What Are You Selling?

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What are you selling?

There is a great quote from a Harley Davidson executive who talked about what Harley Davidson was selling. He said, “what we sell is the ability for a forty year old accountant to dress in black leather and ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” That’s a pithy and provocative quote, but it begs the question, what are you selling?

In your conversations with employees as well as customers what is the one thing people say you stand for? Is it excellence in the customer experience? Is it creating a culture where every employee is engaged in creating the extraordinary? Is it to reduce costs or survive from one layoff to another?

Or, are you a leader who is a purveyor of optimism, transformational thinking and unprecedented growth? Are you selling the idea that in order to have a flourishing business your job as a leader is to help each employee do something daily that allows a customer to flourish? Whatever you believe to be important and valuable, are you doing it purposefully and in such a way that people want to buy it?

In this section you’ll make the concrete connection between what you believe and what people experience. The two words you’ll pay close attention to are intent and impact. Your intent might be as pure as the driven snow, but your impact could be negative and leave people figuratively running for the hills. As you read this section keep one key point firmly in mind: people never buy what you’re selling based on your intent. They buy what you’re selling based on how what you do and say impacts them.

Your leadership brand
Organizations know about the power of brands. Brands create value, loyalty, and when compelling and distinctive, they create profound emotional experiences for customers that attract more customers who want the same experience. What is not recognized as much is that a leaders brand can be a catalyst for transformational growth. Transformational leaders no longer rely solely on their organizations brand to guide their behavior. Transformational leaders develop their own individual brand.

Where do you start? What follows is my Leadership Brand Impact process. There are two key points to start with. One is that you have a brand whether you know it or not. And secondly, the impact your brand has on others is either helping or hurting your performance. The LBI will help you decide whether the impact your brand is having is positive or negative.

Know this in advance though. The process I’ll outline requires courage. It’s not for the faint of heart. You will ask people that are important to you about your impact and see clearly, maybe for the first time, the impact you have on people. Some of what you’ll hear will be incredibly uplifting and inspirational. Other aspects will leave you uncomfortable and or embarrassed. But rest assured, you cannot change anything unless you see it clearly. The LBI will help you with that through the following process:

1. Waking Up. This involves clarifying the brand impact you intended and what impact you’re having on people.

2. Growing Up: This involves taking responsibility for your impact and clarifying what’s required to move forward.

3. Showing Up: This involves clarifying the specific behaviors you’ll adopt and how to infuse accountability and feedback into the process.

Waking Up

Step 1. Clarify the brand impact you intended. Take 10 minutes to write down the impact you want to have with the people that matter most to you. The starting point for understanding the impact your brand has on others 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.

Step 2. Clarify the brand impact people experience. This step starts by creating a list of eight to ten people that 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. 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 the impact of your leadership from an outsider’s perspective is essential.

Specifically, ask them to provide you with four words or phrases they believe best describe the impact your leadership has on them and or others. It might be a one word descriptor such innovative or inspiring. It can also include phrases such as “can do attitude.”

Growing Up

Step 1. This step reviews the thirty-two to forty words that represent what others see as your leadership brand impact. Review your words 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. The overarching objective in this step it to clarify your leadership brand impact from others perspective distilled into the fewest words possible. This will allow you to study your two lists and look for gaps between what you intended and what people experienced.

Is there a gap between your intended brand impact and the brand impact listed by your observers? While looking at your list, ask yourself the following questions:

a. Is my intent aligned with my impact? Am I being seen in ways consistent with my purpose?
b. Are my brand impact descriptors (both my own and from my observers) distinctive or simply the price of entry for 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?

No doubt, there are words on your lists that are aligned with what you intended and others that are not. Whatever words you have though, transformational leaders grow up and take responsibility for the impact they have on others.

Showing Up

Step 1. This step will help you clarify the behaviors you’ll adopt to create the brand impact you want. It asks two two simple yet important questions. They are:

1. What is the impact I want to be known for?
2. If I want to be know for XYZ, what traits, characteristics and or values will I embody in order to create my desired impact?

What will become 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, dreams and aspirations for the impact your leadership has. This step converts the insights you’ve gleaned from the LBI and asks you to become behaviorally explicit about what you’ll implement based on your insights.
This step is essential. If you gloss over this step the LBI will become an intellectually interesting exercise, but won’t lead to anything noteworthy or transformational.

Showing up is where the rubber meets the road. Showing up requires focusing daily on how you communicate, hold meetings, delegate, hold people accountable, talk with customers, deal with adversity and uncertainty and calibrating whether your impact leads people to buy what your selling.

Step 2. In this step, leaders go to all of the people who provided feedback as well as their key constituents and share the impact they want to have. They show up in a real and transparent way about what they learned about their leadership, what insights they’ve gleaned about their impact and what they will do differently. And they give people permission to tell them when what their doing is not aligned with what they said.

They don’t just give people permission, they continually and frequently ask for advice from people about how they can live out the leadership brand in powerful, purposeful and compelling ways.

The clients that have used the LBI successfully report that this process was transformational for them. They felt as though the Scottish poet Robert Burns was right when he in effect said that seeing ourselves as other see us is essential. They also said they are 60% more effective by having gone through this process.

I hope that is the case for you.

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