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?

What the Obamas Taught Me About Leadership

Credit: The White House

Credit: The White House

There are many lessons that President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have taught me during the past eight years. The greatest lesson is that of leadership. Since President and Mrs. Obama will be returning to private life soon, I want to share the impact that their leadership as President and First Lady has had on me and on millions of Americans, young and old alike.

Charting New Territory. As the first African-American President and First Lady, the Obamas handled the challenge with style and grace. They set the tone on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, by walking the limousine route, embracing the American people every step of the way. Leaders are risk takers and confident, even when they are entering uncharted territory. 

Fresh Perspective. While it is customary for presidential couples to bring children and/or pets with them to The White House, for the first time, a mother-in-law joined The First Family. This act represented the importance of family to the Obamas. Inclusive leaders bring along others with them.

Positive Role Models. On national and global platforms, the President and First Lady represented our country with diplomacy and respect, whether a happy or sad occasion, or a tense moment. Effective leaders walk the talk and hold their behavior to the highest standard.

A Sense of Humor. Whether the President sipped a beer in the Rose Garden or the First Lady danced with Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, the Obamas proved that they have a sense of humor, and that they are real people. Authentic leaders capture my attention and hold my heart.

Credit: The White House

Credit: The White House

Passion. Both the President and Mrs. Obama share a passion for America. More importantly, they opened up dialogue and initiated change, addressing tough issues like race, education, poverty, healthcare, nutrition, and American values, to name a few. Passionate leaders inspire, motivate, and empower others to initiate change.

Persistence and Grace. Throughout two presidential terms, the President and First Lady were met with obstacles and challenges. Sometimes it came from House or Senate leadership. Sometimes it came from political pundits. Sometimes it came from citizens. Through it all, the Obamas took the high road. They never buckled under pressure and remained calm and level-headed. They handled adversity with perseverance and grace. Leaders never give up, even when they know it might be a tough road ahead.

Partnership. Seeing them in the public eye for the past eight years, it is clear that the Obamas have more than a good marriage going for them…their commitment to a lifelong partnership, anchored in common values of trust, respect, and equality, is evident. You can see it and feel it when they are together or when they speak of each other. Exceptional leaders treat you like a valued partner, regardless of your position or status.

Eloquence. Both the President and the First Lady are eloquent speakers. Their words are spoken from the heart, and thoughtfully executed. President Obama’s speech on race and his farewell speech on democracy were two of his finest. You could hear a pin drop during First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2016 Democratic National Convention speech. Leaders who share a powerful message command attention.

Intelligence. Intelligence is more than just a high IQ. It’s being sensitive to the needs of others around you. The Obamas showed us intelligence and thoughtfulness through every new program or initiative that was introduced. Intelligent leaders are critical thinkers and encourage others to carefully think things through.

Class act. Singularly and collectively, the Obamas are a class act. They embody the very essence of professionalism in every aspect of their life. With the Obamas, though, it is no act. Genuine goodness and decency resides at the core of who they are. Leaders with class are admired for their fairness and decorum.

Thank you, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, for your exceptional public service. Your legacy of hope, collaboration, and leadership lives on. You will continue to inspire and motivate me and millions of Americans to initiate positive change in our lives, our communities, our country, and the world.

Celebrating the Gentleman, John Glenn

johnglennlifemagcoverThe word “gentleman” evokes a bygone era, yet, treasured American hero John Glenn reminded us through his actions exactly what the word meant. He was a gentleman and a gentle man.

As a native Ohioan, I was saddened to hear the news of John Glenn’s passing. He has been part of my collective memory since I was a child. He was – and always will be – one of Ohio’s greatest leaders, a dedicated public servant, and positive role model.

In his 95 years, he excelled in several careers: World War II and Korean War Marine pilot and decorated war hero, astronaut and space pioneer, NASA advisor, businessman, and U.S. Senator.

In 1962, he became the first American to orbit the earth. Thirty-six years later, in 1998, he returned to space aboard the space shuttle Discovery at the “youthful” age of 77 and became the oldest man to travel in space, another first. After retiring from the Senate the following year, he and his wife, Annie, founded the John Glenn School for Public Service at The Ohio State University. Glenn inspired us with a can-do attitude, built on traditional values of hard work, discipline, trust, honesty, and family.

