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Your Personal Brand - When Are You Ready?

the wings-become-windows butterfly.

When I was in yeshiva I learned that the Jews only accepted the Torah when "God held the mountain over their (our) heads." Meaning that we were forced.

At the time the Jews said, "Naaseh Venishma," Hebrew for "We will do and we will listen."(Which is sort of a clue - normally you would listen first and then act, but here there is action seemingly without even knowing what one is doing.)

I asked the teacher,  "If we were forced to accept the Torah when what does it mean that we agreed to accept it? There was a mountain over our heads!"

If someone has no choice, then their choice is no choice at all.

Did a little research and found an interesting response by rabbi/computer engineer Mois Navon.

Basically Navon says that the Jews had already accepted God's authority on their own - it was the Torah part they weren't so sure about.

Navon says that just like children have to be forced to do what's right until they are ready on their own, God initiated the Jews into Torah law without their consent. Only many years later, when they did voluntarily accept it (in 432 BCE), were they "accountable" for keeping its laws.

At that time, now a holiday which Jews call Purim, the nation eluded a mandate by the Persian King Ahashverosh (goaded by his adviser Haman) to exterminate them. They did so through acting on their own behalf in the political realm, and fasting and praying to God in the spiritual one.

The timing of the true acceptance of Torah is no mistake, says Navon - it occurred only after the Jews had to take responsibility for their own fate, and not rely on direct interception by God.

He argues that the exercise of free will - a fundamental tenet of the Jewish faith as well as a basic American value - is a thing that can only responsibly be exercised once a person has been forced, like a child, to accept basic "moral values."

We don't let 3-year-olds run into the street; we don't let 12-year-olds get married; we don't let people vote till they turn 18.

There is a similar principle at work when it comes to your personal brand, which is really your identity. You start out with someone telling you who you are, you obey, and then you get to decide later on.

I obeyed till I was about 8, and then the process of change began. One of mine involves the '80s, neon, and a seemingly endless series of perms.

After that was college, and...well there are so many years of phases, aren't they? How do you know when you've arrived at "you," a brand you can be accountable for, rather than one that was forced on you?

Here's the way I look at it. It's a little bit different than Navon.

There is a time in one's life when identity and values have to be foisted on you. This is part of normal development. But the point of this is not for you to accept what others say. Rather it is for you to have a model to start out with. One that you can modify, adapt, mash up and mix around on your own.

In other words, you start out with somebody else's brand so that you know what a brand is. And when you grow up, you get to create your own.

I don't agree that maturity means you finally accept whatever has been dictated. Or that it only comes to you through an experience of hellish adversity. Or even that you snap into it all at once, or that your identity is ever "final."

Instead I think your brand is a gradual thing that evolves over time, that you find and settle into, through a process of questioning and experience and yes, even going through phases you would rather not think about later on. It's about exploring and recognizing that the journey never ends.

So when are you ready to brand? I guess when you realize that there is never going to be an end to the branding - you'll start out as version 1.0 and just keep chugging along.

Here's what I believe: Trust in yourself, and look to the One Above to guide you.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Photo by Eddie Van 3000 Via Flickr

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How To Let Yourself Succeed In 2012

Local harvest

Branding works pretty much the same whether it's personal or for a product, service, corporation, nonprofit, or government agency. And although there are bells and whistles that make it superficially different from marketing, advertising, PR or reputation-building, there are certain core concepts that never go away. The most important of these is:

Outcomes are what matter. Not intentions.

This occurred to me last night as I ate precisely 2.5 handfuls of chocolate almonds after dinner (no, not 25 but 2.5 is bad enough!) I have resolved about 50 million times not to eat too much at night, and I know that those handfuls probably cost me in the neighborhood of 500-600 calories - and that is after dinner. But all my resolve to "be good" and not overdo it melted in the face of the tempting treat.

If someone like me, who shares success tips all the time, can't keep a simple resolution like eating a lower-calorie dinner, then it's not hard to understand why many people don't even bother to make New Year's resolutions. According to today's USA Today (Dec. 30, 2011; poll by Bing/Impulse Research) fully 1 out of 3 respondents (32%) "just say no" to this annual tradition.

The flaw in my thinking, I believe, is that I gave myself "extra credit" for having good intentions when it is results that count.

You can see this very clearly in the movie Margin Call (I rented it on Redbox or you can rent or buy it from As a government employee I was sort of shocked at the way they treated people in this movie (in fact the treatment of employees is part of the movie's premise, so I won't give it away) but suffice it to say that people were punished or rewarded by the company based on the results they generated.

