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Your marketing sucks…

…said David Maister, of most professional service firms.

When Maister first presented his ideas on ‘Managing the Professional Services Firm’ and how to develop a position as ‘The Trusted Advisor’ (together with Charles Green and Robert Galford), he preached that success was less about the content of glossy brochures and more about the substance of relationships. I was (quite literally) in the room when Maister denounced all marketing as a waste of time and effort and urged the partners of a Global firm to ‘just get out there’ and demonstrate their value. I wholeheartedly agreed with Maister’s perspective, although I do think his definition of marketing was perjorative. His criticism was targeted at a specific genre of marketing – that which pushes and self-promotes rather than educates and validates.

Maister remains absolutely correct to this day. The road to riches is not paved with slick marketing brochures. Clients don’t buy your services simply because you’re open for business and have survived longer than the next guy. They don’t care about the founding fathers of your firm. Clients want to know three things:

  • How well do you understand my problems?
  • Have you resolved these kinds of problems before?
  • Will I enjoy working with you?

With the advances of social media and other technology there are so many more ways to answer these inherent questions and to develop a position as a trusted advisor. For those of us looking to change the way in-house counsel select and retain external service providers the following information might be useful to consider.

A 2013 Inside Counsel survey shows that more in-house counsel are turning to lawyer-generated blogs and online data sources for professional reasons (as much if not more than journalist-generated content)
Click here for a Bloomberg law interview and summary of the report.

My synopsisMany (most) usage by in-house counsel of new media channels is as a silent listener/consumer of data. They may not be actively engaging in online dialogue/discussion forums but they are certainly downloading information and being influenced by high quality content. They are forming impressions of lawyers who generate this content.

According to this survey of GCs, Chief Legal officers, Inhouse counsel and related titles, the primary factor influencing the potential hire of outside lawyers BY FAR is still (direct) recommendation from trusted sources (92% state this as very important to their decision).

Other factors affecting potential hire include:
• Bios on firm’s website (29% v imp, 62% somewhat imp),
• Articles and speeches authored by lawyer (18% v. imp, 61% somewhat imp)
• And blogs published by lawyers on topics of relevance to business (15% v. imp, 55% somewhat imp)

Interestingly – amongst the LEAST Influential factors affecting potential hire are peer-driven rankings like Chambers, Best Lawyers etc. with 39% of respondents saying these are not important to their decision to hire outside counsel.

This reinforces the message that creating and curating highly valuable content is essential to influencing change in the profession. So next time you approach your marketing team for a glossy brochure or practice sheet describing all the wonderful things you and your team can do – please STOP! Your time and energy would be better spent on creating thought-provoking and insightful commentary on the client issues you can resolve. Offer stories, examples, tips and guides that the marketing team can share on your behalf to create a positive impression of your expertise. That way – when someone refers you to another, your prospect will discover multiple validation points of your expertise (beyond your firm’s website).

Leadership as Learning

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

I am, and hope to always be, a leader-in-learning.

I work hard every day to be open to new opportunities to grow and to remember that no matter how much I know, I could never possibly hope to know it all (despite my behaviour to the contrary sometimes :))

Some of the most charismatic and accomplished leaders I have worked with, continue to act like they are on their way up, rather than having made it. Some are CEOs of Global organizations and yet they remain humble and open to what they can learn from others. They are the first to admit when they don’t know something, and the first to invite others to offer suggestions. They don’t ask questions to demonstrate how clever they are or to catch people out for having missed something. They are genuinely curious about how other people think and in exploring alternatives to their own perspective.It is really important for true leaders to maintain this spirit of leadership as learning, creating an environment ripe for innovation and engagement.

But some people, once they have achieved a certain level of career success, start inadvertently closing themselves off to new ideas and fresh thinking.

They stop trying new things, stop investing in development, stop spending time on ‘trying’ things out, stop asking stupid questions…

This is an understandable and natural consequence of becoming better and more sophisticated in what you do. But it can also be a fast way to becoming obsolete.

