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A Lexus or a Toyota? What’s your personal brand?

The blogosphere is awash with advice about the need for business leaders to develop a ‘personal brand’ in their career.

Like any brand, your ‘personal brand’ encapsulates the uniqueness, attributes and value you have to offer. In the business world this means what you bring to employers, stakeholders and the broader business community.

Cars are a great analogy for understanding brands. As an employer I need to be able to easily spot the Lexus amongst a sea of Toyotas. (And similarly spot the Toyota amongst the Lexus when it’s a Toyota I need!)

Despite the prevailing rhetoric about the need to develop your brand, you already have one whether you know it or not. It’s articulating and consistently remaining true to your personal brand that is the challenge. Clarity, consistency and constancy are the hallmarks of any strong brand.

What’s your brand?

What are you good at? What’s special about you? Talking with trusted friends and colleagues can help you identify your unique talents, your attributes and the value you bring to a role or situation. And remember brands develop and grow over time. They’re never completely static.

Living your brand

While businesses use advertising and marketing to establish their brand in the market, for most people their personal brand is just that – it’s personal.

Your brand is communicated through the things you say and do and how others perceive you when they interact with you. And nothing damages a brand quicker than when what you say and what you do don’t match.

Having a clear of idea of what your personal brand is makes it much easier to faithfully communicate your brand clearly and consistently.

Authenticity is the key

The secret to your personal brand working for you is that it is authentic. You haven’t developed it, you’ve just articulated what is already there and thought through how you communicate it. It really is you.

It sounds too simple but I believe it – just be yourself and believe in the value of what you have to offer the world and you and your brand will thrive.


PS for the record the author drives a well-maintained, but ever so slightly ageing Peugeot 306 Cabriolet. Mmmh time for a new car?

Oh yeah… is that so!

Closeup of a happy young woman smiling isolated on white backgro

Have you ever got a message from someone that on face value seems reasonable and should be true, but there’s something that you can’t quite put your finger on that makes you doubt the author is being entirely truthful?

While not mentioned in any medical textbooks, we do all seem to come equipped with what are commonly known as ‘BS detectors’ that alert us to potential or real untruths!

It doesn’t take much to trigger our ‘BS detectors’. It can be a slight contradiction from what has been previously communicated, an over-emphasis on one point or maybe there’s a gap – something isn’t being said.

As a business leader, the last thing you want to be doing is triggering any BS detector activity!

Irrespective of whether your communication is truthful or not, if your audience thinks you’re not telling the truth you’re eroding their confidence and trust in you which ultimately impacts on your ability to perform in your role.

So how do you keep your audience’s BS detectors indicating true?

By keeping your communication open and honest, two-way and frequent. On the face of it, those four words are pretty straightforward, but here’s what they mean in terms of communication:

Open and honest – while being truthful and operating with integrity should go without saying, its important to remember this means being open in telling the whole story, not hiding or being selective with information that doesn’t necessarily show you in a good light. While the temptation to avoid saying the ‘bad’ stuff at the time can seem appealing, being exposed or being forced to own up later that you were aware of that missing piece of information is way, way harder.

Two-way – Communication is only effective when it goes both ways. Always ask for feedback and take the time to listen, assess and apply the feedback to future communications.

Frequent – Saying something once is never enough. In today’s world ever more crowded with communication messages, repetition is key is to your message being heard, understood, trusted and ultimately acted on.

Keep these basics principles of good communication top of mind and they’ll stand you in good stead when you’re communicating. And they may even hone your own BS detection skills!

Stakeholder management – the art of getting everyone on the same page!

Sketch business seamlessWhile once confined to the world of managing projects, “stakeholder management” is increasingly a core communication skill demanded of everyone keen to succeed in their role. But who are your stakeholders and what can you do to manage them to get the outcomes you need in your job?

What’s a stakeholder?

In simple terms, “stakeholder” means anyone who is affected, either directly or indirectly, as you go about your business and do your job. Typically this means your boss, your immediate work colleagues, your team (if you have one) and all the other people and groups inside and out of your organisation that you interact with as you do your job.  Some are really important, others less so, but to be successful it helps if you’re on the same page with each of them.

Why stakeholders are important

Having your boss think you’re doing a great job is typically central to success in your role. But, to actually do a great job you need to successfully interact with all those individuals and groups that your job affects. They have a “stake” in your success and you need them to think you’re doing a great job too.

