Thursday, August 28, 2008

Personal Brand

I hear everyone – and I include myself – bandying about the term “personal brand” a lot lately. I was very excited when I first heard the term but, like any buzzword, it has become vague, overused and misunderstood. It’s become a marker on the edge of our community along with “trespassers shall be prosecuted”, “don’t litter”, and “act today, don’t delay!”

“This area is posted as my personal brand” is how some folks are claiming space in a world that seeks originality and ‘hot’ new things. Personal branding seems to imply that one owns the item/idea/approach in question. Personal brand (PB) has become about external markers and marketing.


If there are only 7 notes on the musical scale, then music by that definition can’t be reinvented or owned. Therefore, symphonies are an individual’s interpretation of the original scale and the style of interpretation could be called “personal brand’ (PB).

Style is made of so many things – some original for sure! and some interpretations. Perhaps some pieces of style are merely used ‘as is’. I love cinnamon – it’s a signature scent of mine; part of my style – but not owned or interpreted by me. (but I digress…)

PB is, simply put, one’s personal style. Style is made up of so many things – all selected by the individual and deemed important to their sense and portrayal of self. Visual presentation, oral presentation, career choices, philosophies, organizations joined.... There is no definitive checklist.

So – going forward – when we talk about our PB, let’s discuss which element of our style we’re discussing at that moment. Let’s not use it to claim territory but to include and share the space around us. Let’s examine the philosophies, visuals, ideas, ethics and actions that make us individual. (No one woman has the exact same wardrobe as another even if they frequent the same stores!). It’s not about marketing our PB – it’s about expanding, developing and sharing the pieces that sum up and influence our personal style/brand.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Grey Zones

Mentoring and networking create a lot of 'grey zones' - areas where it isn't clear what to do or how to do it. Choices aren't obviously professional or personal, rational or emotional, traditional or self-directed.

If you are debating, searching, questioning - don't feel dumb. We're all doing the same thing.

That's the real secret - there is no one answer and we're all making it up and changing the rules as we go.

I know there are lots of books/websites/articles etc. out there that offer step-by-step instructions. I may fall into the same trap along the way - are there any universal "do"s or "don't"s?

But those checklists assume you have a decisive linear direction and that you are simply looking to refine your tactics.

I really believe that if we are serious about building a personal community - and doing the work it takes to make it productive for ourselves and others - then it requires a long-term view and is based on relationships vs. events and checkmarks.

And, of course, sincerity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A 'genuine' introduction

I read an article today on - a magazine trying to appeal to women over 40. (and I thought ice cream and great clothes were ageless)

The article asked if we know how to present our "genuine self". Not our career or our status (married, single, mother, sister, etc.) but our core and our dreams. The article didn't offer enough examples for me to fully grasp what the author was seeking but the concept is very appealing.

We search for ways to introduce ourselves that make us seem palatable, desirable, interesting. We create tag lines with an audience in mind. We use our introductions to engage someone else's interest.

So knowing that we rarely do anything without some kind of audience in mind - I propose the following exercise:
1 - If you were to introduce you to yourself, what would you say?
2 - If you were to introduce yourself without mentioning what you're paid to do, what would you say?
3 - If your best friend/partner/child were to introduce you, what's the one thing you'd hope they'd say?

I bet you just created an introduction that is 'genuinely' about you. I dare you to try it out.

Learning to be idle

For those of you who know me well, you know I hate being sick. I don't mind deliberately lazing about with a good book for an afternoon. I do mind the enforced sitting about when my body isn't keeping up.

Know that I'm home for the next 2 weeks. While I don't mind staying in my jammies, I am already wondering if I should re-arrange my livingroom.

It's not that we should be busy every minute of the day - solving problems, talking to everyone, getting 'out there'. It's that when you've already built thinking time into a schedule, suddenly having a surfeit is uncomfortable.

Ah, I thought, and why would the luxury of time to do more thinking and wondering be uncomfortable? Because I think I already have a plan and now it's time to DO? Because I'm afraid to question my past decisions? Because I'm worried my reputation/personal brand will suffer and folks will think I'm merely goofing off?

Planning and execution are iterative. A plan is what you hope will create the future but of course it's not a reality today. Executing is an immediate activity that must respond and bend to the obstacles (forseen or unforseen). Sometimes that means you have to plan some more. Some times it simply means you have to wait.

I realised today my reputation should rest more on my flexibility than my output. That is a very different way for me to start approaching my daily work, my communities and my career.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Finding a mentor - part 2

It's just as hard to be a mentor as find one. My own criteria for picking a mentor might not fit for anyone else. For example, I pick mentors for myself because I admire how their minds work. I’m a huge fan of Carol Stephenson - no matter how often she has changed industry, her ability to create a relevant strategic framework that opens both minds and revenue has inspired me for years. If I had the nerve, I’d be driving to her office right now to ask for her time! But I don't want to run Lucent or Stentor or Ivey. I'm a fan of hers for how she thinks vs. what she's working on at the moment.