Indicators that you may be resistant to learning:

  • You like the plug and go features of that new piece of software that IT just rolled out, but you don’t have time for the advanced training. As long as the old shortcuts work, it’s all good
  • The report that you created in 2009 continues to be an excellent template for your client work
  • You wish the business administration would stop coming up with new processes and procedures to follow
  • When new projects and ideas are discussed, you can easily recall when they have been tried before and you are sceptical that they will work this time
  • The networking events you attend are filled with people from a similar education and professional background
  • Your friends are the same friends you have known for the last 10 years
  • Your reading list is dominated by genres and publications that you know you like
  • You have largely ignored social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook as not relevant for business life – after all, there’s no measureable ROI from social media right?
  • When new people join your organization, you patiently school them on the culture and how things are done, to help them integrate…

Why does this happen?

Early in our career, we knew there was a ton of stuff we didn’t know.

We were consciously incompetent, and there was absolutely no risk to admitting it.  Always ready to volunteer for a new project and not afraid to ask ‘dumb’ questions.

But as you progress further in your career, and you begin to get promoted to realms of ever increasing seniority, it is harder and harder to maintain that inquisitive edge. Right around the time your career hits the murky middle, you run the risk of being afraid to fail.

What you know can hold you back from being open to what you don’t know. Leadership and other senior roles carry a baggage load of expectations and beliefs – yours and other peoples – which can create a barrier to learning and change. Worse still, the things you did to become successful can start to edge towards complacency.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 /

Image courtesy of suphakit73 /

Think about driving for a moment. Something that many of us do on a daily basis while barely thinking about what we are doing and how we are doing it. When we are first learning to drive, our conscious incompetence is a good thing.  It teaches us patience and humility.  We are so focused on learning we may even have to have the window closed and the radio off to allow us to concentrate. Then gradually we become increasingly confident, until we no longer have to think about the collection of activities involved. That is when driving can become complacent and dangerous.

Similarly, becoming a leader in a state of unconscious competence can be career suicide.

How can you remain immune to this natural progression?

There are many examples where, in our private lives, we try new things and remain open to new experiences. We learn to play music, travel, try new foods. We need to remember to take this openness and willingness to experiment back into the workplace on a daily basis. Create immunity by purposefully placing yourself in situations where you are NOT the expert and where you are forced to rely on someone else for direction and insights. Force yourself back into a state of conscious incompetence.

A few years ago I decided to take up speed skating (or speed falling as my husband affectionately called my attempts to skate).

My son had been skating competitively for a couple of years and I decided it was time to get out of the stands and have a go. Bearing in mind that I grew up in England, where strapping on a pair of skates is at best an annual event, I was consciously placing myself in a very precarious position where I knew nothing about the technicalities of skating (finding my edges was a revelation !).  Being a typical A type personality, having the other beginners (who were mostly 20 years younger than me) literally skating rings around me was disconcerting but also liberating. I was not the best. I was not the fastest. Heck, I could barely stand upright for the first few weeks. But I was wide open to learning.

I have had similar experiences with learning to play the piano from scratch as an adult beginner, or taking up road-cycling (a new exploit). I consciously translate the essence of these situations to my work, where I freely admit the areas where I am less than comfortable. I ask members of my team for their ideas and their approaches to doing things I have sometimes been doing for years. I ask for additional ideas and methods even in areas where I feel confident. I never fail to be amazed by the ingenuity and proficiency of others.

  • What do you do to stay open to the ideas and different approaches presented by the people around you?
  • How does something you do in your personal life translate to making you a better leader at work?

I’d love to hear your experiences.

This post was inspired by an interview with Steve Cunningham – president and founder of curated learning tool and CEO of Polar Unlimited Digital Marketing. Click here to listen to the interview on the Read it for me Blog. Thanks to Steve for a great conversation…

Stop Networking – Start Connecting. 6 Tips for developing a richer networking experience

This post originally appeared as a guest column on The Executive Roundtable Blog. Click here for the original posting

We all know that networking is an important way to meet people who could help you; those who might one day refer business to you, or open the door to a new opportunity. That’s certainly true, but that’s really only part of the picture. Networking is also about connecting, sharing, learning and finding ways to develop meaningful relationships with others. A network can be a source of new work but it can also be a source of information, ideas and reality-checking feedback. Your network contacts can deliver business opportunities and introduce you to people you may not otherwise meet, but only if you remember to feed it from time to time with your own ideas and support. As much as your network can help you, you are also a contributor and participant in the growth of others.

