these attacks.

Failure: that would be the stated goal of some foreign enemies and some domestic ones when it comes to the US. Most famously Rush Limbaugh. one of our highest paid talk show hosts, greeted the then in-coming American president Barack Obama with these words: “I hope he fails.”

The rhetoric has become increasingly angry, ugly and dangerous. We have small insults hurled, Sarah Palin calling the press, the “lamestream” media. And, Glenn Beck calling out George Soros on his Jewish religion, saying: “Soros has admitted in the past he doesn’t believe in God, but that’s perhaps because he thinks he is.”

I was asked at a SAG speech last week, what I thought about these performers’ personal brands. It’s clear Limbaugh, Palin and Beck among others, believe that disgracing themselves by disparaging other people’s freedom to report news, serve as an elected official and participate as a citizen in advocating for a cause, is good personal branding. And, it seems from their ratings that insults and low comments are actually pretty powerful when they find an audience that hasn’t been raised in homes or communities that puts value on respect for self and others.

But, don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that because these performers are paid to insult and incite, that you should, too.

Of course, social media has given license to people posting comments that they will regret when they go looking for a job, investor or business partner. Recently, I intervened when friends posted vitriole, calling the US president disgusting names and using gutter language to assess him, the opposition party and our government’s accomplishments and failures.

Hate is forever online

Remember, that it is patriotic here in the US to speak out against the government. It is also a civic duty to learn about the issues. That is what makes a truly free society. It’s just common sense to consider what your words say about you: before amassing a head of steam and a spew of bile toward the people with whom you disagree – or dare I say: hate.

If you want your personal brand to be aligned with these performers: that is in the gutter, and associated with the lowest form of “debate,” that is hurling insults, then you might have been misled about the rules of civil discourse. You are in particular jeopardy if you are upset with the status quo but lack the upbringing and social skills to speak politely, respectfully and thoughtfully.

Consider this: if your personal brand can only be tolerated by people who hate whom you hate, or those who get a rise out of gutter language, sarcasm and hostility – you have role models in the media and politics, for sure.

But, you won’t get the job you want or the partners who would be ideal for your venture if your language is tantamount to your being in a drunken brawl caught on tape and posted on your Facebook page.

Living forever on the Internet, your hate can’t be erased. Think about your freedom to progress before you imperil it with your likes and posts.

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