“We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves.” John Glenn

And so it was with John Glenn’s life and career. He became a pathfinder and risk taker who explored the ultimate unknown frontier, space. The lessons he learned from space exploration served him well in his long career as a public servant.

There are certain qualities that come with the moniker of gentleman: Mannered. Polite. Diplomatic. Honorable. Courteous. The world could use a few more gentlemen (and gentlewomen too!) who possess the right stuff.

Glenn’s death came during this holiday season, a time of year when we are closing out one year (a time for reflection) and beginning a new year (a time for planning). Take a moment to remember those individuals, like John Glenn, who were gentlemen and gentle men, who inspire and motivate us to reach for the stars and see what is possible.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

How Outstanding Are You?

runner-728219_960_720Some of the inspiration for my writing comes from my 95-year-old mother, Irene. She recently shared an anecdote with me that provided me with yet another topic.

At her age, as you can imagine, she has a full schedule of appointments with physicians and specialists who monitor her health. One is her podiatrist. She began describing to me one of his greatest natural traits, a full head of healthy, thick, pure white hair. She said to me, “His hair is outstanding!

She went on to describe a recent appointment with him. As she looked at him, she realized that something was different. More important, something was missing. He had dyed his hair brown! “He looked so ordinary,” she said. “That special trait of his was gone. He just looked like every other man. He wasn’t outstanding anymore!” My mom didn’t mince words. She told her doctor exactly how she felt about his new hair color. She didn’t like it. She preferred his beautiful natural color instead. Her podiatrist quickly replied that his wife shared my mom’s thoughts. Of course, my mom will have to wait until her next appointment to see if her podiatrist heeded her advice.

It was the way that my mom said the word outstanding, with such strong emphasis and conviction, that got me thinking about how we may downplay, hide, or even undervalue our own outstanding attributes.

What is it about you that is outstanding? Is it a specific physical characteristic? Is it your personality? Your talents or skills? Your energy? What gives you great pride in saying, “I am outstanding in…”?

Are you hiding some of your greatest attributes? Changing them so people won’t notice?

Here are two quick things you can do:

Internal assessment: Take time to assess your greatest qualities. What words fill in that last blank…”I am outstanding in…”? Once you have completed the assessment, then ask, “How do I show these greatest strengths and qualities to other people?”

External assessment: What qualities of yours do people most often compliment? Pay attention to the words people use to describe you to other people. You may be missing something important. If you are comfortable with it, ask a close friend or confidante what is outstanding about you. That person may be able to open your eyes to positive attributes that you are unable to see.

Often, one outstanding characteristic or trait can draw others in to you. No one else has what you have! Celebrate whatever it is about you that is outstanding because it is unique to you.


Finding Common Ground: The Ali-Cosell Story

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Howard Cosell and Muhammad Ali

There are many lessons that we can learn from boxing legend Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). Yet the one that stands out most in my mind is the special relationship and bond that he shared with sports commentator Howard Cosell.

The two men couldn’t have been any different, yet, they found common ground in sports, a place where they could meet and simply be their best. They were both performers, top in their fields, and eloquent orators. They first met in 1962 and remained colleagues and friends for more than three decades.

Cosell was a brash, highly intelligent sports journalist from Brooklyn. He had a distinctive reporting style and vocal quality, with a heavily nasal delivery, and careful enunciation of every word, stretching them out towards infinity. He asked tough questions and made bold statements. Ali took them all in stride and was an equal match – and partner – for Cosell. When the two got together, it was magical.

Ali carried the title “The Greatest Fighter of All Time” with grace, style and of course showmanship. He threw barbs as strategically as he did jabs and punches. He used words to taunt his opponents, fire up the media and set the stage for a memorable fight. To watch him in the ring at the height of his career was like nothing else we had ever seen. Fast hands, fast feet and fast language. It was a killer combination.

The Ali-Cosell relationship was based on mutual respect. They may not have agreed with each other on everything inside and outside the ring, yet, they were able to come together around the love of the sport and give us a spectacular show. It was evident the two men cared deeply about and respected each other.