Here are 6 tips for developing a more productive network. A network that will provide ideas, feedback, business opportunities and maybe the talent pool for your future dream role.

1 – It begins with your approach What are you thinking as you approach new people for the first time? If you approach each new relationship with a view to finding out how someone might be able to help you, you’re doing it all wrong. Your first task when you meet people is to find out as much as you can about them and areas of common interest. Then – your role is to think about how YOU might be able to help THEM! Learn what they need to progress, and how you might be able to help. You will ask different questions and learn far more about how someone might potentially help you if you understand more about them. The time will come later to figure out if they can assist you with anything.

2 – Recalibrate your filter system Don’t build your network exclusively at a senior level. That’s a rookie mistake and will lead you to missing opportunities to interact with some great people. Not to mention, it just makes you come off as a jerk when you dismiss junior people as less valuable. Look for connections with people who interest you and who have different life perspectives to offer. I am more interested in connecting with people who’s thinking complements and even challenges mine, than their current job title. They may be CEOs and VPs already, or perhaps they are really smart high school graduates who are looking at the world around them with an inquisitive nature. Either way, you need them all.

3 – Networking opportunities are all around us There are so many places where you can find new connections for your network. Don’t just consider the typical business networking ‘events’ as the only place to find great new contacts. Consider speakers at the conference you attend, candidates you have interviewed, people you have interviewed with, people who reach out to you for help, clients you meet, others who work with your clients, professors, other students, mentors, entrepreneurs, and the list goes on. When you meet someone interesting – ask them to connect with you on LinkedIn and make sure you continue your conversations offline. From time to time check back through all of your connections and invite them to ‘catch-up’. You never know when doing so might lead to a fascinating new opportunity for one of you.

4 – Your network as a source of inspiration Your network should be a living, breathing assortment of interesting and intelligent people who can inspire you to be your best in everything you do. When you are working on a new project, or researching a new strategy, your network may provide some interesting perspectives. Consider members of your network to be your personal board of advisors. Identify people in your network whose opinions you trust to help you shape your thinking. Don’t be afraid to use members of your network as a sounding board or as a reality check for your ideas.

5 – Your network as a hidden talent pool Just like the fact that there is a hidden job market and the best opportunities come to you through your network, so can the best candidates! Your job as a leader is not only to ensure the strategic health of your team and your business but also to actively identify and recruit talent wherever you may find it. Keep track of others’ careers as they grow. When you interview a start candidate who wasn’t the right fit for your vacancy, stay in touch with them, and see how you can help them land a suitable role. Even if you don’t have a position for them, you may know someone who does. When you have a position that requires the best talent you can find, you’ll be able to tap your junior network members for their potential knowledge of others at a similar career level, who may be interested. And the good karma and satisfaction that comes from being able to help talented individuals reach their potential will fulfill your inner leader-soul.

6 – Your role in feeding your network Networks should be dynamic, fluid and multi-directional. How many of your network members know each other already? Which of them might benefit from meeting each other? How can you facilitate introductions between your network contacts? Who might be able to work together or do business together? Who might just get a kick out of meeting each other? You may be the hub but you don’t need to keep your network contacts as spokes. They can get huge value from being able to cross-fertilize ideas and support across the entire network. When I meet someone new whom I would like to help, I often invite him or her to look through my network connections on LinkedIn and ask that I introduce them to anyone else they would like to meet.

This flow of connections, sharing, engaging and learning from each other is what I mean when I say stop networking and start connecting. Try it – You might start thinking of networking not as a chore but as essential to your leadership identity as breathing.  I know I do.

Leadership in action – be true to who you are

Leadership in ActionI’m no political pundit, but I am a keen observer of people, especially leaders in action.

