Be Distinct or Be Extinct

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My old boss, Tom Peters, had a great quip about leadership and branding. He said, be distinct or be extinct. He makes a great point. If there is nothing distinctive about what you do, about the results you achieve and how you help your organization perform, then at some point you will be extinct. As Tom used to say, “you’re toast.”

There is a very strong and compelling case to be made about why brands are among the most strategic assets of an organization. Brands and reputations have tangible, financial value. Leaders have a brand also and they must be cultivated purposefully. Why? Because what a leader stands for and the value they create is central to their leadership effectiveness.

What is your leadership brand?

To answer this question I ask my clients the following: what are you known for? Do you have a distinctive brand or reputation? If in the face of business models becoming obsolete, do you have the distinction to survive the corporate chopping block? Or, even better, do you have what it takes to quickly land an even better opportunity if your current work were to be eliminated? If not, developing a personal brand is a high stakes proposition for you.

Leaders who achieve above average performance have defined what I call their default, desired and designed brands. They have learned how to think in personal branding terms, and have specifically answered the following five essential questions.

1. What do people think I stand for?

2. What do I want to be known for?

3. What value am I creating for my organization?

4. Do the people who matter most to me see me in the way I want to be seen?

5. What’s the best way for me to communicate my brand to my key constituents?

Monday Morning Minute Challenge:

Take 15 minutes to answer the above questions with a targeted emphasis on what you want to be known for. Once you have the traits and characteristics listed ask yourself this hard question: are the traits and characteristics I listed distinctive or simply the price of entry for being in my job? If for example you listed reliable and dependable. These traits are the price of entry in the world of work.

If you are really interested in whether your descriptors are distinctive, share them with someone you respect and ask them for their perspective. If you can, share them with your boss and see what they say.

If you do this weeks challenge you will take a giant step forward to becoming more effective.

The Vacuum of People Skills and How To Fill It

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Have you ever met, talked with or interacted with someone who really, really frustrated you? We all have. When you consider all of the factors that frustrate you about working with others you will undoubtedly find that it is their behavior and the corresponding way they make you feel that is the issue.

When someone’s behavior is different from yours; they like to do things quickly when you like to do things methodically, you don’t describe the other person as different you label them as difficult. And therein lies the problem for getting work done. The vast majority of performance barriers are more personality based than they are technically based.

If you want to be a valuable business partner to the people who matter most to you, you have to learn to focus on the impact your behavior has on people and not your intent with people. Impact is what determines the level of trust and respect in professional and personal relationships. While technology has advanced at an unprecedented rate, for leaders however the advances on the people side of work has faltered like an unreliable wireless network.

Hugh’s Three Impact Questions:

1. What is the impact I want to have with the people who matter most to me?

2. What is the impact I am having with the people who matter most to me?

3. Who is the best person to help me answer number two?

The best answer to number three is an outside advisor or coach. In the absence of this type of relationship you may have a colleague or coworker who has both direct experience of you working with customers and who has the courage to tell you the unvarnished truth.

If you have neither, feel free to ask me about my Leadership Brand Audit. I help leaders or teams see their Default Brand, their Desired Brand and their Designed Brand all within thirty days.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesday

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We all run into times when we don’t do our best work. It will happen to the best of us, but what differentiates extraordinary performers from under-performers is how we respond to not performing at our best. Here are the six best strategies for recovering from a lackluster performance.

1. Take a deep breath. Most people when they experience a negative situation breath in a shallow and highly irregular manner, and in extreme situations hold their breath. Inhaling for seven seconds, holding it for three seconds and exhaling for seven seconds is deep breathing. A breath like this is a mind altering experience that helps you to become more centered, attentive to your circumstances and allows you to go to strategy number two.

2. Focus on your personal purpose. A personal purpose is the “what” and “why” behind what you do for work. For example, my corporate purpose is “to convert human potential into accelerated performance”. Whenever I run into a period where I need reorienting I always start by focusing on my purpose.

