Take control of your personal brand.

Whether we want it or not, each of us has a personal brand --- a set of perceptions and expectations that people have of us.  That brand can help or hinder our ability to influence, negotiate and achieve our career aspirations.

Depending on how you behave, your brand can vary from audience to audience, which makes it even more complex to manage.

How do you know what your brand is – how you are perceived?  It takes a keenly self-aware person to grasp it on their own.  Usually an assessment such as a verbal 360 is used to clarify perceptions.  Are you branded a “doer” versus a leader?  Are you perceived as a great people person, but too soft to handle the tough stuff?  Are you branded the office gossip?  The pot-stirrer?  The visionary? The contrarian?

Armed with this invaluable information, you can decide which perceptions you wish to strengthen or change. Often, others’ perceptions are not a true reflection of who you are or how you operate. They can be based on a single interaction or moment in time, or even hearsay. But as the saying goes, perception is reality, and it impacts the way you are viewed and treated.
Taking control of your brand, you can make very intentional, strategic choices about how you show up every day and which behaviors you dial up or dial back.

Remember that knowledge is power.  Today, ask yourself: do I know what my brand is, and am I managing it proactively?

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Build loyalty through humility.

A wise person once said that if serving is beneath you, then leading is above you.  Indeed.

Have you ever been inspired to follow an arrogant, self-centered leader?  Of course not.  You feel like a pawn in their game – simply a means to an end.

The ones you want to follow – the ones who earn loyalty at all levels - understand that their role is to serve; to provide vision, guidance, and support. They put others first.

Sadly, many leaders get intoxicated with being in a power position, losing sight of the people that got them to where they are, and forgetting that their primary responsibility is to serve their teams, colleagues and the mission/organization at large.  They lead with arrogance instead of humility.

Being humble does not mean putting yourself down or allowing others to roll over you.  It does not mean being weak.  It’s a quiet confidence and acknowledgment that no matter how good you are, there is always room to learn and improve.  In fact, true leadership humility only comes when one is comfortable enough in their own skin to openly ask for feedback (and act on it), confront their prejudices, truly listen, and admit that they don’t have all the answers.

Humility does not mean lacking in confidence.  In fact, to be effective as a leader, you need both humility and confidence.   It takes humility to truly acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers; and confidence to make and stand by your decisions, put top talent in place and trust them to do their jobs.

Today, pause and ask, “am I operating from a place of genuine humility?”

Absorb the heat. Don’t transmit it.

Early in my career, a very wise mentor gave me this advice.  It has stayed with me ever since.

As leaders, we are exposed to a lot of stressors. Internal politics. Unforeseen curveballs thrown by customers or employees. Projects that go off track.  An overloaded calendar.  Exhaustion.  Pressures at home.  And the list goes on.

There are days when it gets the best of us, and it’s tempting to lash out at others – transmitting the frustration, irritation or anger that we are feeling inside. When this happens, people run for the hills – sometimes literally, sometimes emotionally.  They shut down.  They feel unjustly punished or mistreated. They read into it, thinking they’re in trouble, you’re in trouble, or the organization is in trouble.  They may view your behavior as an indication that you’re unable to cope with the pressures of the job.  Be assured, nothing good comes from transmitting the heat.

On the other hand, when we absorb the heat and are able to project a sense of calm – even when fires are raging within – we inspire confidence in others. They are able to continue doing their work without the distraction of an angry or frazzled boss and all the drama and interpretation that goes along with it.

Today, ask yourself, “am I absorbing the heat, or transmitting it?”

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Dive in early.

For months, teams of people have been working on a project with your approval to “keep moving.” You’ve been sent things to review and have been on status update calls, but you’ve been multitasking and half listening.  Now, it’s nearing the end of the process and the deadline is looming. When you finally pause long enough to take a close look at what’s been done, it’s not what you wanted.  You dive in, and shift into revision mode.  Although it’s messy at the end of the process, the team pulls through and you get what you want. 

Sound familiar?

As much as we’d all like to say, “that’s not me,” this tends to be the norm, not the exception.  It causes untold stress on your team, it’s demoralizing, and it costs your organization money. Worst of all, you remain blissfully unaware because no one has the nerve to talk with you about it.

If you are the boss, understand that lots of people are trying to please and accommodate you.  They do not want to be labeled the naysayer or the non-team-player. So instead, they suck it up and deal with it. This scenario leaves you ignorant and your teams burnt out. 

Break the cycle. Have honest conversations about how things are working, and commit to changing how and when you engage. As a leader, it is up to you to create the space and trust so that people can tell you the truth. Start by asking questions about how the process might be improved and what you can do differently. And be willing to dive in and get involved when the initial strategic work is being done so you and the team are in synch.

By engaging and focusing up front, you can save yourself, your teams and the company time and money.  Plus, you can achieve the added benefit of having happier, more productive employees.

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Begin with the end in mind.

How often do we sit in front of our computers, struggling with how to communicate something?  We might find ourselves meandering, with lots of information and no clear point or message.  Or, we might sit looking at a blank screen, totally stuck.

Whether you are putting together a presentation, e-mail, talking points, article, blog post, performance review or any other communication, you will be able to formulate your message more crisply and easily if you begin with the end in mind.

What do we mean by that?

First, think about the ultimate purpose of the communication.  What are you trying to accomplish? Write it down.  Then, consider the impact you want to have – what do you want the recipient(s) to think and feel as a result of your communication? Be specific. 

Are you trying to inform? Persuade? Inspire confidence? Generate dialogue? Move to a decision? Catalyze a wake-up call? Depending on your desired outcome and audience impact, the communication will be fashioned differently – in terms of tone, content and language.  There is a real art to shaping your message.  Doing it well requires careful thought and intentionality. 

When we get clear on the answers to these fundamental questions, it allows us to approach our communication with greater focus.  It also provides a strategic lens through which we can decide which pieces of information are essential, and which ones are extraneous.  Once we know what we really want to convey, we can keep our eyes on the prize as we write.

The next time you sit down to craft a communication, ask yourself, “am I clear on my end game?”

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