Earlier this morning I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast discussion with Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario New Democrats at a time when her party has been wielding the balance of power and working to support the Province’s minority Liberal government.  Far from being a dry presentation of platform issues, this discussion was specifically geared to address the topic of leadership through change and how to maximize opportunities as they are presented.

As she took the podium and addressed the audience, I was struck by Ms Horwath’s nature as a leader and began to understand why she appears to be gaining significant traction in the current political and economic landscape.

Whatever your beliefs (and mine is not to question or persuade either way) there were some great leadership lessons to be learned from simply watching this very eloquent and charming woman handle the room.

To begin, she set the scene and explained some of the thinking behind recent decisions to collaborate with the Liberals over an unpopular budget rather than force an election.  Effective leadership is not about making the easy choice (which in this case would have been to simply follow the lead set by the third leg and oppose the budget). Rather, negotiating a resolution required a far more thoughtful approach.

She went on to express her ideas and address the questions of the audience in a confident and engaging style. What follows are some key leadership lessons I was able to observe in action.

Acknowledge your critics

One of the most disarming things Ms Horwath did for the audience this morning was to acknowledge where many of them may be holding different views and perspectives on the best form of government.  Not only was this a very humble way to approach the potentially antagonistic crowd, but it was extremely charming and immediately reset the tone of the discussion to more open exploration of ideas.

Anticipate questions and answer candidly

As you might expect, Ms Horwath was well prepared to address the kinds of questions that would arise. While her position for each area was clearly prepared in advance, her answers appeared to come very naturally and unscripted.  The ability to be clear on your position frees you up to be authentic in your response.

Be clear on your role, and your priorities

Like any good leader, there was no doubt in Ms Horwath’s mind what she was there to do this morning. When an opportunity arose, she reinforced her approach and the value proposition offered by her party. But she did so while paying close attention to the needs and interests of the audience. She didn’t dominate the discussion with political mantra but she did adhere to her priorities to shine a positive light on the choices being made and the strong alternative offered by her approach.

Ask for what you want

While much of the discussion this morning was about supporting others and working within the boundaries and limitations set, I heard Ms Horwath explicitly ask the audience for their vote – twice!  She made it clear that she will continue to work with the current structure for as long as required, but would much prefer to lead from the front. Her willingness to ask outright for what she wants, and to not obscure her ambition, impressed the heck out of me.  Too many women are hesitant to state their ambitions and far too shy about asking for what they want.

Demonstrate your openness to fresh ideas

As a leader – there are always moments when you have to confront statements of opinion presented as a question, or unsolicited ideas on how to do a better job.  Not only did Ms Horwath welcome such moments, she was incredibly gracious with her response and actively demonstrated that she would take action on the ideas presented.

Be true to who you are

One final observation I would make is that Ms Horwath is an example of a strong, confident and emotionally intelligent woman doing an excellent job in leadership.  While her gender does not appear to have been a limitation in her advancement, she has a integrative style and subtle approach which I can’t imagine being delivered effectively by anyone other than a woman.

Ten Ways to Engage Your Employees

It’s no secret that having a highly-motivated workforce is good for business. But can small and medium-sized businesses really compete with the employee engagement programs offered by larger competitors? The answer is yes. By following these ten tips, even organizations with a minimal budget can create an open, accountable and enriching environment for their staff:

1. Awards only go so far. ‘Employer of the year’ award programs are great ways to show that the organization is committed to the concept of engagement, but they do not guarantee an engaged workforce. Ineffective management can undermine even the most innovative employee incentive programs. Likewise, just because an organization has not submitted to external validation does not necessarily mean they are any less of an employer of choice for their staff.

2. If you want them to care, you have to care. This one is pretty straightforward. If you want people to commit their time, energy and commitment to things that matter to your organization, it pays to show an interest in your employees and their work. Remembering names and paying attention to the things they tell you about their families, special events, holidays, hobbies and interests is critical. This type of behaviour proves to your staff they are more than just a ‘resource’ for you. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Undercover Boss, you can see this very clearly. Sometimes, the best motivation comes from someone simply paying attention and listening.