I didn't agree with what I saw in the movie. But it was a good slap of cold water in the face. It reminded me that what matters is what the outcome is, not what you wanted it to be. And in branding, unfortunately, this is often the first thing people forget.

In fact the most common mistake in branding is confusing the message you are sending, for the impression that people receive. The fact is that people think whatever the hell it is that they want to. So the challenge of brand communication is to focus on the results, the outcome, the end impression.

On this, the mental block to overcome is that you may not be entirely comfortable with the methods it takes to get people to think well of you. But that you have to do those things in order to achieve success. (Example: When you make your customers angry, you either explain yourself and get them on board, or change course, and do it fast.)

Similarly, when it comes to staying in shape, you may not totally like all the things you have to do to succeed. For example, I vastly prefer walking to any sort of weight training. Yet it is starting to enter my brain that building up muscle is a more effective way to stay trim than just cardio. It is up to me what I do, but just because I walk with good intentions that doesn't mean any difference will occur with respect to results.

If you want to succeed in 2012, avoiding resolutions isn't going to help anything. Rather, introduce to yourself the concept that facts are facts no matter what you feel about them and no matter how much they are to your liking.

Have a good day everyone, Happy New Year, and good luck!


Photo by George Alexander via Flickr
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Excerpt: "An Open Letter To The Beit Shemesh Spitter"

This letter is a response from Aish HaTorah, a Jewish outreach organization, to a hateful lunatic who doesn't know the first thing about God, or Judaism.

"How dare you spit on an 8-year-old schoolgirl and terrorize her as she walks to school? I don't care what she's wearing; spitting, verbal abuse, and threats of violence cannot be tolerated. How dare you call yourself a Hareidi, God-fearing Jew? Your despicable actions are diametrically opposed to Judaism. You are a thug and a hooligan whose conduct, in the words of the statement from Agudath Israel of America "is beyond the bounds of decent, moral – Jewish! – behavior."

Extremists in religious garb are not religious. People who live, speak, walk, talk and breathe compassion and fairness are the ones I follow, no matter what they call themselves.

Read the full letter here:

Are You Secure Enough To Handle An Engaged Employee?


A true story:

Recently I did a demo at work on something technical.

The audience was an informal group of staffers who meet once a week to share information, brainstorm, and laugh. Well not expressly to laugh but it doesn't hurt to work with people who have a good sense of humor.

In any case, I hauled out the laptop and connected it to the monitor and started briefing. What is this, why do we need it, what is the proposed solution...

Suddenly out of nowhere one of the people in the meeting, who works in a completely different area, starts talking about a topic related to the demo. The person brings up a technology-related idea that has unbelievable potential for the agency.

Not being a very formal group we want to hear more about the idea now; the demo can wait a minute. Especially since the idea is just as core to the business strategy as the demo. We are charged up!

Now instead of one person being engaged in one thing, another in another thing, and not much movement on either, we have an entire roomful of people on fire.

The conversation goes back to the demo, briefly, and then it drifts out again.

After an hour and a half we didn't finish the demo totally. We didn't get to watch the brief episode of a really funny television show that featured us and relates to our mission. Which had me cracking up when I saw the preview. And we didn't get to go over everyone's stuff.

But the level of engagement in that room was so high! And we had discovered not one but two people who had the potential to contribute not only where they were, but to cross-office projects as well. That means in-house expertise that we otherwise would have had to pay a consulting fee for, or get someone from another group to contribute when everyone is on overload with their projects.

When you think about the subject of employee engagement, often the assumption is that strategy is something dictated from on high and we all, like kindergarteners, are just supposed to "get on board" as if strategy were a choo-choo train.

(Actually once a leader at another organization where I worked did actually urge us to "get on the train" with respect to strategy. He meant "so that you won't be left behind" but me being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors I couldn't help but think of the train to Auschwitz and I had an intense desire to stay right where I was. Yes I know - I can be very intense and depressing.)

Real engagement actually ADDS to the strategy. Not only are people excited to do what leadership sees is important, but they come up with new ways to do it that previously were unheard of. In the process they may modify the vision a bit, but that's OK, because they make the concept theirs and serve as "ambassadors" (I dislike that word but it's true) to evangelize for it in places corporate communication can't reach - the water cooler, the office microwave, the food court, and yes, even in restroom chatter.

