Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Building your personal brand. What's your message?

We only have one body, one identity, one life. Our uniqueness is ours alone, and doesn't belong to anyone else but us. It's easy to hide behind the company we work for. Or the people we associate with. Some people just don't want to "put themselves out there." Living under the radar, so to speak, seems more comfortable. And yet we long for some level of personal success, achievement, satisfaction or fulfillment.

But I don't believe there's any reason to hide our strengths. Who we are. Our authenticity. It would be like the parable of the man who hid his talents by burying them. To him were given no more. But to the man who utilized his talents, many more were given.

Some people think that building a brand identity costs a lot of money. Or time. It really doesn't have to. Brands can be built almost entirely using the internet these days -- and many of the services are free or at nominal cost. Just like anything else, it's only difficult if we make it difficult.

What do you want to be known for? What do you want to say? What lesson have you learned that you'd like to share? What can you teach from your experience? What opinion do you have about a topic that you're passionate about?

Brands are simply a culmination of thoughts and images of an individual or company, and the perception of that brand is often in the eye of the beholder. Brands are never fully built or complete. Rather, they are moving targets being shaped proactively by the owner and those with whom the owner interacts.

When you ask some people about their brand, they think about the brand of the company they work for or are associated with. But I like to ask people about their own personal and individual brand. Yes, that's right -- I'm asking you. Are you proactively crafting your unique story? Do people know who you are and what you stand for? Or are you standing idly by waiting for your brand to be created all by itself?

I encourage you to take some action today. I'm amazed at how many people still do not have something simple as a website or blog that begins to define them. God has given us gifts in the form of talents. Let's not bury them in the sand.

There's a video about a little boy who picks up a starfish on the beach and throws it back into the ocean. And an observer asks what he is doing. And he tells that man that if the starfish doesn't get thrown back in it will die. As the man looks across the beach that goes on for miles, he says to the boy that he can't possibly make a difference as there is miles of beach and hundreds maybe thousands of starfish that have washed up. As the little boy throws another starfish in the ocean, he replies by saying "I made a difference for that one."

Building a personal brand isn't about us necessarily. Oh, it can be, for sure. But it's really about being authentic and true to ourselves. And it's about sharing a story or lesson that perhaps just one person -- another human being -- can be inspired by and go on to do something in his or her life that's good. Something that maybe he or she wouldn't have done if the two people had not crossed paths. Take action today. You'll be surprised at the goodness you'll receive in return.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Talented "do-whatever-it-takes" People: Amazing and priceless

This weekend, I had the honor of working an event in Orlando with a handful of really terrific people. And I'm amazed at the level of commitment and service these folks brought to this event. They are used to working with people like themselves, somewhat outside of the corporate and traditional business world. So I know that working 18- to 20-hour days non-stop is almost commonplace for them. I don't think they realize how unusual it is to work with people who will do what they do, with such a wonderful serving attitude and who will still smile and laugh and have fun no matter what goes wrong, no matter how many problems they solve, no matter how tired and physically and mentally exhausted they become.

People like that inspire me to be at my best. To not let my teammates down. To do whatever it takes to create a fabulous experience for the participants. To do special things for other people. To not let anyone pass me by without offering them a smile. To help others be their best.

I think we learn a lot about ourselves in those moments or challenging times in our lives that we are pushed to our limits. Somehow we can handle more than we could before, fewer things seem to bother us, and we get more accomplished in less time because our boundaries have been expanded, our tolerances have been extended, and our physical and emotional selves begin to become immune to sickness, pain and stress.

Clearly not everyone would choose to put themselves through such a test. And certainly not many people would do it repeatedly. But for those who do, something happens to them over time. As the good book says, iron sharpeneth iron. As we become stronger ourselves, we help others to become stronger. We understand more fully to lean on a power that's greater than our own. To have faith that everything will turn out just fine. And for that reason, I suppose it's not a bad gig. You know, to work with such talent. I figure that in a few months time, I'll take my own self to a new level. To a place I've not been previously.

