Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Marketing from the inside out

I have two loves: Marketing and Leadership.

In my former corporate life, the two seemed so disparate. Leadership and its development belonged in Human Resources and Marketing belonged to the Marketing Department. For my more than 20 years, I was always in Brand Marketing, but always had a passion for some of the work done by HR. It seemed that only when HR and other functional groups developed an integrated working relationship, that we were able to advance the development of leaders.

This didn't happen nearly enough.

It was out of my frustration of seeing how line management functions (like marketing) never took on full ownership of organizational culture and people concerns (present company not excluded). Only when we had a problem, did we make it a priority. We relied too heavily on HR.

When I decided to form my own business, I knew that leadership is and continues to be lacking at all levels in many organizations. I felt that I was in a unique position to teach leadership from a practical, business leader point of view. I was not just schooled in leadership, I had to live the realities of leadership when theories may not have a practical application.

Bill Taylor's recent article, "Brand is Culture, Culture is Brand" hit home for me. Today, I no longer see Marketing and Leadership as two separate entities, in fact many of my branding principles and leadership insights that I consult, train and speak on are one-in-the same. I often say that branding and leadership are the same exact thing. You can't be a brand without being a leader. And you can't be a leading organization without leading your consumers, customers and employees effectively.

Bill Taylor's words take it one step further "even the most creative business leaders I know recognize that success is not just about marketing differently from other companies: more daring ads, more new products, more aggressive use of Twitter and Facebook. It is also, and perhaps more important, about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values."

In my work today, I help aspiring leaders to develop and connect their own personal brand to their company's brand. This is another way to build engagement from the inside out. You can't separate an organization's internal culture from its external brand. When these aspiring leaders find that they can't connect their own personal brand to their company's culture, they go elsewhere. In Marketing terms, this is a sign of internal brand dissonance. The company loses its connection to one of its critical constituents: their employees.

So next time you think that simply connecting with your customers and consumers is the only important thing to do in your role, think again.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are you an effective loser?

Whether you like it or not, everyone loses.

You win some, and you lose some. Even if during these recessionary times it feels like there is more losing than winning.
But it's how you handle your loss that determines if you are going to be a long-term winner.

In our competitive culture, losing often means you are "below average," "mediocre," or "not good enough." We are taught at a young age that being on the losing side is not the place we want to be. Oftentimes when we lose, we just want to pack it up and give in.

And so, we carry around negative judgments about losing, when in fact losing is an essential part of winning.

Leaders and long-term winners not only understand that losing is part of the process; they learn to embrace the loss and use it as a stepping stone for something bigger.

I have had a lot of losses in my life, but I haven't allowed these losses to turn me into a loser because I have learned how to become an effective loser.

However, it wasn't always that way.

When I first got divorced at 29, I felt that I was a loser at love and relationships. After all, most 29 year old women were not only married, they were starting families and seemed perfectly content in their lives. I just thought that I was too independent, too ambitious, too stubborn, and too outspoken to fit into the traditional role of "wife."

I concluded that I was flawed, because I didn't fit the mold. I started to believe that this loss would be a permanent way-of-life. I began to identify with the loss and for 11 years, I had several relationships that supported my belief that I was unfit for marriage or any kind of serious long-term relationship. It wasn't until I started to shift this belief when at 40 I realized I wanted to start a family of my own. I knew I had to make some changes in how I thought about myself.

This is when I started to understand that we all have the power to turn our losses around into long-term successes. Here are the things that helped me become an effective loser at that time of my life:

1. Don't buy into the belief that losing means you are a loser.
2. Don't give up and quit. Keep moving.
3. Be kind to yourself.
4. Don't compare yourself to others.
5. Reaffirm and revalidate your differences as assets, not liabilities.
6. Create your own definition of success.

What that meant for me personally was that I was going to have a non-traditional relationship where I wouldn't be put into the box I couldn't fit into. I would need to build a new mold for me. And so I did. And my loss became my success.

When you become an effective loser you resist the urge to shut down and retreat, instead you keep going. You are driven less by the external comparisons and more by your internal compass. You are grounded and accepting of your uniqueness and where you are at a given point in time. You are forgiving and kind to yourself, not blaming or intolerant of your foibles or stumbles. You find new strength to forge forward.

You see our "get rich quick," "take this pill and get thin," or "become famous overnight" competitive culture doesn't support this approach. It says to us that when you lose, you aren't good enough, even if it is your own personal best. It fuels disillusionment and a culture which says "do it great (and the ideal defines what great is) or don't do it at all."

So unfortunately, many choose to do nothing at all.

That's right; many don't decide to start their own businesses because they feel they won't be successful enough. Others don't try to follow their passion in their work because they believe it's impractical or frivolous. Many won't give love a second try. While others just throw in the towel at the first glimpse of failure.

During these times of loss, leaders who are effective losers are the ones that will prevail. They know how to be kind to themselves, providing encouraging words to themselves and others. They trot along, despite the odds against them, making good headway compared to those that have shut down and quit. They find their own road.

