How Inspirational is Your Leadership Brand?

Like It or Not, You Make Branding Choices Every Single Day 

People aren’t the only forces of inspiration. Brands have the same power—one that is multiplied, even, by the number of people who come together under one missional banner. 

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, he sold a metal box with a microprocessor, small screen, and a clickable wheel. But what did he deliver? A thousand songs in your pocket.

That small piece of hardware has changed the way people consumed music. 

It might be retro cool now to buy albums on vinyl or even cassette, but a thousand songs in your pocket was transformational in 2001, helping pave the way for the iPhone and establish Apple as a global monolith. 

What is the big idea YOU serve to your customers? Think for a moment before you answer. 

You may think you “sell” one thing but actually deliver another. And if your sell and your deliver aren’t matching up, there may be a disconnect of inspiration. 

You can discover it again—that idea that made you tick, the goals your people signed up ready to achieve. 

But it requires asking the hard questions: How inspirational is my brand truly? And what decisions am I making everyday that set me on this course? 

Inspiring Brands can Inspire Positivity OR Negativity

Brands clearly have an identity, much like a person, but do they always inspire? And further, do they always inspire in the positive sense of the word? 

As a leader in an organization, you are a torchbearer for your brand. The things you say and do reflect on the brand.

The NFL for years has talked about the shield when referring to their logo.

They have high standards for what they want their brand to be. That’s why players get fined for wearing the wrong cleats or something that doesn’t match the uniform. 

It’s seen as disrespectful to the shield. 

The NFL has a brand code that it expects its players to live up to and abide by. Unfortunately, however, many fans feel the NFL has been inspiring in the wrong direction lately. Right or wrong, the League has paid a price for that perception. 

So whether your brand is inspiring positive or negative thoughts, you will make an impact either way with the words and actions you use to front your brand. 

Inspiring Brands Get to the Heart

Some brands, like Apple, become status symbols. Others like Tom’s Shoes and Patagonia become outlets for causes the owners and employees can support. 

Now more than ever, brands have a say in how they are perceived in the marketplace. Dove, a Unilever Skincare brand, launched a campaign several years ago called “Real Beauty.” You may remember the ads. 

It began when they “put six women in their underwear on a billboard in Times Square and challenged conventional norms of beauty imagery.”

These women weren’t famous supermodels with recognizable faces. They were women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones and showed that Dove products were for everyone. 

It was a risky proposition that could have backfired, but according to Rob Candelino, Vice President of Brand Building for Unilever Skincare, the campaign transformed the company’s image. Candelino said that the billboard “was so groundbreaking and profoundly inspiring to women” that they were flooded with positive feedback. 

Dove used their platform as a brand to send a message to the heart of their market. 

Inspiring Brands Cause a Reaction

Think about the following brands: Zappos, Starbucks, Target, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Tesla, Google, Disney, Chick-Fil-A, Walmart, Home Depot, and Amazon.

Do they evoke a positive or negative reaction in you? 

Would you want to work with these brands? Why? Why not? 

What have these brands done that sticks in your mind and causes a reaction? What cultures do you think these brands have inside the company’s walls? 

Some are listed among the top places to work. Others are frequently defending their culture and treatment of employees. Are their employees happy, highly regarded, frustrated, exhausted? 

Now consider this: just as you have a reaction to these brands, your customers and the marketplace have a reaction to your organization’s brand. 

Your company brand is and will be known for something.

It may be the lowest cost, the highest quality, reliability, luxury, economy, sportiness, value, or humor. 

Building Your Brand Identity

Whether you lead an organization of millions, a division of thousands, or a team of a few, your leadership can inspire—or exasperate—the brand you lead. Yes, that’s right! 

Even a small team has a brand identity. 

You can decide to be an inspirational leader or an exasperating leader who shapes that brand in either direction. 

If you choose to do nothing about your leadership style, you’ll naturally become exasperating to those you lead. No one wants to follow someone who simply goes through the motions. What do you want your brand to be? 

What type of leader will you need to be in order to create a team that embodies that brand?

Get out a pen and paper before you do anything else today (it will be worth it). 

Write down at least 5 adjectives that describe your ideal leadership brand. What feelings do you want to evoke in your audience? In your coworkers? What are 5 action words that describe how your leadership will execute? 

Then put your favorites together in a missional statement.

This statement can change, it can grow, but if you can keep it in mind before every decision, delegation, project, and product, you will find it 100x easier to stay on-mission, on-brand, and powerfully inspirational, not only as an individual, but a brand. 