I'm a different person than I was last Thursday when I left to work with these folks. And I'll reach another new level when I work with them again in a few weeks. They tapped into their greatness and helped me to tap mine. And there's no better way to learn than to do. I admire them, honor them and will be forever grateful that I was a part of their team.

To the 6 event team members and all the event volunteers, I say "thank you." You truly rock.
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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Ryder Cup Leadership: Azinger's strategy worked

I've been stewing for a few weeks on the leadership efforts displayed by that of the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, Paul Azinger, admiring both his dedication and courage to set up the underdog team for a win.

For two years, he worked diligently on both the strategy and setting the vision. The strategy included getting what he felt was an antiquated selection process fixed so that the players who were playing their best going into the Ryder Cup actually got to play. In addition, he was able to negotiate 4 captain's picks instead of just 2. That helped him to feel like he could implement a truly winning lineup because, at the end of the day, a win can only be achieved if the guys were playing well leading up to the event.

He also set up a vision which, interestingly, wasn't so much about winning at all. He wanted simply to utilize the Ryder Cup as an opportunity for as many people as possible to have an experience they would never forget, win or lose. He even made sure he had 3 co-captains, people he knew he could trust and people who had had his back in the past when he needed them. Faldo said he didn't want more than one, that he himself wanted to maintain a pulse on the tournament. But you have to admire Azinger for realizing that having a small core team around him would not only give those guys the experience of a lifetime, a small thank you for their previous service to him, but would also help to relieve the intense pressure and tension that an event of that magnitude ensues.

Whether you're an avid golfer or have tooled around a bit or even have never picked up a club in your life, Azinger certainly shows us some leadership lessons that we can apply to our business, our clients' businesses and our life.

1. Make a thorough evaluation of the current situation, what has worked and what hasn't. Azinger met with all the past U.S. Ryder Cup captains to get their input, but in the end he made his own analysis and conclusions.

2. Push for change. If your analysis reveals to you that the process needs to be improved then, by all means, do what you have to do to make those changes happen. Azinger had to stand up for what he believed in, he made specific recommendations on what needed to be changed to improve the selection process, and got agreement by the golfing gods. No small feat.

3. Set a vision that people can embrace. And champion the cause. Companies often fail maintaining a vision because either their vision is only about making money or they forget to rally their people around the common bond. Azinger did a great job of creating a vision that was about creating the experience of a lifetime and he grounded his vision in plans that supported it, even with a PEP rally, t-shirts printed with the "13th man,"-- a phrase he coined for the Kentucky crowd, and making sure the details supported his vision. I believe a vision like this took pressure off the team because they knew that if they had a great experience they were winners to matter the final outcome.

4. Let the team members be themselves. What I liked about Azinger's style was that he seemed to allow each team member to flourish in their own space. Professional golfers certainly are akin to this more individual sport so allowing their strong personalities, their playing preferences and their individual strengths to shine through was key to the success of the overall team.

5. Allow what's going to happen, happen. Game day is not the time to micro-manage. Azinger had a lot of trust in his team and his co-captains, he believed in the strategy and vision that he cast, and when it came for the guys to tee it up, he had to "let go and let God" so-to-speak. He had to let it ride. This is probably the most difficult thing for a leader to do -- to gently stand back. To coach and not direct. To reassure and not be disappointed when things don't go your way. To continually motivate and pump up both the players and the crowd or audience.

6. Celebrate with your team and extended team. I fully believe that Azinger planned to celebrate fully even if they lost. Because his vision of creating a highly memorable experience would have been fulfilled. And the team would not have walked away with heavy heads in defeat. The fact that they could celebrate with such a patriotic win just made the end sweet -- a win that they could share with their family, friends and the rest of the nation especially at a time that the nation -- and the world for that matter -- is in economic turmoil.

There has never been a time in recent history in which influential leadership is as important as it is right now. Whether you're running a department, a division, a company or a nation, it is imperative to be an effective leader who can cast the right vision, who can implement strategy and change for the better, and who can encourage greatness in the people he or she leads.

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