Are You True to Your Personal Brand?

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There is a saying, “Your brand is what people say about you after you have left the room.”

Two great American icons left us recently, and they leave behind a legacy etched into our national psyche forever.

Over the weekend, the life of Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, was celebrated in high style in Detroit, her adopted city. At the same time, the life of one of America’s greatest public servants and statesmen, Senator John McCain, was being celebrated. How interesting that the lives of two people who were so different in career choice and personal style yet similar in the fullness of their lives, should pass and be celebrated simultaneously. Looking at their lives inspires us to look at our own.

As friends, colleagues, and relatives honored these two gifted professionals, I listened carefully to the words that they chose to describe two lives well lived.

Aretha Franklin’s interpretation of a song came from her heart and soul, deeply expressing the emotion behind the melody and the words. Yes, she knew how to rock steady. Her music appealed to international, intercultural, and intergenerational audiences. As her friends and family members celebrated her life, these are the words that stood out:

  • Talented
  • Soulful
  • Gifted
  • Treasure
  • Friend
  • Diva
  • Professional
  • Love
  • Devoted
  • Perfection

John McCain’s life story is an American story. He first chose a military life, then one of public service, working hard for the American people. He was admired and respected by colleagues from across the political spectrum. With John McCain, the theme that ran through his life’s celebration was pure American. Here are the words that reflect his life:

  • Patriot
  • Statesman
  • Public servant
  • Loyal
  • Values-driven
  • Integrity
  • Love
  • Funny
  • Dedicated
  • Friend
  • Hero

What did these two American icons have in common? Passion for their work. Love of people. Service to others. Authenticity. They each had an uncanny ability to bring people together – one through music, one through public service.

The American songbook would be incomplete without Aretha Franklin’s incredibly rich, diverse range. Her music stirred our souls. She could sing any genre of music and effortlessly switch from one to another. Aretha’s brand image was the Queen of Soul.

American society would not be as good and decent without John McCain’s political leadership. His work improved our lives. John’s brand image was American statesman.

Though physically gone, their life’s work lives on. Their names will be remembered, their voices will be heard, and their stories will be told for generations to come.

Those who spoke at both memorial services mentioned what a privilege it was for all of us to have lived at the same time as these two great American icons. Every now and then, we are reminded that we choose how to live our lives. To take the high road or the low road. To move forward or stay stuck. To live life fully or just skim the surface. To be positive or negative. To make friends or enemies. To share our gifts with the world or keep them hidden.

The next time someone introduces you to another person, listen to the words that person uses to describe you. You might learn something new about yourself. What will people say about you when you’re gone? What legacy will you leave?

Share Your Knowledge and Gain a Reputation as a Collaborator

Photo Credit: My Life Through a Lens for unsplash.com

Photo Credit: My Life Through a Lens for unsplash.com

As a professional, you have a level of expertise that is unique to you. No two people share the exact same body of knowledge. Once you acquire knowledge and continue to deepen it through higher education or certifications, it is important to share that knowledge with others.

Workloads and responsibilities continue to escalate in the workplace today. Help to shorten other people’s learning curves by openly and readily sharing information.

How do you do it? Here are a few behavioral shifts that can help you to actively share your knowledge with others:

Develop a mastermind group. During my mid-career years, I began meeting with a mastermind group (and have participated in several others since then). This choice made all the difference in my professional growth, because we learned from each other. For a primer on the topic, read my article about mastermind groups.

Mentor. One of the most fulfilling experiences in my career has been mentoring young professionals just beginning their careers. Before I mentored them, I gained valuable advice from my own mentors. Mentoring is one of the most powerful one-on-one relationships you can establish – and benefit from – in your career. Who could you approach as a mentor? Who could you help as a mentor?

Find a goal buddy. Meet with a colleague who you can trust to openly share your career goals. My colleague, Susan, and I have been meeting quarterly for nearly 20 years! We learn a great deal from each other, share information and resources, and keep each other on track. Who could you partner with?

Teach. There is no better way to retain knowledge and remain “fresh” in your chosen field than teaching. When you teach others, you deepen your understanding of the topic. What in your life have you mastered that you could teach to others?