3. Demand excellence and hold people accountable. While you may not condone his brutal leadership style, those who work with Gordon Ramsey seem to be highly engaged. A small compliment from Ramsey over a well-executed risotto can wash away the devastating critique he dished out only moments prior. And whatever you might think of Ramsey, he is a perfectionist who holds people accountable and expects them to live up to their potential. While you may not wish to be quite so aggressive in the workplace, it certainly pays to be real when it comes to performance. A tough critic who gives compliments sparingly and asks people to redo work that is not up to par can certainly drive engagement.

4. What you choose not to do is just as important. As a leader, your every action is being closely monitored by others. If someone is underperforming, the team expects you to deal with it. If you turn a blind eye, or worse yet, delegate an increased share of work to others to compensate for this weak link, your stronger performers will start questioning why they should work as hard as they do. Without the proper feedback, a weaker performer loses the opportunity to step up or find a better fit for their skills elsewhere.

5. Don’t let your lack of planning become someone else’s emergency. Putting something at the bottom of your pile until you get around to it, or until a creeping deadline makes it urgent, is a clear indication that the project is not important to you or the organization. Imagine how motivating it is then to be the one who has to deal with that last-minute emergency due to your procrastination or lack of planning. If it wasn’t important to you to do it sooner, then its not important enough for someone else to have to drop everything they are working on to make it happen, perhaps causing them to fall behind on other projects.

6. Help them discover their strengths. All employees want to see personal progression. For some that might mean promotion and financial reward, for others it could mean something more personal. It’s worth asking your employees what would make today, this week, this month or this year a worthwhile use of their time and then show them how to achieve their goals.

7. Ask for feedback. Find out what your employees consider the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and ask people what they would tell a new potential hire when asked “what does it mean to work here?” But be warned: Asking for feedback can be hazardous, especially if you try to make excuses or try justifying any shortfalls rather than seeking ways to fill the gaps.

8. Be open and transparent with your results. I’m always amazed by how many corporate workers are removed from the reality of the business results. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to generate an entrepreneurial level of engagement if your workers are not exposed to the financial information needed to make sound business decisions. Show them how to read a balance sheet. Teach them why certain business metrics and key indicators matter in your business and how their role contributes to the bottom line. Even if they are not in sales, they can make a proactive impact by reducing costs, eliminating redundancy and improving efficiency to increase profits.

9. Give people the space and time they need to explore new ideas. Being able to influence the future direction of the business can be very motivating. Often, front line workers who engage with customers or interact with your products genearlly have great ideas for improving your business. Unfortunately, those with the most direct access to improvement opportunities are also the people who have the least time and authority to think about solutions. Give junior members of the team the opportunity to explore beyond their job description. Minds not yet entrenched in organizational patterns are a prime breeding ground for new connections. But be careful to avoid not-invented-here syndrome and its close cousin “we’ve tried it before and it didn’t work.” Fresh ideas plus new timing plus new champions may just be the combination needed to make it work and can be very motivating for those involved.

10. An engaged workplace is not a conflict-free zone. Constructive disagreement and collaborative debate amongst respected colleagues can be the source of great inspiration and engagement. On the other hand, conflicts that are buried can fester, creating dysfunction and disengagement. The important difference is a level of mutual respect, appreciation of diverse perspectives and a willingness to operate as if your answer is not the only way. Your role as a leader is to foster healthy debate. Encourage your people to explore alternatives to their own ideas and enable them to be honest with their differences.

This article originally appeared in The Globe and Mail Small Business – The Top Tens feature. Click here for the original

The new character witness – Social Media in the C-suite

Over the last several months I’ve been asked many times, and had cause to ponder, the pro’s and cons of jumping into social media in order to facilitate business growth.