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The Real Reason No One Listens When You Speak

3 Steps to Communicate Powerfully with Your Team

People have been figuring out ways to communicate with each other since they first set foot on the earth—from cave drawings and hieroglyphics to modern day emojis. 😎

We’ve become masters of getting our ideas across. Without dialogue, our teams disintegrate. But communication requires more than the transmission of information.

On a boat flying across the bay, crew members must become efficient and effective at relaying information. Wasting time and energy, or worse, risking miscommunication, just won’t do.

In your business, what are your critical communication points? Do you speak to employees or team members in person or via video calls? Will a team member text you with a question, call you, email you, or wait until you come asking? How does your behavior influence how willing teammates are to communicate with you?

Every interaction is a potential miscommunication unless you are intentional about integrating.  

The Communication Checklist

As you re-envision what you want successful communication to look like on your team, take these three steps:

1. Identify

It’s also important to identify the key people with whom you need to communicate the most—and help leaders on your team do the same with their key personnel. Everyone needs a leader who will hear him or her. As a leader, you must take responsibility for communication as far as it is within your control.

2. Adapt

Integrated communication depends on doing it in ways others understand and appreciate. Does one member love to contact you directly? Give them a chance to do so.

Are they independent and work on their own until checked upon? Be sure to check in on them at regular intervals.

It’s impossible—and not necessary—to get everyone to speak the same language. Do your best to integrate with the people you lead and speak to them using their preferred style.

3. Ask

When I’m working with turnarounds or start-ups, I like doing critical communication in morning huddles. These are short team meetings designed to communicate critical information, focus the team, and get back at it.

To make sure you are communicating effectively, consider these questions:

  • What are the critical components I need to communicate?
  • What does my team need to know?
  • Whom should I tell first?
  • Are there any critical communication points being missed?
  • Is my communication one-way or two-way?
  • Is the message I’m trying to deliver the message that’s being received?

People Who Listen are People Who Feel Heard

All communication is not created equal. Many leaders technically say all the right information—but they’re still not communicating. They’re just transmitting. Because if you are talking and nobody is listening, you aren’t communicating.

In the military, when somebody has given an order, the soldiers respond back with a term called “Hooah!” It stands for H.U.A. Heard. Understood. Acknowledged. Effective communication asks for an echo check from the team, a confirmation that not only have they heard, but they understand what to do, acknowledge their role, and are moving to action.

Don’t mistake leadership monologues for company dialogue. Communication means not only that transmission has occurred, but also that recipients have received the information—and they know what to do with it.

As a leader start the communication evaluation with yourself. Perform a communication audit. Ask your team members to rate your communication skills, and take what they say to heart.

Then perform a listening audit. Work to listen to your team members and use their best input.

When people feel truly heard, they rise to the occasion every time. When you start listening to them, they’ll start listening to you.

How to Make Sense of Your Team Performance

Identify Where Underperformance Strikes to Blow by the Competition

Measuring Your Team Performance

If someone dropped you in the middle of nowhere Alaska with just a map and an X on it… would you know how to get there?

Of course not. (And if you attempted, would be lucky to avoid frostbite.)

Because, as any adventurer knows, before you can move towards a goal, you need to know where you are on the map. You would need to identify some landmarks to gauge where you are and some checkpoints to measure your progress toward the goal.

Evaluating the right route for your team—even if you know where to go—requires the same assessment. Any leader needs to know the landmarks or checkpoints that lie between the organization and optimal performance.

When assessing where you are as a team, there are two general categories of landmarks or Key Performance Indicators (KPI) you can use: tangible and intangible.

Tangible KPIs

As a general leadership rule, you should stay out of the operational weeds. It’s your job to plan and sustain the big-picture and train up the right delegates for detail work.

However, assessing your team well does require a season in the weeds to really understand who is doing what.

Only then can you assess the skills of each team member and position him or her for maximum value and production. Only then can you identify strengths and weaknesses and position each of them in the best possible position to contribute to the team performance.

You’ll want to take a look at things like:

  • Output
  • KPIs
  • Conflicts
  • Collaboration
  • Turnover
  • Wants and needs
  • Beliefs and behaviors
  • Capacity
  • Capabilities
  • Empowerment levels

Intangible KPIs

Other performance indicators are more easily missed because they don’t show up as numbers or percentages. But oh, do they matter! They are intangible so far as they are the performance indicators of healthy culture, problem-solving, and the relationship between team members. The four intangible KPIs I like to look at first are:

Trust. Trust is the currency of leadership. It starts when your team can trust you and you can trust your team. On the other hand, mistrust creates isolation. Isolation in a team environment always leads to disaster.