Coach. Coaching has become a modern staple in the business world today. More and more, supervisors are expected to manage and coach their teams. Read my primer article on executive coaching.

Share transformational books with others. One of my longtime clients encourages his management team each year to read several best-seller books on appropriate topics like leadership, communication, or teamwork. The team openly discusses content at monthly meetings. This simple act creates a collaborative mindset in the workplace.

Transfer knowledge. Companies are investing more resources in knowledge management methods to ensure that the collective knowledge in a company, division, or department remains intact even while employees come and go. What is the collective wisdom in the area you manage? How are you capturing and managing that knowledge?

Share knowledge. People who share their knowledge with others position themselves as people who want others to succeed. Don’t be stingy with your expertise. Who can you share your knowledge with? How much better could they perform their jobs with additional information?

Shift from knowledge to wisdom. Wisdom comes from gaining important lessons from your lived experiences and applying that wisdom to future lived experiences. An Aboriginal saying wisely states, “The more you know, the less you need.”

When you create a framework of sharing and managing knowledge, and encouraging and modeling open communication, you will earn the reputation of creative collaborator with senior management, your team, and peers across your organization.

Wimbledon 2018 Inspires Professionalism In Action

Photo credit: rawpixel for unsplash.com

Photo credit: rawpixel for unsplash.com

Beyond the athletic feats, moments of tension, and unexpected twists and turns throughout the Wimbledon 2018 tennis championship games, one thing stood out most prominently to me: The level of professionalism presented by the players.

We all know what it takes to be a professional, yet, sometimes we need to be reminded of (or even share an article or blog post on the topic) what it takes to be a professional, and what it looks like when you see it in action.

And there was a lot of action in this year’s tournament. A lot of slipping and sliding on the grass in Centre Court. Many audible gasps from the crowd. Every step of the way, professionalism was there.

Let Wimbledon 2018 inspire you to push your level of professionalism. Here’s what I noticed:

Focus. One look into the eyes of any professional player, and you could see that look of deep focus and determination. While players experienced being down…sometimes in points or in games, they persevered and remained focused. How do you remain focused when you are under tremendous pressure?

Grace. There was no stomping off the court, huffing, puffing, swearing, or racket smashing. Those days (hopefully) are over in professional tennis. Instead, there was an intensity of intention. Winners and losers exhibited great grace. When Serena Williams was asked about her finals match with Angelique Kerber of Germany, she spoke of her opponent with grace and true admiration. As they embraced on Centre Court after Kerber’s win of the ladies’ singles title, you could see that the two players admire and respect each other. During interviews, they spoke of their respect for one another. How do you demonstrate grace?

Self-motivation. The key phrase that many tennis players repeat after executing an exceptionally fine play is “Come on!” It becomes a mantra to push them through to the next play and hopefully a win. When you find yourself faced with what may seem like insurmountable challenges, push yourself by silently saying “Come on!” Your motivation may inspire others.

Mastery. Those professionals who reach the top of their game are those who have put in tens of thousands of hours to master their skill. Seeing Wimbledon’s players in action, they remind us of what it takes to reach the master level. What else do you need to do to continue improving your mastery?

Match-Up. No matter the sport, the true mettle isn’t tested until the match-up occurs. It takes a while to figure out what the other person’s or other team’s strengths are. Then you have to decide on how to play to those strengths. We saw it at Wimbledon this year. Some of the matches were brutal, like the match between John Isner and Kevin Anderson, which lasted nearly seven hours. Anderson went on to compete in the men’s singles final and lost to Novak Djokovic. Consider your own match-ups through your work team, project teams, or special committees. What adjustments must be made to improve performance? Are there better match-ups ahead for you?

While your daily challenges and pressures in the workplace may pale by comparison to those of Wimbledon, let the championship game inspire you to stretch your potential as a professional. With proper focus, grace, self-motivation, mastery, and match-up, you can experience your own version of a Centre Court victory.

