Is Your Authenticity Showing?

Women in music rock on through She Is The Music

Women in music rock on through She Is The Music

There was something refreshingly different about the 61st Grammy Awards this year. Comic sketches and clever routines were replaced by transparency and honesty. It began the moment Alicia Keys, the emcee, stepped onto the stage. Her powerful authentic style set the tone – and vibe – for the entire event.

In her first year hosting the Grammy Awards (the first woman to host), there was a palpable positive energy in the room. It was all Alicia Keys. For anyone who has followed Keys’ career, it is clear that the performer today is a much more natural version of her earlier self. She rarely wears makeup, because quite frankly she doesn’t need it. Beyond that radiant smile and soulful eyes, her real beauty and power comes from her inner being. She is real, honest, and pure light.

I have been a fan of Alicia Keys from the first moment I heard her perform on the Grammy stage in 2002. Within her voice lies purity and purpose, clarity and emotion. She is one of those individuals who, once you hear her, you say, “This woman was born to sing!”

Each time she returned to the Grammy stage, Keys elevated the energy in the room. For me, the most defining moment of the entire Grammy Awards was that moment – and for those of you who watched the show know what I’m about to say – when Keys straddled two Steinway pianos to reveal her pure talent. Some times, she played both pianos simultaneously; other times, she shifted from one piano to the other. She demonstrated perfection as a performing artist.

It got me thinking about us as professionals, particularly, what happens when we enter the room, how people respond to us, and how we invite people into our space. Do you welcome conversation? Do you put people at ease when they meet you for the first time? Do you emanate positivity? Do you put your best foot forward? What tone are you setting? Are you representing your most authentic self?

Watching Alicia Keys in action – from standing shoulder to shoulder with former First Lady Michelle Obama to signing off for the night in a most inclusive, personal way – I was reminded that we professionals can certainly do a better job of putting our best selves out there when we boldly step out onto that platform or that stage, or enter that boardroom. When your confidence shines, you shine, and you command attention. When you draw your audience in, they will demand that you return (and of course, we all want Alicia Keys to return as the Grammy host next year!). That platform, stage, or boardroom becomes yours. You were born to be your most authentic self.

Image: She Is The Music

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?

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.

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.

Is It Any Wonder, Stevie?

StevieWonderIs it any wonder that a blind man can show others how to open their eyes and see the world with compassion, joy and love? Acclaimed songwriter, singer and 22-time Grammy Award winner Stevie Wonder was honored recently for his musical genius spanning more than five decades. His messages of acceptance, understanding and love have taught generations to face inequality, injustice and indignity with unified strength and grace.

His honest interpretation of the world as he saw it encouraged people of color to stand up and let their voices be heard. To the audience of privilege and perfection, he exposed them to the reality of life in the city for the poor, the forgotten and the invisible. His music range, as a solo artist, is unparalleled. He wrote openly of indifference. He wrote of political action and justice. He wrote so eloquently of love, birth and renewal. He wrote songs of hope, light and possibilities.

I remember watching “Little Stevie Wonder” perform Fingertips on the Ed Sullivan Show when I was growing up. His passion for the music, his gyrations to the crisp notes flying from his harmonica made me stop and notice. He was just two years older than me, and already a force to be reckoned with. Nothing stopped him from sharing his musical messages with the masses. He remains one of the most beloved artists – and greatest crossover artists – of all time.

My husband, Mark, and I have shared a love of Stevie Wonder’s music over the decades of our relationship. To this day, Ribbon in the Sky remains my all-time favorite. Mark’s favorite (and he requests it at every event we attend that has a DJ) is Superstition. When we finished watching the CBS-TV broadcast on Monday night, I turned to Mark and said, “We need to play Stevie Wonder’s music more often!” He nodded in agreement.

There are so many lessons we can learn from Stevie Wonder. For me, the greatest lesson he has demonstrated: Lead by example. He is a man who has remained authentic throughout his entire life. He has shared his vision of a peaceful planet with millions of people around the world. He remains an inspiration to us all and a cherished national – and international – treasure. Rock on, Stevie!


Do You Trick or Treat?

TrickOrTreatThat favorite annual holiday – Halloween – is upon us. It got me thinking about how in our everyday lives we are capable of either tricking or treating others. Which do you do?


Do you trick people into thinking you are someone who you are not? Do you deliberately put on airs and misrepresent yourself to others? It’s time to take a long, hard look at yourself, and understand why you do this. Reveal your true authentic self for others to see.

Do you trick yourself into believing that you are not worthy? When you suffer from The Imposter Syndrome, you trick yourself into thinking that you are not as good as you really are and you are afraid that others will find out you’re not as good as they think you are. It’s time for a reality check and focus on feeling good about yourself and feeling worthy.

Do you trick others by compromising quality or taking short cuts? When you give 100% of yourself and do quality work, you demonstrate your integrity and gain credibility in the process.

Do you serve up tricks by being light hearted and funny? See? Not all tricks are bad. There are good tricks as well. When you can laugh at yourself and help others to laugh too, people will appreciate your sense of humor.


Do you treat all people equally, with dignity and respect? This simple act makes a big difference in how others see you. The dignity and respect you show to them will come back to you ten-fold.

Do you treat other people like they are more important than you? When you let others shine and support them in their dreams and aspirations, you are putting their needs before yours. It positions you as someone who cares.

How often do you treat others? I mean really treat them? Whether it’s giving a server a slightly bigger tip, giving a gift to someone just because you felt like it, or picking up the tab every once in a while for no reason, you are letting your benevolence shine.

As you participate in the festivities of Halloween this year, think about the “tricks” or “treats” that you are doling out. How can you treat others like they have value?

Beauty: Still In the Eye of the Beholder

This past weekend, I took my 93-year-old mother, who is an artist, to see artist, poet and former actress Kim Novak at a special public appearance at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio. Ms. Novak’s gentle spirit, both on the screen and off, is beautifully portrayed today through her exquisite artwork and poetry. Her inner light shines brightly. She graciously posed for photographs with admiring fans and stopped to give autographs. She stood the entire time, despite her age…81.


My Mom and Kim Novak

As I read her biography, I was inspired by the number of obstacles that she has overcome in her life and her tenacity to adjust and move forward. Two fires destroyed most of her artwork and a nearly complete book manuscript. A diagnosis several decades ago revealed bipolar disorder. Through it all, she adjusted and rebuilt. As I listened to fans talk about her, I heard one consistent message: “She is just as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.” Hearing those comments reminded me of the recent bullying attacks of Donald Trump, the media and the American public about Novak’s recent appearance on the Oscars. Society’s overzealous obsession with beauty and vanity were revealed through nasty social media posts, mostly about Novak’s face. Kim Novak fought back, sending a strong message to Trump and others: Stop bullying. I applaud her for her strength of character.

If more people looked at a person’s true beauty – what they see on the inside and how that person makes them feel – they would understand that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. When you see things only at face value, you miss so much more.

After shaking Kim Novak’s hand and receiving her autograph, my mother smiled exuberantly and began singing “Heaven…I’m in heaven…” Artist to artist, actress to actress, mature woman to mature woman, these two strangers showed to each other mutual respect and admiration. And what a beautiful thing it was to behold.

How can you see the true beauty in others? The answer: Get to know people for who they are on the inside and take the time to understand their story.

Oscar’s Eloquence

oscarsThe presentation style of this year’s top Academy Award recipients for acting can be summed up in one word: eloquence. There were no awkward moments, no lengthy or boring remarks that were read from notes, no fillers (“Oh my God”…”I don’t know what to say”…”I know there’s someone I’m forgetting”…”They’re telling me to wrap it up”), and thankfully no F bombs. This year’s acceptance speeches were refreshingly meaningful and heartfelt. Here are the high points and their lessons:

Jared Leto (Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The first top winner of the evening, Leto’s eloquent remarks set the tone for the evening and also raised the bar for other recipients to follow. He shared an intimate story about a teenage woman (who he later revealed as his mother) struggling to rear two small children on her own in the early 1970s. Her determination served as a positive role model for him. He used the platform to acknowledge the 36 million victims who have been lost to AIDS (the focal point of the movie). His unselfish closing remark contained a powerful WOW factor: “To those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are or who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you.” The presentation lesson: Have a killer closing.

Lupita Nyong’o (Best Actress in a Supporting Role, 12 Years a Slave): With graceful radiance, this first-time nominee’s remarks complemented her elegant stature. She spoke of how her character, Patsy, a slave, guided her in this powerful role, and that she offered her Oscar to the spirit of Patsy. She also reminded children all over the world that “your dreams are valid.” The presentation lesson: Speak from the heart.

Cate Blanchett (Best Actress in a Leading Role, Blue Jasmine): Ever-gracious, ever-gorgeous in her style, Blanchett began her remarks with humor by telling the audience to “Sit down. You’re too old to stand.” Throughout her remarks, she thanked everyone in a light, humorous style. She used the platform to remind the audience that female-centric movies are more than a niche market; that they are profitable and audiences support them. The presentation lesson: Use humor tastefully; present messages that reflect who you are.

Matthew McConaughey (Best Actor in a Leading Role, Dallas Buyers Club): The framing of his remarks, with three short yet powerful messages, each with a personal story, made McConaughey’s comments real and memorable. Those three are: Someone to look up to, something to look forward to, and someone to chase. He ended his remarks with his signature saying, “Alright, alright, alright!” The presentation lesson: Add the power and punch of personal stories to core messages.

Each of these talented actors spoke from a heartfelt emotional place. Rather than using impersonal scripted notes, they chose to be fully present in the moment and speak with sincere gratitude and purpose. In your next presentation, speak from a place of eloquence and authenticity. Your audience will feel more connected to you and your message.

P.S. – If you want to understand how to hold an audience in the palm of your hand, watch the video of Bono’s performance. You could hear a pin drop when Bono and U2 performed an acoustic, stripped down version of Ordinary Love, nominated for Best Original Song from the movie, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. As Bono moved closer to the audience, kneeling before them, inviting them in, and hitting those high notes, it was…sheer perfection.

How Do People Introduce You?

WordBalloonsWhen was the last time you listened – really listened – to the way people introduce you to others? If you haven’t, then it’s time for you to pay attention. When you see yourself through other people’s eyes, you just may discover something new.

What words to people use to describe you? How do they differentiate you from other persons? Part of my signature style is my favorite perfume, Tea Rose, a light floral fragrance that smells like – you guessed it – fresh roses. Imagine my surprise when one of my colleagues introduced me to a friend of hers by saying, “Christine always smells like flowers.” In truth, if I had to smell like something, a flower is it.

Listen for the word always. People will usually say something like, “Carol is always entertaining us with her hilarious stories” or “Bob is always the life of the party” or “John is always traveling to such interesting places” or “Pat is always reading such interesting books.” There are things about you that even you may not see or hear. Listen to the words that people use to describe you and rediscover your unique personal style.