3. Take baby steps. Your purpose is the big picture of the life you want to live. After reorienting yourself to what is truly important to you, your best next step is to take a baby step closer to your purpose. Doing so focuses you on progressing forward and not on seeking the perfection you believe you should have achieved. Perfection all too often becomes a form of procrastination after times of setback.

4. Eliminate distractions. Eliminating any unnecessary distractions; distractions from email, cellphone, to-do list reminders or notifications from Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or your dog that wants to go for a walk is essential. Why? First, being distracted may have caused you to underperform in the first place, and secondly, learning from the past and growing into a more desirable future cannot be done if you are continually being distracted.

5. Master your mindset. You cannot have two dominant thoughts at the same time, so what you pay attention to during times of a setback is crucial to master. For example, is your self-talk rooted in recrimination, failing and being stupid for having not performed at your peak? Or, is it about learning, personal and professional growth and getting better every week? The latter accelerates your growth and performance while the former diminishes it.

6. Review your performance with a coach or mentor. Everyone needs an objective perspective as to how we’ve performed from someone we trust and respect. Being able to debrief with someone who has “been there and done that” provides tremendous value, insights and immediate options for what to implement next.

These six strategies will help you accelerate your growth and learning after a less than ideal performance. Which one can you benefit from the most?

If you’d like to discuss how I can be your coach or mentor drop me an email at or call me at 206.829.9413.

Seven Steps To A Compelling Leadership Brand

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One of the most beneficial activities I have my leadership coaching clients participate in is my Brand Audit. Specifically, they answer three leadership branding questions:

1. What is their default brand?
2. What is their desired brand?
3. What is their designed brand?

My brand audit involves the following seven steps.

Step 1. Define your Default Brand. The starting point for building your leadership brand involves writing four words or phrases that you believe best describe your leadership. Don’t overthink this; simply capture what you see is the essence of your leadership. This is your default brand from your perspective.

Step 2. Create a list of eight to ten people you trust and respect. They can be colleagues, managers, coworkers, direct reports, former employees, and or friends. Your list should be a list of people whose opinion you value.

Step 3. Ask for their insight. Call and or speak in person with those on your list and let them know you are involved in a leadership activity that requires candid feedback. As someone you respect, his or her assistance in seeing your leadership from an outsider’s perspective is essential. Specifically, ask them to provide you with four words or phrases they believe best describe your leadership. It can be a one word descriptor such innovative or inspiring. It can also include phrases such as “can do attitude.”

This step will capture thirty-two to forty words that represent what others see as your leadership brand. Review the words you received and compile a list of themes or patterns. Similar words or synonyms should be distilled into a one-word descriptor that best represents what you believe is the tone and or feel of the words.

Step 4: Clarify your brand from others perspective. The overarching objective of step four is to clarify your leadership brand / reputation from others perspective and to distill the feedback you received into the fewest words possible. To do so, whittle your list down to a list of four or five words that best represent your leadership from others perspective. After completing step one through four you will have your Default Brand from your perspective as well as the perspective of others.

Step 5. Look for gaps. Determine if there is a gap between the personal descriptors you generated and the list generated by your observers. Ask yourself the following questions:

a. Am I being seen in ways consistent with my goals and aspirations?
b. Is my list of descriptors (both my own and from my observers) distinctive or simply the price of entry for being in my role?
c. What is the upside and downside to my leadership brand / reputation?
d. Am I excited about the words used to describe me, or am I neutral?

Step 6. Define your Desired Brand. YOur Desired Brand is exactly that. The brand you want to be known for and that will enhance your influence and reputation. You determine your Desired Brand by asking yourself the following questions:
1. What is it that I want to be known for?
2. What traits, characteristics and or values are essential and or non-negotiable to me?

This step is less about logic and what’s probable; it is rooted in articulating your highest hopes and aspirations for you and your leadership.