Celebrate Independence as a Core Value

Photo credit: Kendrick Mills for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Kendrick Mills for unsplash.com

Every year in the United States, we citizens celebrate Independence Day on July 4. On this day in 1776, members of the Continental Congress signed and enacted the United States of America’s Declaration of Independence from British Empire rule. At the time, there were just 13 states, and those states pulled away from Great Britain as a sign of freedom, independence, and democracy.

Most Americans look forward to this day every year because of the parades, picnicking, eating their favorite foods, and of course, must-see fireworks displays. We gorge ourselves on food when what we need instead is a healthy serving of appreciation for what independence truly means.

For me, independence is one of my top core values. I love my independence as a woman, a second generation American, an entrepreneur, a community volunteer, and a creative spirit. I am also an independent thinker.

When my parents took my older siblings and me to watch the fireworks display or ignite our own sparklers in our front yard on the Fourth of July, I had no idea what we were celebrating. Growing up, I just knew it was a lot of fun.

Now that I’m older, I value my independence even more. With that independence also comes responsibility. I can choose to work where I want, live where I want, be friends with whomever I wish, come and go as I please, support whatever causes I want, share my voice, express myself, and live my life as fully as I can. Take any of this away from me, and I am diminished. I feel less than. Not every person enjoys the same sense of independence as I do. I would love to see that change so that all Americans felt safe in sharing their voices, without ridicule or disrespect. Every American deserves the right to benefit from America’s Founding Documents, The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. We need to do better. In our workplaces and in our communities, we must value each other’s choices and voices. We must continue to fight for equality and what is right and just for all people.

As you gather around the campfire or picnic table today, ask yourself, “What do I value the most about my independence?” Be grateful that you live in a country that allows you to be independent. Appreciate it and value it for what it is today.

Give Your Vocabulary a Power Boost

Photo credit: Jeremy Beck for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Jeremy Beck for unsplash.com

Do you really listen to the words you use when you speak? You get so used to hearing your own voice, you could forget the words you choose or their meaning. With a little effort, give your vocabulary a power boost. In the process, position yourself as a knowledgeable professional.

Time is money. Every second is precious. Less is more. That’s why professionals speak in sound bytes. Here are a few tips to help you pack more punch into what you say:

Use simple words. Ask professionals what they prefer when communicating with other people, and they will undoubtedly say, “Be direct…Give me the facts…Don’t beat around the bush.” Some people lose the listener because they talk around issues or they talk over other people’s heads. People come away asking, “What did that person say?” Be clear and concise. Choose your words carefully. Which word gets to the point faster? Parsimonious or stingy? One of my colleagues shared an example: Eager to have lunch served quickly at a business meeting, my friend asked the waiter to “expedite” the order. The confused waiter returned a few minutes later asking what the word meant. Use language that is appropriate to the listener. Words with five syllables are more likely to be misunderstood than shorter words. Be careful you’re not using those big words only to impress.

Be specific. Professionals appreciate specific information that helps them understand your perspective. If you’re in sales, for instance, it’s better to say that your products are used by nurses, not workers in the healthcare industry. Information becomes clearer when you provide more details. Management team is more specific than work team. Fortune 500 CEO is more descriptive than company leader. Broad descriptions can sometimes defeat your purpose.

Use action verbs. Passive verbs simply state that you were, are, or will be doing something. Action verbs are direct and show motion. Let’s look at an example. You are presenting to a potential client. You want to show your qualifications for handling the client’s business, so you say, “I was the vice president of marketing for the Harper Company.” The sentence is weak because was is a passive word. By changing your comment to, “I directed the $2 million marketing campaign for the Harper Company,” the sentence has more impact. It’s easy to say, “I have 40 representatives working for me.” Want more power? Change it to, “I manage 40 representatives.”

Paint a picture with descriptive words. Let’s say you are encouraging team members to use a new time management app. You could outline the features (full calendar access, information sharing, reminders, notices, color coded tasks, etc.) or you could paint a visual picture outlining the benefits. “Imagine tracking productivity throughout every work day, staying focused, and seeing what you have accomplished. The XYZ app does that.” The key starter word here is imagine. That one word allows the team member to visualize a more productive, efficient work life.