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter, Google or the blogosphere at any time in the last 12 months you will have heard many of the same questions – What’s the value? Where’s the return on investment? How do you measure effectiveness? How do you manage the risks? Who owns the social channel? etc. The list goes on. There are so many questions, and the answer for most of them is “it depends…” as in “it depends what your objectives are, who your customers are, what your business model is…”. Not that the use of social media is a temporary phenomenon. I truly believe that the socialization of business is here to stay. Its more that the choices of how to use these tools, who to have as the primary representatives of your organization and what sort of content to publish and share is dependent on your overall business goals.

So what role if any, should C-level executives, senior leaders and owners of businesses be taking in the adoption of these tools? Should they leave the discovery and leverage of communications technology to their marketing and PR professionals, or should they be leading by example?

One of the most interesting things I have witnessed in my own journey of discovery (revealing my bias that leaders should be wielding the machete when it comes to exploring new possibilities and models of doing business) is just how revealing a collection of 140 character statements can be, over time. Like watching the gradual build of an impressionistic painting, you can learn a lot from watching how people craft a quick tweet, reply to a follower, offer a point of view in a chat and generally interact.

One of the most delightful leaders I have had the pleasure to meet and chat with online and later offline (Sam Parrotto @qstreet) made the observation that she learns as much from how a tweeter interacts with others as she does from her own engagement with that same person. I’ve also seen how this same impression of someone’s intelligence, political persuasion, influence, and credibility translates to a real life setting, with offline meet-ups skipping easily over the mutual sniffing rituals and heading straight into the realm of warm reunions.

I’ve said before, social media doesn’t make you social, it amplifies personality traits and raises my awareness of those I want to interact with and those I admire. In that regard, social media IS the new character witness. The uncensored interactions that people have online, accelerate the opinions we form (the good, the bad and the ugly). Self-servitude, arrogance, deafness and egotistical behaviour can be amazingly evident if you watch, look and listen to how people approach their online community. While warmth, generosity, engagement and sincere responsiveness just exude from others. Just look at the amazing list of 60 men and 60 women on twitter that the wonderful Margie Clayman has put together and you’ll see exactly what I mean. While I most certainly agree with her choices, having the pleasure to ‘know’ many of these men and women from my own travels through the stream, Margie’s personal notes about why she admires each of the people on her lists and how she first met them is clear evidence of her world view. Margie is a maven extraordinaire. I love her authenticity and contribution to collaborative learning. A leader in her field, undoubtedly.

Just as I am forming impressions of individuals from the way they interact online, I am also forming impressions of businesses and their level of involvement with their communities. As the war for professional talent has heated up and continues to be a hot topic for 2011, I’m sure I’m not alone in weighing up judgements about an organization’s innovation culture by who it is heading up their social media efforts. If I see a company engaging in social media through their marketing or PR team, that’s okay, but it’s all too clearly a tactic. When I see real leaders engaging authentically through the social media channels, responding in a human way to the comments, questions and interests of others, and leading by example, I see them and the businesses they represent as more interesting and real. I know which I would rather do business with…

What do you think! Can you really get to ‘know’ someone by watching the way they behave online? Do you admire CEO’s and other execs who jump ‘naked’ into the fray? Does a social media presence manned by a C-level executive provide you with a different impression of a company? Maybe you think the CEO has better things to do than tweet. Would love your thoughts on this.

Mastering Leadership – Essential Lessons you won’t learn in school…

For me, leadership is not linked to position or accreditation. By that I mean that I have met many non-titled leaders who inspire and influence others without any formal authority over them, and many excellent leaders who got their MBA the ‘hard-knocks’ way. I have met an equally large number of people who hold a leadership position but dramatically fail to lead. They may direct, govern, preside and authorize… but lead? They are missing that particular chromosome.

For me the major difference is personal agenda. The leadership I aspire to is one which motivates others to give willingly of their best. One that believes in driving people to live to their full potential. These are qualities that are not developed in a business school or from the pages of a book but rather in real-time connections with the people and organizations you spend your career days with. Being naturally curious about people and figuring out how to unleash their creativity and determination to resolve new business challenges is the true work of leaders.

So, what are some of the most important and essential lessons I have learned so far in my journey towards mastering this kind of leadership?