Getting on the same page

It all comes down to communication. Three simple questions will get the conversation started:

  • Are you getting what you need from me?
  • Am I delivering in a way that suits you?
  • Am I meeting your expectations for doing this job well?

Let’s use a conversation with your boss as an example.

Are you getting what you need from me? Typically most jobs have a job description that defines the activities or tasks that need to be completed and by when. But it’s still worth asking to get clarity and be clear about priorities and any other activities that you can get involved in to broaden your skill set.

Am I delivering in a way that suits you? We all have preferences for how we like things to be done. If we don’t ask what they are, it’s easy to unintentionally go against these preferences. For example, how does your boss like to be kept informed about what you’re doing and how well it’s going? Do they want a face-to-face catch-up every week, or maybe a short email with a few bullet points or a more formal status report? Putting information into a format that suits your stakeholder is worth its weight in gold.

Am I meeting your expectations for doing this job well? This one is particularly important to avoid any unpleasant surprises at performance review time!  If you don’t know what your boss is expecting from you, it’s impossible to know whether you’re doing a good job. So why not ask what does doing a good job look like? And, take it a step further, what does doing a fantastic job look like. Once you know this, you know exactly what you’re aiming for.

While I’ve used the example of getting on the same page as your boss, the exact same conversation starting questions can be used with any individual (or group) that you deal with in your job to make sure that you’re on the same page as them.

And of course, communication is a two-way process so make sure that your stakeholders are aware of your needs, preferences and expectations too. Then everyone is clear on what needs to happen for a great outcome for all!

Subject: For action – Learn to write better emails

Love it or loath it email is the most widely used communication tool in the corporate world.

According to web monitoring service Royal Pingdom, 1.9 billion people sent 107 trillion emails last year!

Quantity of communication, of course, doesn’t equate to quality or effective communication.

A huge proportion of these emails would have been spam or other junk email. But, even taking these out of the equation, it’s not usual for business leaders to receive over 50 to 60 emails a day.

As I’m sure you’re aware, receiving 60 emails a day isn’t much fun, but if you’re one of the senders of those emails and it is really important your message is received, understood and acted on – how can you cut through?

The internet is awash with top tips and etiquette about email – much of it is sound but the real key to cutting through and getting the result you need is in the thinking you put in before starting to write it.

Rather than starting by writing down everything you want to tell the recipient, write down exactly what it is that you want them to think or do when they receive it. In other words, be really clear about what outcome you need from the email.

Try it. Once you have your objective firmly in mind, finding the right words and relevant content comes much easier and you’ll end up with a shorter, sharper and more effective email.

And to make sure your email gets noticed, think of the subject line as a newspaper headline – it makes it clear what the email is about even before it is opened!

Mindfulness and effective communication

Over the past week I have been suffering from the ubiquitous complaint of an office- based, middle-aged man – a sore back.

However, on this occasion rather than follow the mainstream approach of visiting a physiotherapist I opted for treatment by yoga therapy.

While some of the yoga exercises prescribed were in fact similar those previously given by conventional medicine, the principle difference in treatment lay in the inclusion of daily ‘mindful’ breathing exercises and meditation. As well as treating my back, the treatment also re-ignited an interest in mindfulness and set me thinking about the impact it can have on communication.

Mindfulness has been a foundation of Buddhist and other esoteric teaching for thousands of years but it is only in recent years that is has gained a level of acceptance by western thinking and, increasingly, with corporate wellbeing initiatives in the workplace.

In simple terms, mindfulness is about bringing one’s complete attention to being in the present moment. This leads to a heightened state of alertness and awareness of thoughts and feelings while being able to suspend judgment on those thoughts.

So what does this mean for our ability to communicate effectively?

By being truly in the moment we are better able to pay attention to what is actually being said rather than what we think we are hearing or want to hear. By ‘letting go’ of past judgments, we are better able to hear, understand and respond appropriately to the situation.

For example, who has taken offence at a poorly worded email and immediately fired off a reply only to regret doing so on re-reading the email the following day? Or similarly, arriving at a face-to-face meeting with a head full of preconceived ideas about others’ views to the extent that you cannot get beyond these judgments irrespective of what is actually communicated at the meeting?