Avoid jargon. Professionals often get stuck in the verbal “trend zone.” You have heard them all, and you have used them at one time or another. Paradigm shift. Empowerment. Interface. Awesome. Totally. Rubrics. Drill down. Robust. Bandwidth. Whatever. Transparency. The problem with jargon is that it is overused and unoriginal. Don’t use jargon as a crutch. Jargon is a sign of the times; it is not timeless. If you use outdated jargon, you risk positioning yourself as someone who is not in the know. Also, be careful you don’t sound like a surfer dude or valley girl during those important client presentations.

What are you going to do about it? Your first step: Read this short, helpful article by Minda Zetlin, Want a Bigger Vocabulary? Try These 7 Mobile Apps.

Words help to shape your world. In business, you can change the perceptions of your clients, co-workers, and the C-Suite by choosing words that make your messages more powerful.

Value and Appreciate Face-to-Face Communication

Photo credit: Abdullah Oguk for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Abdullah Oguk for unsplash.com

I had an experience recently that reinforced my belief that nothing can replace or duplicate face-to-face communication. Not a real time video connection. Not a real time phone conversation. Not any form of technology. Face-to-face communication continues to be the most intimate form of communication, hands down, for two reasons:

First, nonverbal cues are a necessary component of communication. Face-to-face communication allows you to check the other person’s nonverbal cues to see if they support or detract from the message. Eye behavior, facial expressions, gestures, body movement, posture, appearance, and silence offer valuable clues to the meaning behind the message.

Second, face-to-face communication allows for the “dance” of going back and forth during the exchange, in what communication scholars call turn-taking. Each person takes a turn at sending and receiving information, of asking for clarification, and responding.

Recently, I made an email request to someone. The email was perfectly outlined, easy to understand, and all of the main points appeared with bullet points. As emails go, it was an effective email. The email response took me aback when my request was denied. The person recommended that we continue the conversation if I wanted to chat more.

As luck would have it, I saw this woman at an event. This, I thought, was the perfect opportunity to reinforce my request in person. Within just a few minutes, I offered her additional information, answered questions, and expanded on several ideas. As she began to learn more, her nonverbal cues relaxed, which revealed that she was warming up to the idea of granting my request. She even suggested a potential win-win solution.

It’s easy in a busy work environment to quickly send emails because emails are effective communication tools. Yet sometimes when we have experiences like the one I had, we remind ourselves that sometimes in-person communication is simply better. In my case, my request was better met by investing a few minutes in face-to-face communication.

What’s on your communication “to do” list that would be served best with a face-to-face encounter?

Professionalism Is No Laughing Matter

laugh-a-day-gives-results-that-pay-the-power-of-humor-in-the-workplaceActor Charlie Chaplin said, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” I completely agree. Where does laughter fit into the workplace? Is it appropriate? Is it annoying? Does it depend on the situation?

While facilitating a presentation skills program recently, I noticed a “quirk” in one of the participants. Laughter. She was using laughter as a coping mechanism to offset her nervousness. The result: Her behavioral quirk detracted from her message.

Every time I called on her for input, she laughed. When she delivered a sample two-minute presentation, she giggled several times. As we met in a one-on-one evaluation session that afternoon, I shared my observation with her. I asked, “Is crying in the workplace acceptable and appropriate?” She immediately answered, “No.” I then asked, “What about laughter?” She replied, “Not really.” At that moment, I shared my perspective with her.

I explained to her that, as a young woman, she could be sending the wrong message by tagging a giggle or a laugh onto her comments as a coping mechanism. People may not be taking her as seriously. Instead of thinking of her as a professional, they may think that she’s a little goofy, or that she may not represent the company in the most favorable light when interacting with customers, or that she doesn’t have the maturity for that next promotion. “You could be sabotaging your own success as a professional,” I told her. She then explained that her husband had talked to her about the exact same issue. “How do I change that?” she asked me. The solution is simple: Change begins with self-awareness. Now that she is aware of this nervous habit, she can catch herself and begin changing. After a while, she will no longer tag a giggle onto the end of a sentence.

Let’s be clear: Laughter is good. Laughter in the workplace is good. Repetitive nervous laughter that detracts from your message is not good.