So when I'm asked:
1) How do you find someone to be a mentor outside of your organization?
2) When that person is outside of the organization, how do you handle talking about things that matter to you and your work, but might be considered confidential/proprietary intellectual property?

I can offer these guidelines.

First question – are you looking for coaching on your current job/challenge or are you looking for mentoring on your ongoing development?

It does get tricky when you have a current work issue that can't be discussed without an NDA. If you are looking for a solution to the actual problem or an in-depth view to the subject, then certainly stay with the subject matter experts cleared to examine the problem.

If you are looking at your own behaviour or means of approaching problems – whether it is to find a new book/course/tool to expand your education on the subject or to be more adept at the politics of the situation – then it is easier to avoid the confidential details and take a broader long-term approach that is part of your own development cycle.

Mentoring is more about long-term solutions and expanded education. Coaching is often about an immediate issue that can be a specific/one-time question.

Mentoring is also about trust – you will stray into grey zones all the time as your relationship develops. An open conversation, while respecting boundaries of those not present, assumes a high level of disclosure. (It is like being under NDA every time I hear someone say “of course this stays in this room”.)

I think the best compromise might be to look at the associations around your current career. These (often not-for-profit) groups bring together folks with common skills/careers/challenges and have often have mentoring programs for which you can both volunteer and ask for a mentor.

Going outside your own company, no matter how big or small it is, is a great advantage.
* you are never in danger of having someone influence your career (promotions, raises evaluations, etc.) without your knowledge. Power should not be lightly given.
* you gain valuable exposure to how things work elsewhere
* it keeps everyone from being 'too close' to the problem/issue/question, so you gain fresh perspectives
* it offers different and sometimes broader resources and career exposure.

The downside is they might not see the nuances with which you are struggling. It does put more of an onus on you to be a better communicator in the relationship.

I talked about how to find a mentor in an earlier post. Start asking around!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We try so hard to stay strangers

I was caught in a rainstorm, along with several 10s of people. We all crowded in under the same small bits of shelter. And everyone tried so hard to preserve everyone else's sense of space and privacy. Which was considerate but ultimately very odd as no one talked or took the opportunity to be an impromptu community. Everyone pretended to be in their own worlds. Because of a sense of politeness? A sense of distaste for strangers? A fear of being thought uninteresting?

It is a very lonely world somedays.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Not working the room

What the heck is mentoring or a mentor

I found myself at a music festival this weekend. Literally. On Friday night, I stood on the edge of the grass behind the sea of lawn chairs and felt myself arrive – piece by piece. The sky had miraculously cleared and there were at least 4 constellations (of which I knew the names). The sun had blazed over Lake Huron an hour before and now here we all were, many hundreds of people, all sitting / standing /swaying and all strangers.

It was a relief to not be “on” - to be anonymous – to be part of a crowd with no agenda but to be there.

Which completely freed me to do what I love best.

Meet people.

What? you might think, Isn't that the opposite of the anonymity and the purpose of getting away from it all?

I think that's the biggest mistake we make when we talk about “Networking”. It is not a task to be undertaken or a challenge to be overcome. It doesn't have to involve your game face or your most polished presentation.

Here we all were at a large gathering for a common purpose. No one asked me what I do for a living. No one was seeking anything. Heck, folks didn't even ask my name unless the conversation was going really well.

We all wandered about this lovely park (could've easily been a big hotel ballroom) and nodded to each other, made comments about a book tucked under an arm, the source of a sandwich, a compliment... a commentary on the musicians... found an old acquaintance. Some conversations evolved. Some will stretch on and off through the event. Some were simply polite.

It is ok to say 'hi' to folks. It is ok that some conversations go nowhere. It is ok to just be in the room and not 'work it'. Often the room works itself :-)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

To meet or not to meet?

I gather I was preaching to the choir on that last posting.

One other interesting piece I hear a lot in those sessions is : Email, phone and on-line are fine but to really build a meaningful relationship, you need to meet face to face at least once - preferably early on.

Is this true?

I’m torn on this one.

If we go by learning styles, there are about ¼ of us that need that touch - that visceral connection you can only get by being in the same room. If you go by social media, a webcam should suffice. If we’re talking traditional - then you can form a lasting relationship with nothing more than words - online or by phone.

Sure, meeting with someone is a shortcut to possibly better communication. But is it a “must do”?

Folks everywhere are building online/remote relationships in all aspects of life. There’s online dating - where the first meeting(s) are only virtual. Yes, the goal is to result in a personal meeting but the initial relationship is often formed online with great expectations and a ‘feel’ for the other person built on nothing more than screen time.

What about using online resources? We do customer service on-line, expecting solutions to queries and complaints without pleading our case in person. We hit blogs and websites, post comments, ask questions and feel connected to authors and experts without ever even thinking about meeting up in real time.

And pen pals - the time-honoured tradition of making friends with someone in a remote location from yourself who you might never meet. (Does anyone out there still have pen pals? Is it still also done in the schools?)

So if you can build love, friendship, kinship all online - do you absolutely need to meet face to face to add someone to your network in a meaningful way?