As professionals, we can learn a lot from Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell’s relationship. When you are working with someone whose background, core values, age, ethnicity or personality differs from yours, assume a champion stance. Treat that person with respect and as an equal, and you just may develop a relationship that will stand the test of time.

Prince: The Consummate Professional

Prince at the Metropolis, 2011,

The world is still reeling from the shocking news of the death of music icon Prince. Friends, family and fans continue to honor and pay tribute to his accomplished life.

In the summer of 1984, my husband and I saw the movie Purple Rain, starring Prince as the lead character, and showcasing his music. The moment his image and sound hit the screen, I was hooked. I became a bona fide fan of his music and unique style.

We testify when a legend like Prince passes this earth. Here’s what Prince taught me about professionalism:

Authenticity. Prince was a one-of-a-kind performer and human being. Despite his small stature, his on-stage persona loomed larger than life. He combined a unique look – with a touch of flamboyance and androgyny – and sound – crossing over genres of pop, rock and roll, funk, R&B and new wave – to create a memorable presence and brand. He was an original. Professionals who know who they are and who don’t imitate others are those who capture our attention, admiration, and loyalty.

Best self. In his journey of self-expression, the Grammy-winning artist took many risks. He was unpredictable, pushing the limits. Whether it was a new release or a live performance, he held himself to high standards. Billboard Magazine claimed Prince’s performance at the 2007 Superbowl as the greatest Superbowl performance ever. Does your “best self” show up every day?

Inclusive. Prince’s band composition reflected inclusion, crossing racial, gender and sexual preference boundaries. He often highlighted the talents of female band members. This happened at a time when America needed unification. How often do you support, mentor or coach others, or even include others, and showcase their talents?

Give unconditionally. Prince gave his music to other artists to perform. In 2007, he shocked music moguls when he shared his album, Planet Earth, first with the United Kingdom public for free. How much do you give of yourself, unconditionally, expecting little or nothing in return?

Invention/reinvention. One of the music industry’s most prolific writers, Prince pushed the boundaries throughout his career, producing about 40 albums, and selling more than 100 million records. Fans remember the years 1993-2000 when he proclaimed himself to be “the artist formerly known as Prince,” using a symbol rather than his name. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we too can be more creative, that we can reinvent ourselves.

Generosity. While he didn’t discuss it publicly, Prince was known for his kindness and generosity, supporting issues he deeply cared about, like the environment, peace, human rights, and equality. As professionals, we have the opportunity to pay it forward and share the wealth in our communities and around the world. How generous are you?

Inspirational. As professionals, we sometimes have to look outside ourselves for inspiration or motivation to become the people we want to be. Prince inspired us to break out of our complacency and try something new or different, whether in our professional or personal lives. How are your actions inspiring others?

Many tributes have been written, spoken, created, or posted. Here are two of my favorites:

CBS Sunday Morning commentator Bill Flanagan delivered an eloquent salute, Prince: An Appreciation, referring to the artist as a “one-man Rainbow Coalition.”

Canadian DJ Skratch Bastid (Paul Murphy) spins a short tribute to Prince.

Prince’s music will live on in our hearts. He will remain forever young. He will remind us every day to push our own boundaries as professionals.

Are You Giving It Your All?

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Aretha Franklin at the 2015 Kennedy Center Honors

When was the last time you asked yourself if you were giving your all to your job or your personal life? It’s easy to skim along life’s surface without going deep. What would it take for you to go above and beyond the norm? To feel the satisfaction of knowing that you have done your absolute best?

One of my favorite annual traditions watching the Kennedy Center Honors, a program that salutes a select group of talented individuals in the arts who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and who inspire us to achieve great things. The last week of 2015, the Kennedy Center honored filmmaker George Lucas, actress Cicely Tyson, conductor Seiji Ozawa, actress/singer/dancer Rita Moreno, and singer-songwriter Carole King. One of the stars to pay tribute to Carole King was none other than the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. She brought down the house as she gave it her all. Here’s what every professional can learn from Aretha’s amazing performance:

Own your professional presence. Dressed in a stunning gown and full-length mink coat, Aretha commanded attention as she stepped onto the stage. With confidence and ease, she sat down at a Baby Grand piano, and the applause and gasps got even louder. (I had never seen Aretha seated at a piano; in fact, I didn’t even know she played the piano). She began playing – and singing – (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, co-written by Carole King and Jerry Goffin, one of the most soulful, intimate songs to reach the Top Ten charts ever.