At the meeting the staffer who initially offered the demo-related idea apologized for talking too much at the meeting. As if they had had the experience of being shut down before; as if they were worried that someone from a lower level of the food chain should not steal the thunder of someone higher. I understood the worry but honestly, my mind was someplace completely else. I was thinking about all the evolutionary, revolutionary, time-saving and productivity-enhancing technology-based upgrades we could employ in the agency if every single person had the knowledge and enthusiasm of this one person.

After the meeting a couple of my friends, including the other tech-savvy person, stopped by to chat. We uttered a collective, "Wow" - as if we had just seen someone start speaking Greek fluently out of nowhere. It was just amazing to see what can happen if you shut up and let people talk. Not trying to own or take credit for everything, but opening up the floor to all the talent that is there.

Maybe that's the true meaning of diversity and inclusion. Not to "tolerate" people who are different than us, but to let down our defenses and stop being so insecure and encourage talent wherever it is, whatever it looks like, however it sounds, and whenever we hear it.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

P.S. All are welcome to join the Federal Communicators Network Lunch & Learn Webinar this January 19 for our dial-in webinar on employee engagement, featuring Chris Gay. This event, tailored to government employees, is free;  click here to register.


Photo by Yoppy via Flickr

Note: I am the chair of the Federal Communicators Network, an independent group focused on providing free training to federal communicators to help them serve the taxpayer. All opinions are my own.

10 Tips for New Leaders, Most of Them From a Wise Friend

English: Margaret Thatcher, former UK PM. Fran...
Image via Wikipedia

  1. Act the part till you feel it is “you.”
  2. Have someone in mind to model yourself after.
  3. Dress the part – time to go shopping!
  4. When someone is hostile – remember it’s not personal; don’t engage at their level; and don’t be afraid to call them out and remind them to be a professional.
  5. Remember that you are a leader now, and it's all about approach (not agitating to be heard).
  6. Build coalitions and make sure everyone is informed who needs to be.
  7. Timing is everything – ride the wave when you have it, and don’t push things when you know they won’t fly.
  8. Document how you make key decisions so that you can defend them later; document meetings, conversations, and accomplishments.
  9. Ask for input; challenge people to make your concepts better; do small hands-on demos so that they can see what you’re working on and help improve it.
  10. Set up regular meetings, make them open but have an agenda, and provide an incentive for people to attend – especially food.
Have a great day everyone - and good luck!

Hit a Nerve, Make a Billion

Various Listerine products
Image via Wikipedia
My friend was telling me the other day about how she sleeps.

It takes 5 pillows, 2 of them under her head, 1 under her knees, and another 2 at her side.

She has to have a certain kind of cover and it has to be just so.

And if there is a single noise in the room she wakes up totally.

My friend told me that she has been married almost 50 years because she has her bed just the way she wants it. And when her husband brought in his computer and other electronic devices, including an alarm clock that projected the time onto the ceiling, she promptly made sure to get rid of them.

The way people sleep is a core issue. It hits a nerve. In a relationship, given all the things there are to compromise on, it can be a bastion of freedom. And so any sleep-related product that both offers better sleep and a unique and personalized experience has an advantage over the competition.

What is brilliant about the Sleep Number Bed is that in promising an individualized experience, the product markets itself as bringing the couple closer. Mirroring the real-life concept that "if you love someone, set them free" and if they love you, they will come back.

Other examples:
  • The "sleeved blanket" - I think of Snuggie. This is a completely unnecessary item in my mind as any piece of sufficiently heavy, soft cloth can keep you warm. But it hits a nerve. Have you noticed that it makes a person look like a swaddled newborn? I would venture to guess that it connects people back to that sensation, of being a little baby warm and cared for.
  • Products like dandruff shampoo and mouthwash (I think of Head & Shoulders and Listerine) which elicit the fear of "social undesirability." I once heard, though can't source, that mouthwash also is marketed to target customers' fear of death. When you hit somebody where it hurts, so to speak, you create a desire for the product that goes way beyond the actual functional need for it. 
If you are fortunate enough to come up with a product like this, the key is to brand it. If any product in the category strikes the same nerve, then there is no reason for you to charge more than any commodity-level offering. Think about what aspect of the product you can emphasize to make it different than any copycat who will follow you. And then think about why it will be relevant to your target audience, and how you will sustain the promise over the long-term.

10 Ways To Empower Government Employees In 2012

"VETERANS, EARN WHILE YOU LEARN THROUGH O...Image via WikipediaIn 2011 public servants faced the threat of a government shutdown more than once. Though fortunately these were averted, the sensation of having your head on a chopping block (even if temporary) can leave you unsettled and afraid.

It occurred to me that in 2012 we can empower government employees to have more control over their (our) own fates by implementing some structural changes that would promote and reward for productivity and efficiency - facilitating effective government from the inside out.

A few areas where we can do this in a low-cost, high-impact way:

1. Mentoring: Times are changing quickly and employees need to learn to adapt their skills accordingly. An on-the-job buddy at a higher level can be an invaluable asset in retaining good employees and helping them learn the often-subtle skills they need to contribute effectively. And it doesn't cost anything other than time.

2. Technology training: People who do things the old way when there are faster, cheaper, better ways to get the job done may be comfortable, but also wasting taxpayer money and their own opportunity to grow professionally. Let 2012 be the year we learn how to use technology. Again, it doesn't have to cost a cent if you get skilled employees to teach those who are just learning.

3. Performance planning: An employee's performance plan for the year should be a guiding document that they generate to align with agency and office goals. It should not be up to a manager to tell someone how they fit in, but rather this is a chance for a person to learn more about the mission and where they belong. It's also a chance to re-orient once a year and make sure the scope of one's position is of value. Worst comes to worst, a person needs to be reassigned, but that is a realization best made by the employee rather than something foisted onto them.

4. Evaluations: Here again, allow the employee to evaluate themselves, and bolster that with a 360 degree evaluation from a panel of supervisor and peers. It doesn't have to be lengthy or complicated, but it should be a combination of numerical ratings and narrative content so that a person receives a truer picture of how they've done and where they can improve in the next year. The more engaged the employee is in evaluating themselves, the more it will mean to them and the more it will be a true process for both them and their supervisors.

5. Rotations: Many people in government have served for decades. They have experience that cannot be learned in college and that cannot be easily duplicated. After many years in one place, it would be of benefit for them to rotate to other agencies, preferably of their choosing, learn new skills, and offer back some of their accumulated wisdom in return. Just keeps people fresh and mindful that we all ultimately work for one government, not just an assortment of agencies.

6. Retraining: When someone is no longer adding sufficient value in the position they hold, retrain them. It's not a shameful thing to admit that skills you had 30 years ago might not be as useful today, and that some adaptation is needed. Again, the better your skills the better your resume, so if the government is willing to assist an employee in retraining rather than let them flap around uselessly, that is a wonderful and empowering option for them to take. And it need not cost anything other than on-the-job training.

7. Communities of interest: If you have a group of thousands of people doing the same kind of work (e.g. writing), it makes sense to connect them in person or virtually so that they can support one another. Peer networks encourage excellence from within.

8. Interagency councils: These are groups of government employees that work across agencies on a formal or informal basis to consult on best practices, make recommendations, and generally leverage employee insights to help government move forward on matters of interest. There are a number of good examples in the government already and it seems we could expand on this greatly if employees were encouraged to do so.

9. Work/life self-help and fitness groups: I have noticed that federal employees love groups like Toastmasters, Weight Watchers, and even spiritually oriented groups that gather once a week for a lunchtime break focused on personal growth. It is a good thing for government to encourage employees to take advantage of these, as they increase skills, increase fitness, and teach employees to take responsibility for fixing problems on their own if possible.

10. Charity and volunteering: There is no better feeling when you're down than that of helping someone else. If government employees - who are public servants, in the end - are encouraged to do even more charity and volunteer work than they already do, it would lift spirits and build excellent relationships between government and the public, which add to the trust reserve that enables good government.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!

Why "Midnight in Paris" is Better Than "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

Woody Allen and Tom Cruise are both make profitable movies as expressions of a brand. And that is where the similarity ends.
  • Gil Pender, a trademark Woody Allen character - confused, harried, lost and unhappy - takes us on an emotionally riveting journey in Midnight in Paris. He goes into the past as he tries to find a way out of the miserable present. We moviegoers collectively "voted" to make it Allen's most profitable movie ever, now reportedly having earned more than $56 million at the box office.
  • Ethan Hunt, a trademark Tom Cruise character - seemingly perfect, playing the role of a hero operating effectively against impossible odds - led Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" to earn almost $59 million just since its release on December 16, 2011. It's only been about a week and a half, so we can expect it to bring in a lot more.
Woody Allen and Tom Cruise employ different strategies to promote their brands. I think Woody Allen's is vastly more effective. How do I know? Because I enjoyed Mission Impossible despite the fact that Cruise was in it - not because.

