personal brand

Connecting the Dots for Others

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There's one area that I always work on with my clients that they never realize they need to work on. It doesn’t come up in our initial discussions about their coaching goals, but it does affect their ability to truly lead with impact and build a strong leadership brand.

Let me explain. Usually, when I ask leaders about the most critical things they want to accomplish from a business standpoint, they rattle off a list of things. The same thing happens when I ask about their teams. Very few of them can easily articulate the two or three areas of focus that guide everything they do.

For example, I have a client who has the remarkable ability to dive into a completely new area of responsibility, learn what she needs to, and restructure the work to maximize results. On top of that, she empowers and develops her team to step up and sustain the performance. She has done this time and again, and can give me countless examples. Through our work together, she has come to realize that her primary focus is on creating sustainable value while minimizing risk for the business and developing future leaders. This is her beacon that guides everything she does.

By realizing this (i.e., Connecting the Dots for herself), she can now articulate a consistent message about her focus and intent. This provides tremendous value because she can give others a way to interpret what she says and does by constantly framing her actions and decisions in the context of her areas of focus.

Remember that others will draw conclusions about what you say and do using their own filters — and they may take away something different than you intend. Let me give you an example to further explain. I have another client (let’s call her Michelle) who has a strong focus on supporting her team. This means that Michelle invests considerable time coaching her new hires, but she also recognizes the need to get her employees working independently without her day-to-day guidance.

So she was surprised at her new hire’s frustration when she scaled back her one- on-one time with him. Michelle knew that pulling back was the best support she could give him because it would serve him well in the long run. However, her employee didn’t realize what she was doing. He didn’t Connect the Dots in the same way Michelle thought he would. In fact, he had drawn the opposite conclusion. By explaining her primary focus, Michelle helped him understand that she was supporting him and how. He now has a way to interpret her actions and understand her expectations.

Remember that Connecting the Dots for others is not a “once and you’re done” exercise. You have to do it again and again — and you can’t do it unless you have Connected the Dots for yourself. So take advantage of the unique opportunity you have to provide a framework to give others insight into what you think is important, what success looks like, and what will guide your decisions. It will also create a stronger sense of conviction for you — about what you want to accomplish, how you will get there, and what you want to be known for as a leader.

Do You Know What Really Differentiates You?

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As I have coached high performing leaders over the years, I can’t help but notice some common themes. As they move up the ladder, sometimes they take for granted how hard it would be for someone to fill their shoes. Or they underestimate the value of their perspective, one that has been shaped by a unique set of personal and professional experiences.

So, today, I want to ask, “When is the last time you stopped to think about what makes you truly unique and valuable to an organization, whether it’s your current employer, a client or prospect?” If you’re like most people, you spend little to no time contemplating what differentiates you—unless you’re actively job hunting or lobbying for a pay increase or promotion. Yet going through this process can help you step up your game, leveraging your unique value in a way that serves you and your company.

To clarify what sets you apart, start by answering the three questions below. Remember that this won’t take the place of a more thorough personal leadership branding exercise, but it will get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What common themes do you see in the type of work others ask you to do?

Sometimes it takes other people repeatedly pulling you into certain types of projects or opportunities before you notice that what you bring to the table is unique and valued. Think about some of your experiences over the past six to nine months. What jumps out at you?

What have you heard others say about your work?

What do others value most about your work? I want you to think about it from two vantage points, what you do and how you do it. Also consider what you have heard people consistently say, whether or not their feedback made it into your performance review.

What skills or perspective do you have that would be hard to replace?

Finally, get to the aspects that cannot be easily replicated, i.e., your unique approach, perspective, skills, or background. People often openly point these out when they initially meet or get to know you. So, think about conversations you have had with people who have known you for little time, as well as those who have known you for years. What have you heard them say?

It may help to start by asking a few people you trust for input. But even if you don’t, you should gain some insight from answering the questions yourself. If you want to take the exercise one step further, identify one small step to highlight or leverage your unique value, in the context of your career goals and what’s important to business.

Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn

Over the past three years, my most requested presentation has been Tastefully Tooting Your Own Horn. It may surprise you to know that individuals at all levels of organizations struggle with self-promotion. Many find self-promotion draining and difficult but absolutely essential - yes, a necessary evil.  I don’t like it any more than you do, but I learned how to do it over the years because I had to. At Deloitte, I worked on consulting projects all over the country, where the partners and directors who made decisions about my pay and promotion often had no direct visibility to my work. So, I had to find ways to talk about my results and accomplishments and arm others with that information – in a way that worked for me. Today, I help my clients do the same. To get you moving in the right direction, I want to share three common roadblocks to self-promotion and how to move past them.  

1. “My good work will speak for itself. I don’t have time for these games.”

I can’t tell you how often I hear this phrase. It’s usually from talented individuals who do great work but detest political games (i.e. affectionately called “the heads down” worker”).

If this sounds like you, recognize that most people are way too busy to notice all the ways you add value - even if they want to. I’m guessing that your boss has several direct reports, her own boss, and other key stakeholders who demand her time and attention. On top of that, she has her own goals to meet and distractions to manage. How much time does that really leave her to focus on you?

So, it’s up to YOU to make it happen – to take the initiative to give visibility to your work, to get recognized for your contributions and open up new possibilities for yourself. Your good work alone won’t get you there - and unfortunately you can’t win at a game that you won’t even play. Start by making a decision to get in the game.

2. “I don’t want to come across as obnoxious or full of myself.”

No one likes to listen to someone whose head can barely fit in the door. Yes, we’ve all met at least one of those people in our lives! The good news is that those negative experiences can give us clues about what NOT to do. So, if you don’t want to come across as arrogant, think about how you DO want to show up. To get started, come up with three words to describe the type of impression you’d like to leave about yourself when you are telling others about your accomplishments. If you have already defined your personal brand, use that as context as well.

Remember that having clarity about the imprint you want to leave on others will help you develop strategies that work for you.

3. “I’m bad at it. I just don’t know how to do it.”

You’re not alone if you feel ill equipped to tastefully toot your own horn. If you feel this way, think about how you can share information about your results and accomplishments in a way that is relevant and helpful to others.

I’ll give you two examples to think about. First, consider that someone else in the company may be faced with a challenge similar to what you just successfully overcame. By taking the time to share what you did and how you did it, you can help them tremendously.

Second, keep in mind that your boss has to make decisions about your performance, pay, and development (to ensure that you can continue to contribute to the company’s goals). Providing information to her on a regular basis will allow her to make those decisions easily, and will serve you and the company well. Remember that she will be held accountable for your results.

Finally, to give you more clues about how to tastefully self- promote, look for others around you who do it well. Simply notice what they do and say. You may find that you can adapt some of their strategies to fit your own style.

By recognizing what’s holding you back from self-promoting, you can determine how to move forward. Start by defining an action step you will take this week. Also, if you haven’t read it, take a look at Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn.