Archives for April 2010

Leadership Branding 101

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Branding from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

Three Simple Words

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It only takes three words to either lift or sour our mood. Our moods can be lifted when we hear the words “I love you”, “that’s great work”, “you are right”. Our moods can be soured when we hear: “you are wrong”, “you’re not capable”, or “you’re being audited”.

“You’re being audited” is included because of a recent conversation I had with my CPA regarding our 2009 tax return. Because I DO NOT EVER want to hear the words “you’re being audited”, I find myself powerfully influenced by the brand and reputation of the IRS.

Some people love the IRS when they get a refund and in turn feel uplifted. Some people hate them when they owe them money and feel soured by the mere mention of their name. That’s the power of a brand in action – it either uplifts or sours your mood. The words you use to describe the IRS, or any other company for that matter, represent what you believe about them and shapes your behaviors and interactions with them.

Managers and leaders have brands and reputations also – reputations that can lift or sour the mood of those they work with. A leadership brand that lifts others is more likely to inspire behaviors that result in higher performance. The question is what is your leadership brand?

Here’s a simple three step process for understanding your leadership brand:

Know Your Default Brand: Understand the leadership brand you’ve created for yourself by asking your co-workers, customers, vendors, or friend’s to share four words they think best describe you or your leadership. This is the leadership brand you’ve created by default or unintentionally.

Clarify Your Desired Brand: Ask yourself what four words you want people to use when describing you over the course of the next twelve to twenty-four months. This list should be in alignment with your strategic goals as well as your personal values. Once you’ve written your list, ask if the words you’ve created are simply the price of admission for being in your role, or are they words that are distinctive and remarkable? Do the words you’ve chosen separate you from other managers and leaders in a distinctive way? Will the words you’ve chosen prompt people to remark favorably about you? If they’re not remarkable and distinctive I suggest you start over.

Brainstorm Your Designed Brand: Look at your two lists and determine if there is a gap and whether the gap is important to you. When there is a small gap, I’ve found that oftentimes the words chosen for the desired brand are all safe words that don’t inspire or uplift the leader. If your desired brand doesn’t make your heart skip a beat with positive anticipation start over. When the gap is larger than you’d like and or your heart skips a beat looking at your words, spend ten minutes asking yourself what behaviors you need to exhibit in order to be seen as your desired brand.

Viewing your brand in this way takes courage, tenacity and a fair dose of humility – words that might be viewed admirably by others. When it comes to your leadership brand and reputation I have a final group of three word combinations for you.

Are you interested? Do you care? Does it matter?

Talk to me!

I’m Impressed

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I meet executives everyday that are frustrated and disenchanted with their work. They’d love to do something different, but with two kids in college and two new cars in the driveway they feel stuck.

But not everyone stays stuck.

I have a friend who has just changed careers. After thirty years in an industry where he was successful, respected, and admired by his peers, he’s left the known, predictable and safe behind and decided to follow his passion.

Whenever we talk, I’m always impressed with his ability to do the following:

1. Be courageous. He had the courage to pursue what work can be – something that makes him feel alive and fully engaged.

2. Commit to learning. At fifty-three he willingly became a freshman student of his new vocation. While his learning curve is huge, he’s actively and enthusiastically soaking up everything he can to accelerate his professional growth.

3. Not settle. He looked for and found a talented leader and mentor – he waited for the right opportunity even with an internal pressure to hit the ground running.

4. Kept it positive. He never said “I can’t do that because of ABC”. He instead said, “I can do this because I’ve done XYZ”.

5. Manage life’s complexities. In the midst of the joy and enthusiasm he felt about his new career, he lost his stepson who was a Marine in Afghanistan. He graciously held in one hand the sorrow of his son’s death while in the other the joy of the new life being given birth to professionally.

Where are you? Are you fully engaged in your work? Does your work make your bunny jump? If not, which of the five attributes above do you need to cultivate to move closer to having your work become more life fulfilling?

Twisted Thinking Part 2

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Clients call me for one of three reasons. They either want to reduce or eliminate the interpersonal differences that create silos, they want to develop higher performing teams and leaders, or they want to create a culture of growth, innovation, and continuous learning. My first response to this call is: “if you really, really want this, you’ll have to change the way you think. Are you willing to pay attention to what you think you know about this issue and rethink how you view and interpret information? If not, I can’t help you.