In some of his popular earlier movies - Rain Man and Risky Business come to mind most prominently, although I know there are others that can serve as an example - we see Cruise playing characters that screw up. That's what makes them watchable. We, as the audience, know that no human being can go through life perfect. And when we see people pretending to be perfect onscreen, it is a huge turnoff.

So although Mission Impossible is redeemed by its great action sequences, good chemistry among the characters, exciting plot, and high-tech everywhere, Cruise makes an obnoxious hero because everywhere you go, there he is - always "winning," as Charlie Sheen might way.

Honestly, watching the movie I felt kind of bad for Cruise. I thought that he must feel pretty insecure or inadequate if he has to constantly portray characters who have absolutely no flaws. And he looked old.

I sometimes look at myself looking older, and at TV characters I used to watch when I was young, and I feel bad because we're all aging. It's tough to watch in person and it's tough to see onscreen, too, especially when someone seems to be holding on to their youth with a death grip.

The experience of watching Midnight in Paris was completely different. I had read the positive reviews, but I didn't expect it to be all that good - just another recycled Woody Allen formula. After all these years and all these movies, what could be new?

But it was magical.

The cinematography, for one thing, is beyond description. It is worth watching this movie just to see Paris in the rain. Paris at night, Paris in the past, Paris at the historical monuments, Paris cafes, Paris Paris Paris. You can't not want to go after seeing it.

The characters work well too. I can't say that Woody Allen got it totally right - he tends to make most of the characters one-dimensional foils for the hero, and here he does a disservice to Rachel McAdams in that respect - but with Gil Pender he hit the baseball out of the park. Allen explores Pender's psychology in such depth and nuance that he can only be making a movie about himself. And when you see the contradictions in this character, his complexity and the realizations he encounters - you find that you learn something very profound about the human psyche.

With a brand it is great to be consistent, so that the customer knows what to expect every time. That's what you get with Mission Impossible. But it's more important to be perfect. And that can only be achieved through art - by realizing a vision that is ultimately flawed, just like people are. And that's why Midnight in Paris is a better movie, that gives us a glimpse of human truth.
That, in a way, brings us closer to God.

Whatever They Say, Do The Opposite

rock climbing is fun!

The Internet is loaded with career advice.

Everywhere you look there are tips on choosing a major, writing a resume, navigating an interview, diplomatic skills, time management, innovation, project management, leadership, strategic thinking, career dressing, moving up the ladder, and on and on and on.

Some of this advice seems like it was written for shock value, although maybe it's a good thing to challenge the conventional wisdom. We hear that we should "First, Break All The Rules" rather than follow them; that we can earn a full-time income in a "4-Hour Workweek" and not over 40 hours; and even that "Unhappiness is good for you."

With all this advice, you would think that all of us would be rich and famous. Yet the opposite is true. Why are so few people able to advance the way they want to? Lots of things get in the way: health issues, relationship issues, and in the workplace, organizational culture, interpersonal dynamics, power politics, sexism/racism/other isms, and so on.

At the heart of the matter is one piece of advice I think we don't talk enough about, from Roseanne Barr - who was aiming square at women. She said:

"Nobody gives you power. You just take it."

Barr's perception that women are passive about career advancement is echoed by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. In her words:

"Until women are as ambitious as men, they’re not going to achieve as much as men."

In my view, one of the most important things a person can do to achieve career success is to ignore the pressure to be like everybody else. In the workplace, most rules are unspoken; and where people on the lower end of the ladder are concerned, one of the primary rules will always be, "don't rock the boat."

While it is safe, in a way, to conform to what everyone else is doing, wearing, and even thinking - and while it may feel comfortable to stay in the status quo and not try to out-achieve your peers - if you want to go higher you have no choice but to break through the glass ceiling of conformity.

This, I think, is what people get uncomfortable about. They feel like they have to follow the crowd to be accepted, but the only way to become a leader is to flout what the crowd is thinking. To trust their knowledge and instincts, embrace their ambition and their vision of how things could be done differently and better, and actively look for opportunities to advance.

It takes a lot of courage to be different, ambitious, and active instead of passive. But the joy of becoming a leader is overwhelmingly worth the risk.

Read the career advice if you want. But in the end, take it with a grain of salt. Because whichever way the crowd goes, there is another path a contrarian is taking to great success.

Think about it - go your own way - and embrace our own North Star.

Have a good evening everyone, and best of luck in 2012!

Photo by Maria Ly via Flickr
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