1 – All business is personal:

While I fully support a focus on goals and results, I am equally conscious of the manner in which we get there. People; not business models, frameworks or processes; run organizations. People decide whether to lend their knowledge, skills and resources to help execute a plan. Those same people can be stubborn, resistant to change and counterproductive towards an end game they don’t believe in or don’t feel part of.  My years of working with Partners and Business Owners have shown me that leaders must have a grand vision but must also make goals individually significant. If the new direction is going to take effort – you’d better make the net result meaningful for each person at an individual level.

2 – Its about them, not you…

A couple of years ago, at the peak of the credit crisis, I witnessed many senior executives burying themselves in emergency cabinet meetings and planning sessions, trying to figure out how to ‘lead’ their business through. Being so focused on how they would help the business to survive, they effectively withdrew from the very people they were leading and closed off the opportunity for everyone to be part of the solution. Furthermore, employees lost valuable work time worrying about what might happen.

Even in positive times, great leaders need to ask their people what they need to find a way through. How they can remove barriers and provide the tools and resources people need to get the job done. Thinking about what your team needs from you (rather than what you need from your team) can help inspire innovation and accelerate change even when a solution seems impossible.

3 – Don’t try so hard

When I got my first shot at a true leadership position, I dutifully adapted to the role. All the books and ‘how to’ guides on effective leadership walked me through those first 90 days and how I needed to set goals and go for the ‘quick wins’. I was excited to finally get the chance to put all my great ideas into action. That is when I discovered that what looks great on paper, often falls apart when you factor in the human element! Somehow my great ideas and mental rehearsals didn’t translate into the inspiring roar of action that I was aiming for! My colleagues wondered what had happened to me. The person who had been a creative and inspirational team member was confusing and awkward as a new leader. Looking back, I was trying so DAMN hard, I forgot that what got me to that point was my instinctive interest in people and their needs. I didn’t need to suddenly develop new methods for engaging people and communicating with them. I’d like to say they came around, and that I managed to get over that initial leadership hiccup, but unfortunately not. It was a lesson learned from failure!

4 – Take care of number 1

It might sound counter-intuitive but this is the toughest lesson most leaders have to learn. Think of it as the oxygen mask lesson. You are not invincible! If you have ever suffered from health issues as a result of working too hard and not taking time to take care of yourself you know all about this lesson. Enough said.

5 – The learning never stops

No matter how successful you become as a leader, the learning should never end. This lesson is harder to apply the more successful you become. Its easy to absorb new ideas and recognize learning opportunities when you are starting out, but the more successful you are, the harder it is to let go of what you ‘know’ and remain open to what might be ‘possible’ or even ‘imaginable’. I see many incredibly successful people close themselves off to new learning because they know better, they’ve tried it that way before and it never works or simply they don’t have time to learn a new approach. Make it a rule to learn something new every year, from languages, to music, to a new software program.

While there are certainly excellent examples to learn from in the field of books and business schools, leadership is truly a personal journey of discovery. You can learn as much from your mistakes as from your successes.What do you think? What are some of the most important lessons leaders must learn outside the classroom or pages of a book?

The Elephant named Google and the Brand called YOU!

Every bit as relevant as it was the day it was published in 1997, Tom Peters article on “The Brand Called You” has become one of those common sense and fundamental ideas that is often talked about in universities and business schools as a way to stand out in the job market and a way to ensure you land that all important first ‘career’ position. If you haven’t read it recently, click here for a copy!

Since the publication of that article, a whole industry has grown up around personal branding and helping people to manage the impressions formed by recruiters, head hunters and potential employers to secure a place in their chosen profession. Many see personal branding as a tool to use if you happen to be actively seeking a new position. You set up a Linked-in profile, add a few recommendations, dust off your resume, clean out your Facebook profile and un-friend any dubious characters in preparation for putting yourself back on the market. Not really something that you need to think about unless you are actively looking for a new adventure, right?


If you are an Entrepreneur or Business Owner, including Equity Partners in Professional Service Firms; your personal brand and your overall business brand are often synonymous.