Do you have a behavioral quirk that – if done repeatedly – could be diminishing your professionalism? Do a quick scan of your behavior. Check for any nervous habits that are detracting from your message or distracting others. Once you become aware, you can and will change.

Volunteer Time Off (VTO) Programs Can Transform Employees

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Larm Rmah for unsplash.com

Beyond offering leadership academies, mentoring, and coaching, more companies are choosing to engage employees in a more meaningful, personal way by offering Volunteer Time Off (VTO). I am a firm believer in volunteerism and how it enhances professionals’ skills. What is unique about VTO is that employees are paid while working on important local, national, or global community projects, learn from the experience, and hopefully apply that learning at work. Outdoor gear specialist Patagonia offers employees a variety of VTO opportunities, and sales leader salesforce.org offers its employees seven paid VTO days each year.

VTO is a win-win for both employer and employee. Here are some thoughts on the benefits of VTO:

Deeper level of connection. Service to others sets aside the ego because your number one goal is to help others. Many companies require employees to remain “unplugged” from technology while participating in VTO. No quick sales calls. No checking in with the office. The whole point of the experience is to engage fully in the work to be done.

Present moment awareness. When you are volunteering for others, you are most concerned with handling the task at hand, no matter what it is. Whether helping to build a Habitat for Humanity home in an aging urban city or bring fresh water to a small village in Africa, you are most mindful of what you are doing from moment to moment.

Expanded worldview. When you see the world from an entirely different perspective while living among people whose cultures and way of life are completely opposite from yours, it shifts your worldview. Some say the experience is as if someone removed a film from their eyes so they could see more clearly.

Transformation. Beyond an expanded worldview can come a complete transformation of mind, body, and spirit. Acts of kindness build character. You may see a slight change in yourself, or you may see a different person emerging after a VTO experience.

Better employees. When you learn something new every day, use different creative thinking or problem solving skills, and lead, or even follow, you return to your company as a better employee. You gain much more from an offsite cultural exchange than you ever could experience within an office environment.

Shared, supportive values. Companies that offer VTO to its employees share positive values with employees, like compassion, kindness, generosity, and creativity. When you work for a company that practices social responsibility, you just feel good when you come to the office every day.

How could a Volunteer Time Off program benefit your company and its employees?

Take Time Today to Say “Thank You” For a Job Well Done

Photo credit: Pete Pedroza for unsplash.com

Photo credit: Pete Pedroza for unsplash.com

Today is Administrative Professionals Day. This day of recognition for hard-working support staff falls on the last Wednesday of April each year. Celebrations like this beg the question,  How often should you thank someone for doing a good job? In my humble opinion, you should thank anyone who does a good job anytime it comes to your mind. Hopefully it’s more than once a year!

Beyond saying the words “Thank You,” remember to show it in your body language as well.

During one of my communication workshops, I emphasized the importance of aligning verbal and nonverbal language. I discussed how we communicate nonverbally in six primary ways (facial expressions, gestures, posture, movement, appearance, and silence). When I reached the topic of Movement, a young woman (we’ll call her Jennifer) raised her hand and began to share her story with the group. She had learned an important lesson and wanted others to learn from the mistake she had made.

One day, a co-worker pulled her aside and said in confidence, “Sarah thinks you don’t like her.” To this, Jennifer replied in shock, “I love Sarah! She does so much to keep our entire department going. I couldn’t imagine us being as successful without her. Where did she get that idea from?” The co-worker said that Sarah, who was the department’s administrative assistant, explained that each morning she would say “Good morning!” to Jennifer as she walked in the door, yet Jennifer never replied. She interpreted Jennifer’s nonverbal language as “I don’t like you.”

You see, every morning Jennifer entered the building with coffee in one hand and her purse and computer bag in the other. She was focused on reaching her desk and getting to work immediately. She walked very quickly through the hallway, never noticing that Sarah was greeting her every day. “I just feel awful that Sarah thought that I didn’t like her. Thank you so much for sharing this with me,” Jennifer told her co-worker.

The next morning, Jennifer entered the building and said, “Good morning, Sarah.” Sarah replied with excitement and a wide smile, “Good morning, Jennifer!” From that moment on, Jennifer became much more aware of how her behavior affected co-workers. She also experienced firsthand how good it felt when she acknowledged Sarah.