Would a little more mindfulness have helped in these situations?

I believe so – being present and aware can only improve my ability to make appropriate choices in how I communicate and respond to others.  What do you think?

PS And my back is feeling much better too!

Further reading

What is communication?

Few would argue communication is not important. Most people agree that being a ‘good communicator’ is a good thing – a quick scan of current job ads reveals most organisations are actively looking to recruit ‘good communication skills’.

But when I ask people what they think communication is – coming up with a good definition can be surprising difficult. And it’s pretty hard to be good at something if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is.

If any readers are Latin scholars you’ve a head start. The word ‘communication’ comes from the Latin word communis meaning common.

It’s this commonness of understanding that we’re looking for when we’re communicating. If my understanding is the same as your understanding then we’re on the same page – we’ve effectively communicated.

Well that sounds pretty easy doesn’t it! But it takes a little more to make it work – it’s also helpful to understand the basics of how the communication process works.

If someone sends me a message of some sort, I first need to HEAR YOU, in other words actually receive the message, I then need to UNDERSTAND YOU and, if you want me to actually do something as a result of your communication, I need to TRUST YOU.

Also, understanding this simple process makes it easy to see why communication so frequently fails. For example:

  • I may not HEAR YOU if you send me a phone message but I’ve left my phone at home or your important email is not visible in the hundreds I receive daily or I’ve simply been missed off the distribution list. Maybe I see the message but I’m not in a suitable state of mind to take it in.
  • I may not UNDERSTAND YOU if the message is ambiguous or you use language I’m not familiar with. You may assume I have information that I don’t have or there is too much information for me to take in.
  • I may not TRUST YOU if I don’t respect you or if I’m fearful of you.

Keeping this simple process in mind will help you steer your communication through the endless barriers and pitfalls to get the common understanding you’re aiming for.

Happy communicating.

Ask, don’t tell – a mantra for the modern day leader

I spend a lot of time working with managers in organisations and one of the questions I’m frequently asked is along the lines of …

‘How do I get the guys in the team to do what I need them to do? To make it easy I spell out what I want but they still don’t seem to get it?

It’s a good question! It’s also a good question to illustrate some of the fundamentals of building engagement with your team. Here are some of the points I try to cover in response.

First be clear on the outcome you need

Before involving your team, ask yourself whether you are absolutely clear about what outcome you’re actually aiming for. What does it looks like? Are there specific deliverables? Do you understand what your manager sees as a good outcome? If you can’t answer these questions you need to clarify them with your manager.

What’s your role in achieving this outcome?

As a leader, it’s your role to facilitate the outcome that is being sought. That doesn’t mean you have to mastermind the right solution single-handed.

Being a good leader isn’t about having all the answers. There are countless books on leadership available and I will happily wager that ‘having all the answers’ doesn’t rate in any of them.

Letting go of the need to control exactly how an outcome is be achieved can be challenging. It takes a degree of personal courage, particularly if ‘command and control’ is a management style that appears to be rewarded in your organisation.

So who can help you find the right solution?

Those that work in the environment day-in-day out, those that know the stakeholders, those that know the likely challenges and barriers that can occur. In other words, your team.

The combined knowledge and experience of your team is a fabulous asset waiting to be unlocked. And the key to unlocking it is…?

Ask your team, don’t tell them

Once you’re confident that your team understands the outcome required simply ask them ‘What are your thoughts on how we can do this?’ and see what happens.

As their leader you need to facilitate and stimulate the discussion, encourage them to ask questions, not necessarily of you, but of each other. You role is to encourage your team to think about the possibilities, develop options, anticipate the likely barriers and risks while you capture the ideas and keep the conversation on track.

Before long the ideas will flow and you can move onto the next steps of assigning actions, responsibilities and developing a plan to deliver the outcome you need. And don’t forget to celebrate and reward contributions.

Dare I say it – empowerment

‘Empowering your team’ is a much talked about but infrequently experienced term.

But by asking, not telling you are genuinely providing your team the opportunity to contribute and make a difference to the business they work in – literally empowering them.

Conversely, if you tell the team what to do you are discouraging any discretionary effort or ‘buy-in’ to the task.

If your team feels empowered, trust will grow and you’ll have no worries about engagement!

Simply remember the mantra…