Put everything you have into it. A woman half her age could not put the same spin on A Natural Woman like Aretha because she was singing her lived experience into the song. There is a reason she’s still called the Queen of Soul; no one else owns the title.

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A bold move: Dropping the mink coat

Do something bold and memorable. Aretha had the audience in the palm of her hand. Three minutes and 45 minutes into the video clip, she did something surprising that brought the audience to its feet: She stood center stage and dropped the mink coat on the floor, with complete abandon, showing her raw talent and vulnerability as a performer.

Connect to the emotion. No matter what line of work you are in, when you connect to people’s emotions, your message becomes much clearer and stronger. Everyone felt the emotion of the song. Carole King’s reactions were priceless.

When you’ve still got it, flaunt it. Every word Aretha sang, every movement she made was wrapped in graceful elegance. When you are a professional who performs your best, people respond well to you, no matter what your age.

When you stand front and center, with an audience of ten or 2,000, how do you present yourself to others? Take a few pointers from Aretha and give it your all.


Bowie Reminds Us to Reinvent Ourselves

Rock icon David Bowie promotes his Blackstar album

“I heard the news today, oh boy…”

While the world is still reeling from the shocking news of rock and roll legend David Bowie’s passing on Sunday, January 10, his music, his spirit, and his legacy lives on. Examining his 40+ years as a musician, entertainer and trendsetter, his message becomes clear: Reinvent and transform yourself; go beyond what you may think is impossible; be proud of who you are. David Bowie lived it all.

After we dried our tears, my husband Mark and I played “The Best of Bowie” album and danced to Fame and Golden Years in our living room. When Heroes came on, we cranked up the stereo and took a seat to listen to the lyrics. Halfway through the song, the stereo went silent. The amp blew out! We got the message, David.

David-Bowie-737x800David Bowie was a modern day Magellan, exploring the unknown – the Universe, social justice, human relationships. He gave a voice to those who society shunned. We never knew what was coming next. He surprised, delighted and shocked us. As a young British performer in the 1960s, he kicked around London clubs, then morphed into the wildly flamboyant Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s, then transformed into the Thin White Duke. Every step of the way, we craved more.

Mark and I enjoyed every minute of Bowie’s January 7, 2004 concert in Cleveland, Ohio. Donning a crisp white shirt, with collar up of course, tight black pants and spiky golden hair, Bowie walked onto the stage and opened with Rebel, Rebel. The crowd went crazy. His electrifying performance – all 26 songs – was unimaginable for a man who at that time was in his late 50s. He brought the excitement and passion of a younger Bowie to the stage that night. He brought that high energy to every performance.

The internet is buzzing with comments, blog posts and tributes to Bowie. Here are two of my favorites:

Simon Critchley’s eloquent post in The Opinionated. 

Conan O’Brien’s tribute.

No one lived his life more fully than David Bowie. The lyrics of Changes remind us to live every moment in grace and to challenge the norm and even complacency. “Time may change me, but I can’t change time.” Let that be a lesson to us all. How can you live your life with greater purpose and fulfillment? What transformation is waiting for you?


How to Build Your Fan Base, Adele Style

Singer/songwriter and Grammy Award winner Adele returned to the stage at New York City’s Radio City Music Hall to perform in front of a live audience after nearly a three-year hiatus. (The pre-recorded event aired on NBC on December 14). The moment the curtain rose, adoring fans cheered her return. Decked out from head to toe in a sparkly full-length gown and crowned with a stunning retro up do, Adele didn’t disappoint. She started her first song, Hello, slowly, softly, then rising to her signature high notes with abandon.