Hard to convince your clients and prospective clients that your business will act in their best interests, or that responsiveness, accountability and value are intrinsic to your service if these characteristics are not portrayed by you as an individual.

If you are not yet a business owner, but imagine one day adding the word Partner or President to your card, then you must treat personal branding as an essential part of how you operate daily. Knowing what it takes to create a strong reputation and to manage the impression that you form with clients, colleagues and prospects through every interaction is essential to ensuring that when the time comes, the best opportunities will find their way to you.

So what does Google have to do with it?

In these days of social and digital media, we have never had so many tools to enable us to amplify and manage our personal reputations. What you say, what you do, where you are seen, who you choose to associate with, what you think about a particular business issue… all these elements of your personal brand can be demonstrated and shared through social tools.  When people meet you for the first time you can bet they will be ‘googling’ your name as fast as you can say “nice to meet you”.  When they do, its important that your name and your accomplishments are congruent with the way you present yourself.

The opposite is also true; a poorly considered comment, a questionable display of behaviour, inappropriate actions, indiscriminate associations can also appear as part of the tapestry that becomes your personal brand and reputation. Google never forgets!!

Three things I know about Branding (personal or traditional)

  • Brand isn’t what you say it is, it’s what others say and think about you.
  • Your brand is created through every experience and interaction people have with you – live, online, in written form, from a distance, third hand, and brand impressions can be both fleeting and memorable…
  • ACTION trumps Intellect every time. Unless you are an academic, you don’t build a reputation on what you think, or what you know, or what you understand, but rather how you apply all that to what you do and how that impacts others. 

Branding tools for everyone…

Linkedin, Facebook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Face to Face Meetings, Telephone Calls, Coffee meetings Emails, Blogs, Articles, Seminars, Conferences, Public Presentations, Teaching opportunities, Volunteering opportunities… These are all part of the personal branding tool-kit. How many of these are you using purposefully today to manage and sustain your chosen brand characteristics? Social media may have made it easier for you to develop your reputation, but once you have built it, you also need to nurture and protect it. Choose your tools (shields) wisely!

Hot On The Presses…

Having your content published in the newspaper or a quality trade journal can add credibility and exposure for your professional expertise, but how should you go about selecting a readable topic, developing a story idea and pitching your story to an interested editor?
Here are some quick tips inspired by great questions from one of my clients

Read first …

If there is a publication you admire, feel is well suited to your ideas or has an ideal subscriber base for you to reach, scan through several recent editions. Get a feel for the kinds of articles and columns the publication covers. Get a sense of the tone and pitch of their stories: are they deep and detailed, or light and breezy? Do they reference a range of other sources or simply provide “top tips” and practical ideas? What are the hot topics or themes in the area you wish to write about?

Figure out what you might have to say…

Before you write anything, have a clear idea of what you might want to write about and what might be of interest to your target reader. If your topic has been covered recently, how can you build on what has been published already? Where can you add a new or slightly different perspective? Can you bring additional concrete examples or “how to” steps into the discussion?

Why should anyone read it? …

Once you have thought about what’s already been written and what new slant or perspective you might be able to offer – think about what the reader might have to gain from reading your article or listening to your ideas. While an article is a potential soapbox for providing your point of view to a wider audience, it should also provide a call to action and leave the reader better for having taken away some of your ideas. What are the 3-5 points that someone will learn as a result of reading your piece?

Write the Abstract …

Now write a “pitch paragraph” or abstract rather than the full article. This will save you a lot of time and wasted effort writing an article that struggles to find a placement, or rewriting an article which hits the right notes but is not best suited to a publication’s audience. Use 300 to 500 words to outline your core theme, highlight the main points your article will touch on, and an overview of the leave behinds you will deposit in the mind of the reader.

Show where it fits…

If you can, show how your article will fit into the landscape of the discussion topic (i.e., x writer recently referenced this, this article will go beyond that idea to discuss y & z in more detail and demonstrate how n happens …).

These are just a few ideas on how to get your content noticed by editors.  I’d love to hear your hot tips for getting ‘on’ the presses.