So, ask yourself:

  • Does my team trust me? Do I trust my team?
  • Do external customers trust us?
  • Do other departments within the organization trust us?
  • Do I know what my team can and can’t do—and how to grow where we are lacking?

Competence. Trust can only take you so far when you’ve got a competence problem. As an InSPIRED leader, you have a responsibility to create and guide a competent team. That means you’ve got to understand your team’s core competencies:

  • What is it that your department does?
  • What are the critical deliverables?
  • What are the critical roles?
  • Within the critical roles, what does competency look like?

Communication. All communication is not created equal. Many conversations among/to team members technically use all the right information—but they’re still not communicating. They’re just transmitting. Communication means not only that transmission has occurred, but also that recipients have received the information—and they know what to do with it.

Commitment. We all start with some level of competence, but knowledge in any industry has to be learned. Give me a person who has some level of competence, but is trustworthy with a heart full of commitment—and I can turn that person into a vital and integrated member of the team. You will gain competence every day if your heart is committed.

Becoming a Master Navigator

Together these KPIs make up your team compass. Most leaders focus on the tangibles, but the secret to finding true north is understanding both the measurable performance indicators and the abstract characteristics that set the context and culture for everything you output.
Keep them in your pocket at all times, and it won’t matter where you get dropped—if you can evaluate where your team is now, you can strategize how to get them anywhere.

The Secret to Enjoying a Missional Team Mindset

Unlocking Your Why to Engage with Passion

Here’s a vital question for organizational leaders to ask: Are you still on track together, or at some point did everyone get distracted from the core mission, vision, values, and purpose?

Family businesses can be beautiful instances of hard work creating something out of nothing.

They also can be prime examples of what happens when your why gets lost over time.

Grandparents carve a business out of the dirt with blood, sweat, and tears. At some point, the business gets handed off to the kids. When the second generation takes over the business, they know the passion Mom and Dad put into it, so they pour themselves into it.

But, more often than not, the grandkids will put that business in the ditch. Why? Because they didn’t share the purpose and passion or see the price paid by that first generation. They don’t share the passion, but they enjoy the privilege that has been their birthright.

Unfortunately, birthright doesn’t give passion and purpose. That’s why so many organizations, not just family businesses, flounder and lose their way over time. They lose their why.

Find the Why to Find Your Purpose

If you’re a leader of an organization that has lost its way, you must discover where you got off track and how to get back to that place of purpose. Purpose and passion produce the energy required to build an InSPIRED culture.

That’s why TOMS Shoes has been so successful. Yes, they’re selling shoes, but, more importantly, they have a social impact that drives them.

Purpose and passion are also why Michael Dell raised the money to buy his own company back. He was passionate about what he had created but knew he couldn’t make the moves he needed to protect that purpose and passion if the company was publicly traded. So, he raised the money to buy back Dell stock and make it private again. That’s what passion does.

People lose their shared sense of passion when they’ve lost their purpose. How then does an organization find or rediscover its purpose? How does it get intentional about ensuring everyone shares that purpose and passion?

  • Everyone in the organization needs to know why the organization was created.
  • What was the founding story?
  • What needs is the company serving now?
  • Could you name the why behind the how and the what?
  • Can you name the team’s core values?

Passion tears down silos and positions organizational culture to be fully integrated. When an organization isn’t driven by passion that comes from a clear and honorable purpose, it’s easy to get into a mess.

So the question is this: is your organization mission-minded or messy-minded? Do you have a mission-critical mindset in your organization or a silo-centric mindset?

3 Signatures of a Mission-Minded Team

Teams working with a mission in mind can’t help but stand out from the rest. How many of these do you see every day with your organization?

  1. With a mission-critical mindset, people will elevate mission, purpose, and passion above the need for egocentric wins. When you’re driven by a good purpose and sense of mission, you don’t have time to get involved in all the messiness—petty arguments, power trips, turf wars, and silo building. It’s not about who gets the credit; it’s about getting things done to advance the mission. They don’t look to place blame; they try to affect change. It’s amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.
  2. When you have a strong sense of mission and focus on other people, you position yourself and your organization to function in a highly integrated fashion—fingers interwoven, arms interlocked, tearing down silos and moving forward together in pursuit of your shared mission. The question is simple: what is your purpose?
  3. Slay the dragon or rescue the princess: I believe the best teams need a dragon to slay or a princess to rescue. They can be galvanized against a common enemy (the dragon) or united toward a common goal (the princess to rescue). The former is more of a negative purpose in response to a threat, while the latter is a positive purpose in pursuit of an aspirational aim. Both can be effective in giving clear purpose and keeping teams out of the distracting messiness—but a word of warning about the dragon:

A team functioning in constant threat mode, motivated by fear of the next fire-breathing monster, can be damaged over the long-term.