When she finished the first song, something refreshing happened: She made a goofy face, one that fully described what she was feeling emotionally (“Thank God I made it through that first song!”). It was genuine and spontaneous. The audience loved her honesty.

It got me thinking. Could you stand in front of your peers if you had been out of the picture for almost three years? Pick up right where you left off? Never miss a beat? She was nervous, to be sure, as she performed in front of 6,000 fans in person and millions of television viewers. She pushed through each perfectly performed song.

You may not think often enough about who is on your side, your advocates and supporters, allies and angels…people who love you, adore you, want to see you succeed, stand on the sidelines and cheer for you when you need it the most. Your fan base is right there, today, in front of you, all around you. Take a moment to see who those people are and be grateful.

Watching and listening to Adele’s performance drove home an important message for all professionals: You can build your fan base too. Here are some lessons I learned from Adele:

Be authentic. Adele is real. When she sings, you can feel her emotional connection to the song. She doesn’t just sing the lyrics; she feels her lived experiences.

Create a compelling style. Adele doesn’t make excuses for her style. She embraces it. She loves who she is. Retro style suits her to a tee.

Be honest. Adele told the audience how nervous she was, how her life has changed since she recorded specific songs filled with longing and pain. She kicked off her shoes when her feet hurt. The NBC network even had to bleep her a few times. The audience appreciated her openness.

Deliver. Clearly, Adele delivers her best to the audience. She doesn’t just show up, sing a few songs and go home. She puts her entire being into her work. Fans can tell the difference.

Grow! Fans have watched Adele grow as an artist and mature into adulthood right before their eyes. She came into the music scene in her late teens; she is now 27. She reminds you that true success requires growth and positive change along the way.

Appreciate your fans. “Thank you,” “I love you” were repeated throughout her performance with humility and appreciation. How often do you let your advocates, supporters, allies and angels know how much you appreciate, value and respect them? How do you treat them? How will you stay connected to your fan base?

Whether you like Adele’s music or not, you must admire her genuine love for her fans. She consistently delivers high energy performances and quality albums to her fan base. You can learn a lot by watching her in action.

Note: Adele broke all U.S. album sales records the first week of the release of her latest album “25″ in November, according to Billboard Magazine.

Lessons Learned From the Master, B.B. King


B.B. King Photo Gallery, Academy of Achievement

The thrill is gone. America lost one of its greatest musical icons, B.B. King, on May 14. The loss of a legend provides the opportunity to gain some valuable life lessons. Here are a few that I have learned from B.B. King:

Be self motivated. B.B. King first learned the basics of guitar playing from his church minister, then taught himself the rest, mostly through mail order books. How motivated are you?

Be kind to others. Kindness is a general theme gleaned from interviews with the people who knew B.B. King best. It is true…a little kindness goes a long way. He was kind to others as he made his journey to the top. When he reached the top, he was kind to those who were just beginning their journey in the music world. It resulted in solid relationships and others wanting to do good for him.

Put your heart and soul into it. B.B. King was born to sing the blues and he remained committed to his craft into his late 80s. He unleashed raw passion and deep emotion for the music and the lyrics. Are you putting your heart and soul into what you do?

Measure the advice of others. B.B. King often told the story of advice his cousin, Bukka White, gave him when he decided to pursue a career in music. He said, “If you’re going to be a blues singer, a blues musician, always dress like you’re going to the bank to try to borrow money.” Sound advice for everyone launching their careers and managing impressions.

Create a unique sound. Tim Weiner, music critic of The New York Times said of King’s music: “Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.” All too often, we try so desperately to be like someone else and in the process we lose sight of reaching our own full potential. What do you have to offer that is unique only to you?

Give back and pay it forward. Coming from a small southern town, B.B. King decided early on in his career to support the people from his adopted home town of Indianola, Mississippi. Over the years, he has helped to support the town’s efforts through an annual summer music festival, community programs and economic development with the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center front and center. Thanks to B.B. King’s talent and generosity, Indianola is a thriving town today.

As we admire the life of this remarkable music legend, consider your own legacy. What work do you still want to do? What do you yet want to accomplish? Who can you inspire and motivate? Who can you extend a hand to and pull up along the way?  Rock on!