Most people say yes, but find it very difficult to change thirty years of predictable thinking – especially when it’s served them well professionally.

Ask any executive “what’s working and not working on your team, in your division, in your corporation as a whole” and you’ll see the patterns of thought preferred by the executive. In my twenty five years of interviewing executives, seventy-five percent of the time spent answering these questions is devoted to what’s “not working”. This disproportionate focus on what’s wrong, broken and not working without considering what’s working leaves leaders and their teams disenchanted, disengaged, and depressing to spend time with.

I understand why executives do this though. They get paid to solve problems, fix what’s broken and to address challenges. They sincerely want to make a positive difference in their organizations and see their role as being a catalyst for change. They have conditioned themselves to see what’s not working and to make it work. But at what cost?

I met a successful senior executive who for thirty minutes recounted how badly their last annual review had gone. They could recount in detail the areas they needed to work on and what was holding them back. They were angry, disillusioned and frustrated with their boss, their company and their prospects for the future.

When asked what went well there was a long pregnant pause; they were stuck and couldn’t remember specifics. After asking more clarifying questions, I concluded that eighty percent of what was in the review was actually positive and that the remaining twenty percent, while worthy of their focus and of improvement, was clouding the entire review.

This executive’s choice was to focus on what wasn’t working. The frustration and growing anger they were experiencing had less to do with the actual review and more to do with the unrealistic way they were thinking about their performance. Without a new way of thinking about their performance and the review process in particular they were destined to repeat the same old pattern of seeing themselves and their coworkers in a negative light.

Twisted thinking permeates our personal and professional lives. Whenever we have high hopes and place a very high level of importance on success and achievement, there is a tendency to filter out the positive and myopically focus on the task associated with achieving our goal and lose sight of the overall goal.

Don’t get me wrong. Producing extraordinary results is admirable and, in today’s economic climate a necessity. Going above and beyond the ordinary is now the price of admission in the world of work. But it can also lead to distorted and twisted thinking.

No matter what level of success you’ve experienced, personally and or professionally, learning how you’ve programmed your brain to work is essential for jumping to the next level of success. Understanding how you view information, what automatic interpretations you use, and how these interpretations; rooted in thought patterns that have gone unchecked for years if not decades, is the first step in creating a dramatic improvement in your leadership and team performance.

When you get upset and find yourself getting “hooked”, try this three-step process to begin untwisting your thinking. I’ll use my client who was upset about their annual review as an example.

1. Describe the upsetting event – I received my review today and feel as though I’m a failure in my job

2. Record any negative feelings you have (and how strongly you feel the emotion from 0% – 100%) – I’m angry (90%), frustrated (85%), confused (100%), and anxious (95%)

3. List your automatic thoughts, distortions, and a rational response. (Automatic thoughts have an estimate of your belief of the thought 0-100%) – If I continue receiving reviews like this I’ll get fired and it’ll all be my fault (100%)

Distortions – (from twisted thinking blog post) All or nothing, overgeneralization, discounting the positive and fortune telling

Rational Response – I made a mistake on the XYZ project. I got in over my head for a while and it cost us $50,000 on a million dollar project – I won’t make that mistake again. My boss did say that he didn’t foresee the unplanned expense either. While I’m upset about this, my overall rating was acceptable all things considered. And besides, it’s not the end of my career – I’ve received three very good reviews in a row and I’ve been approached by two headhunters in the last month.

Once you’ve completed the three steps above go back and rerate your belief in each automatic thought. Give it a believability rating from 0-100% and ask yourself if you feel: not at all better, somewhat better, quite a bit better, or a lot better. If you’re still hooked by the event ask yourself if you’ve done the following:

1. Have I correctly identified the upsetting event?
2. Do I want to change my feelings about this situation?
3. Have I identified my automatic thoughts properly?
4. Are my rational responses convincing and valid statements that fully dispel my belief in my automatic thoughts?

Changing how we think is easy to understand intellectually and is something most people nod and say yes, I’m willing to do that. Until of course, we’re confronted with a merger, acquisition, reorganization or major change initiative – that’s when having a framework to interrogate our thoughts and develop alternative views becomes essential. This process can be immensely helpful if you use it continuously and learn to pay attention to what you pay attention to.

You did say you were willing to rethink how you view and interpret information? Didn’t you?