So during these tough times, when you lose and you are down, get up, dust yourself off and encourage yourself to recommit to do your personal best. Keep moving. Don't compare yourself to others. Reaffirm and revalidate your differences as assets, not liabilities. And by all means, create your own definition of success.

After all, isn't it time to re-write your own script for success that graciously allows for some stumbles along the way?

Join The Texas Women who Rock on October 1 for some great insights and inspiration on how to Refresh you life and career. It's not too late to sign up!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Is your strategy a "just in case" strategy?

When travelling, I learned a great deal about packing light from my husband Lewis. He would always say, "you are packing for "just in case." you don't need half of that stuff."

I don't say it often, but he was right.

You know the drill: "I'll take this in case it rains, I'll take that in case we go out to a fancy place," and on it goes. Before you know it, you have packed 10 pairs of shoes and clothes for 30 degrees as well as for 90 degrees.

Businesses often use a "just in case" strategy and yield poor results.


A "just in case" strategy is like having no strategy. Everything is important and nothing is important.

When leaders embrace this approach, they don't want to let go of anything. Every project is important, every task is needed and every question must be answered. Before they know it, they have 10 priority initiatives and they get bogged down because nothing really gets accomplished. Everybody is just too busy "just in case."

Prioritization and choice is the antidote.

So next time you hear yourself say "just in case." make a choice and do something that's really important to drive your business.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Doing the right thing in the face of adversity.

It is easy to do the right thing when everyone agrees with you. It is another thing when doing the right thing is not the popular action.

And yet, it is precisely at these moments, that effective leaders come through.

Leading our teams, our families, our lives takes a commitment to do the right thing, especially when doing the right thing is not the easy choice.

I was reminded of this the other day when a friend of mine reprimanded her daughter for spilling a drink on a precious and irreplaceable book. We were all visiting friends when it occurred. My friend felt so badly about the incident that she immediately said to her daughter, "we are going home, you didn't calm down when I asked you and now you have spilled this drink on a precious book."

She showed her daughter effective leadership because in the face of adversity, she decided that this was the right course of action and followed through on this action. The adversity came from everyone at the party, everyone said "it was just a small accident", "she didn't mean to spill the drink," "you don't have to leave," etc. The truth is both mother and daughter were enjoying themselves and the decision to go home was going against the common belief.

She did what she believed was the right thing to do despite the popular opinion at the time. This is when leadership (and parenting) gets tough.

What about you, do you follow through and do the right thing in the face of adversity?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Are you decisive?

Fear can get in the way of being decisive, but so can guilt.

Leaders need to be able to make decisions, even if they impact people adversely. This is one of the most difficult aspects of being a leader.

I learned about making decisions as a parent. As a parent, you definitely have fear about making the right decisions, but I think parents tend to have even more guilt associated with difficult decisions. Like leaders in the workplace, parents don't like to disappoint or cause unhappiness with their "team." As a result, often times we postpone or delay or choose not to make a decision when it is difficult.

But indecision's impact is far worse than any adverse decision.

When faced with difficult decisions, I often just brace myself and say the decision as cleanly as is possible with as little emotion as possible. Emotion can communicate that you are ambivalent about the decision. Ambivalence works against effective leadership.

Directness is a gift here. Saying it with compassion is important, but emotion is not. But make the decision and hold steady in that decision.

Your teams (and families) will love you for it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Two sides of leadership

My personal trainer and friend said to me the other day, "I can tell a lot about people's work ethic by how they work out."

She went on to tell me that observing people work out says a great deal about their ambition and drive. She believes that people who work their bodies out hard are the go-getters and leaders out there.

But what about those non-athletic types out there? Does that mean that they don't have ambition and can't be a leader?

I also had a conversation with my daughter's Occupational Therapist that same day. I was telling her that my daughter is introverted and not always the one initiating conversation and play with other children. I went on to say that she often responds best when other children grab her hand and say, "come on, let's go." The therapist responded with "Oh, you mean the leaders."

But what about those introverts out there? Does that mean that they don't have a chance to be leaders?

Their perspectives on leadership aren't wrong, they are just half right.

That's right, there are two sides to leadership.

The one side we all know too well: the hard-driving, competitive, extroverted, take control, confident leader. And the often-dismissed side of leadership which is the soft-spoken, receptive, introverted, empathetic, humble leader.

The reality is that in order to be the best leader we can be, we need to draw on both sides. There is a time and place for both. In fact, extremes are never good. A leader that relies on one extreme at the expense of the other is bound to lose effectiveness.

Since most of us are trained to be the first kind of leader, my book The Connected and Committed Leader helps us see the benefits provided by the "softer" side.

And if you are the "softer" kind of leader, you have something to learn from those on the other side. In short, the best leader embodies both sides of leadership.

I found this interesting, particularly because on the fitness-front we have such extremes in our country. We have hit record levels of obesity, and yet gyms are a dime a dozen with