Take the time to check your verbal and nonverbal language. Are they in alignment? Or are they incongruent and sending mixed messages? When you take the time to say “Thank you for doing a great job,” make sure your verbal and nonverbal language complement each other. Based on my experience, the simple recognition of a job well done is more greatly appreciated that any candy, flowers, or lunch. Happy Administrative Professionals Day to everyone who makes our day-to-day business operation run more smoothly.

Will Wardrobe Engineering Save Mark Zuckerberg?

The world waited with great anticipation: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance before the Congressional Commerce and Judiciary Committee was finally beginning on April 10, 2018. Zuckerberg was summoned to discuss Facebook’s “privacy” policy and data breaches, which left millions of Facebook users’ personal data exposed to global trolls.

Rather than focusing on what Zuckerberg was saying, the media and late night pundits focused on something quite different: The Suit. Zuckerberg had traded in his signature gray tee shirt, blue jeans and sneakers for a more corporate look. Headlines focused on The Suit. The Washington Post headline read: Mark Zuckerberg is one of the suits. Now he’d better learn to get comfortable in one.

As the news media clamored to get the best shot of the “new and improved” Zuckerberg, I expected a reporter from E News to pop up ala runway style and ask, “Who are you wearing today, Mark?” To which Zuckerberg would confidently reply, “Marc Jacobs. That’s Marc with a c.” The brilliance of his dazzling smile would shatter the camera lens as he continued walking to the hearing.

But I digress.

What the media is paying such close attention to is known as Wardrobe Engineering. Defined as “how clothing and accessories are used to create a certain image,” what image do you think Zuckerberg was going for? The “I’m not guilty” image? The “I’m a successful, responsible American entrepreneur” image? The “You can trust me” image? The “I’m just like you” image? The New York Times called it the “I’m sorry suit.” The Times even created a “greatest suits appearances” slide show just for The Suit. Only time will tell how The Suit is ultimately interpreted by Congress.

Every politician, titan of industry and celebrity knows how to effectively wardrobe engineer. We all know that color plays an important role when you represent a certain political party, like how often Republicans wear red and Democrats wear blue. It’s no accident. And red, white and blue, well, that is just so absolutely, positively American, and safe. Then everyone will love you and vote for you, right?

Will wardrobe engineering save Mark Zuckerberg, though? It will take a lot more than a stylish suit to convince Congress. Or will it?

Watching this event unfold in the national news, I was reminded of my favorite graduate-level course on rhetorical criticism. The course’s book, Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, was written by an academic communication scholar and rhetorical criticism expert, Dr. Sonja K. Foss. She defines rhetorical criticism as “a process of thinking about symbols, discovering how they work, why they affect us, and choosing to communicate in particular ways as a result of the options they present.” I remember vividly the moment when I understood the process of rhetorical criticism. It was as if a magic force cleansed my eyes so I could see more clearly and completely. When you look at the world and major events as they unfold, through the lens of rhetorical criticism, every piece of the picture – verbal and nonverbal communication, physical objects, and symbols – all take on a whole new meaning.

In her book, Foss emphasizes that rhetoric goes beyond just written and spoken discourse. According to Foss, symbolism is found in all forms of communication, such as “speeches, essays, conversations, poetry, novels, stories, television programs, films, art, architecture, plays, music, dance, advertisements, furniture, public demonstrations, and dress.” And I would add public hearings. In graduate-level rhetorical criticism classes right now, even though it’s nearing the end of the semester, students are sinking their teeth into this juicy news story and extracting meaning from every blink, gesture, vocal nuance, physical stance, room set-up, and yes, attire.

Professional image icon John T. Molloy wrote in his 1975 seminal book, Dress for Success, “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.” In Zuckerberg’s case, we’ll see where his wardrobe engineering leads him.

What professionals can learn from this very public hearing is that when it comes to telling your part of the story, it’s not just what The Suit looks like, it’s the meaning behind The Suit. A bigger question to ask is: What captures the essential, most important element: The truth?

Photo credit: Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash.com