Step 7. Define your Designed Brand. After determining your Desired Brand, ask how you can behaviorally live your Desired Brand. What behaviors will you exhibit in order to be seen as your Desired Brand? Again, ask yourself if the behaviors you’ve identified are distinctive or simply necessary for being in your role?

These seven steps take courage to undertake. It especially takes courage to see ourselves as others see us, to isolate the gaps and to venture into a new way of leading that is more effective and rewarding.

If you have any questions, or would like help working through these seven steps on a guided basis, drop me an email at or call me at 206.829.9413.

Hugh’s Words of Wisdom Wednesday

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ALERT: You only have ONE chance to make a good first impression with new customers.

Gone are the days where customers will give you a second or third try. We live in an culture where doing things accurately, quickly and with a deep regard for the customer experience is expected.

My wife and I went to dinner at one of Seattle’s finer steak restaurants. We ordered a very nice bottle of wine and ordered dinner which included steaks cooked medium rare. When our steaks arrived Alyson’s wasn’t cooked as requested. When we mentioned this to our waiter he told Alyson in a dismissive and definitive tone “that’s how you ordered it.” Alyson reminded the waiter that we ordered our steaks together and that mine was cooked just right. The reply? “That is the way you ordered your steak. Now if you want me to take this back to the chef and ask him to fix it I will, but that is how you ordered your steak.”

After dinner I told the manager about our experience and he apologized profusely and offered to buy us dinner as a way of showing it was simply a one off situation. We declined his offer. Why? When you spend several hundred dollars on a dinner there are far too many other restaurants where we can be assured of excellent food, superior service and an experience that is memorable. We declined the managers offer because there wasn’t a compelling reason to return to the restaurant and give them a second chance.

Any business that wants to create a memorable experience for their customers must work tirelessly to create highly differentiated customer experiences that delight their customers. If they don’t their customer will not return and in turn let others know about the lackluster experience they had.

If you want to make a good first impression with new customers or enhance the experience existing customers have, leaders and teams must answer three key questions:

1. Who is our ideal customer and what is really important to them?

2. What part of your work needs to be highly differentiated in order to please our ideal customer and meet their needs?

3. Are our ideal customers happy or even delighted? If not, why not? If they are, why are they?

Hugh Unplugged

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Hugh Unplugged from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

3 steps for communicating with executives who don’t have enough time

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3 steps for communicating with executives who don’t have enough time from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

Video Notes:

Ladies and gentlemen, the number one lament executives have is that they don’t have enough time in the world of work. I want to share with you three easy steps you can use to more effectively communicate with someone who doesn’t have enough time.

Step 1. Always start with an executive summary. Don’t go into the details and don’t give the back story. Simply give an executive summary in two or three sentences.

Step 2. Give the executive three options about how they can engage you in a conversation. Option number one has A & B and has this upside and this downside. Do the same explanation for options two and three and give the person options for how they want to engage with you.

Step 3. Allow the person to chose how they want to engage you in a conversation.

If you follow these three steps ladies and gentlemen, it is short, it is sweet, it is to the point and it is a highly effective use of people’s time…not unlike the Monday Morning Minute!

Have a fabulous week everyone and I’ll see you again next week.

Take care,

The 5 critical questions that transform organizations

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The 5 critical questions that transform organizations from Hugh Blane on Vimeo.

Video Notes:

Good morning everyone, my name is Hugh Blane, and this is the Monday Morning Minute.

Today, I want to share with you five critical questions I believe can transform your organization. They are:

1. How happy is your customer?

2. What is the demand for your product, services or offerings? Is the demand growing or retarding?

3. How compelling and distinctive is your brand and reputation?

4. Can your employees live out your value proposition in meaningful and compelling ways every day?

5. How good of a job are you doing communicating with your customers? Are you using communication channels and strategies designed specifically with them in mind?

Ladies and gentlemen, if you start asking yourself these five critical questions, and answering them, you will have a much more effective workweek. That is the Monday Morning Minute. I hope you have a fabulous week and I will see you here again next week.

Take care.