Occasionally, organizations do face a real crisis that demands the slaying of a dragon. However, for long-term success, it’s far better for an organization to cast a compelling purpose—freeing the princess—and then pursue it with a shared sense of passion.

You must be realistic, of course, but always tie motivation to a positive purpose whenever possible in your leadership to bring out the most inspired performance.

Embrace the Adventure

Life is an adventure to be lived, not a crisis to be survived. Running toward something is always more empowering than just running away from something else. And that’s the beautiful thing about mission-minded leading.

When you know your mission and realize at a core level how important it is, you don’t get caught up in all the distractions, you can’t afford to take your marbles and go home when things don’t go your way, but most importantly you have in view something bigger than short-term obstacles.

Messy-minded leadership might work in a pinch—at the cost of team trust and long-term stability.

Mission-minded leadership, fueled by purpose and passion, will take you all the way.

The Real Reason Why Your Team Is Falling Short

How Much Leadership Currency Do You Have?

Trust is the currency of leadership.

It starts when your team can trust you and you can trust your team. It expands when other departments in the organization trust you as a leader and trust your team to execute on its promises and responsibilities.

It expands even further when your external customers trust you as an organization to deliver a solution to their needs and to do so in a valuable and timely manner.


Integration without trust is like a boat without a keel.


The keel is the strong backbone of a ship, made out of wood, metal, or other sturdy material. It juts down into the water beneath the boat like an upside-down shark fin and can weigh tons.

In fact, a keel can make up almost half of the overall weight of a typical sailboat. It needs to be sufficiently heavy to stabilize, while being light enough for agility and adaptation at speed.

You might think that something so heavy would immediately sink the ship. Instead, the weight works as ballast, keeping everything balanced in rough waters.

Trust works in the same way. When you have a team you can trust, through good days and bad, that you may wobble, but you won’t keel over.

Do You Have the Trust You Need?

There are two types of trust—relational and transactional.

When most people think of trust, they think of relational trust, because trust begins and ends on the strength of relationships. Every team has some sort of relationship history and these interconnected relationships either build up or erode trust.

Trust isn’t created in a vacuum. It’s built over hundreds of little moments of interaction between real, complex people with emotions, feelings, and fears. Thus, a powerful component of relational trust is positive intent—choosing to believe the best of team members first, and then doing the necessary research into a problem.

When any team struggles to believe the best of one another, communication breaks down, and growth grinds to a halt. The absence of relational trust makes everything exponentially more difficult to do.

But there’s another sort of trust that is equally necessary.

Transactional trust means you believe that a person or team can execute on your expectations, follow through, and get things done. It differs from relational trust in that you may trust someone to be a good person with the best of intentions, but whether or not they can be trusted to get the job done is another matter entirely.

Do you trust each other to deliver results? If someone promises to get something done, can you believe them?

If you can’t trust people or teams to deliver the results they promise, you’ve both got a big problem.

You may have people on your team whose integrity and ethics are top-notch, but who, unfortunately, lack the skill and competence to complete the task. That’s a breakdown in transactional trust that must be remedied.

In a business, transactional trust makes up a large part of the ballast that keeps the ship upright. If you have a person on your team that isn’t getting it done transactionally, that’s a place where you aren’t integrated and something needs to change.

Do you Choose Excuses or Results?

I always say that your team can choose excuses or results. Of course, it’s tempting to keep giving the benefit of the doubt and avoid confrontation, but that doesn’t do anybody any good. To build trust, you’ve got to address the problem and provide the training or guidance necessary to improve the situation.

Mistrust creates isolation and isolation in a team environment always leads to disaster. So, ask yourself:

  • Does my team trust me?
  • Do I trust my team?
  • Do external customers trust us?
  • Do other departments within the organization trust us?
  • Do I know what my team can and can’t do—and how to grow where we are lacking?

The best teams have this awareness in common. They know they can rely on each other to do the job well—and if there are problems, team members will speak up.

So which one will you choose for your team? Excuses or results? Isolation or trustworthy community?

If you’re just starting this leadership journey today, have grace with yourself and your team. Trust is built over time with integrity and honesty. Start by being trustworthy yourself. Next, look for ways to give other people a chance to be trustworthy with you.

Where do you see the need for more trust—relational or transactional—in your team? What conversations/steps will you take this week to begin moving back towards effective, efficient, and trusting performance?