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. 

Want more free InSPIRED Leadership insights? Click here.

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.

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 Fatal Flaw in Business Planning

Business People Planning Strategy Analysis Office Concept

Vince Lombardi is often credited with saying, “The man on the mountaintop didn’t fall there.”

Success doesn’t favor one person over another on a whim. The longer I’ve been in the business/leadership industry, the more clearly I have seen that only by being Intentional in business planning can you achieve remarkable results as an InSPIRED leader.

You can try to skip over it. You can dash headlong towards the prize. You can hope against hope that your team can win on passion alone. But as adventurous as spontaneity sounds, when you’re planning a next-level strategy, only intentional steps will keep you off the thin ice.

A Tale of Two Leaders

Rory and Bob were two visionary leaders with a strong drive to accomplish great things.

Each wanted to be first-to-market in their shared industry. Each had identified a market objective that would put his organization on the map—but only for the one who achieved it first. The desire to achieve drove them to act. But good intentions, goals, and dreams will only get you so far.  

When Rory heard of the opportunity, his start-up organization was already strong and well-prepared. Though originally positioned to tackle a different objective, he chose to pivot and pursue this new opportunity.

Because he had been intentional about building a first-rate team and resourcing them well, he was able to retool them quickly.

When Bob learned of Rory’s new market focus, he became reactionary.

He also decided to pivot and race for the objective, but wasn’t nearly as well prepared. His team wasn’t as strong, nor was it resourced to deal with the inevitable struggles every team encounters when forging new ground.

Bob’s lack of intentional business planning meant the resources and capital they did have were often squandered. Each failed opportunity lowered the morale of the organization.

One by one, his key performers lost interest and left to chase his or her own dreams. When what was left of Bob’s team finally managed to achieve their objective—exhausted and frustrated—they had come in second place behind Rory’s team.

In that industry, second place might as well have been a total failure. Crushed after defeat, Bob had little left in his leadership tank and even less capital. His few remaining team members left him. His company never recovered and closed its doors permanently.

Making It Out Alive

Rory’s team had been prepared, strategic, and intentional. Bob’s team had attempted to wing it and engage in a fire-drill-rush to market.

Maybe you’ve worked with a leader like Bob who rushed headlong into what looked like a golden opportunity, only to see it fail and leave everyone burned out and heading for the exits.  You may even have been a leader like that and known the pain of seeing your summit dreams dashed.

You may have survived, but barely, with painful scars to prove it.

For every moment of business acclaim, there must be countless hours of preparation. For every moment at the Everest summit, there are months of pre-planning. For every minute an athlete stands on the medal podium, there are years of disciplined activity.

Success is never an accident. It always begins with being intentional in your business planning, again and again.

The Step Before You Start

If the story of Rory and Bob sounds familiar, you’ve probably heard it before.

Rory? His real name was Roald Amundsen, the first person to reach the South Pole. Bob’s real name was Robert Falcon Scott, the second person to reach the South Pole—five weeks later. By the time Scott arrived, he found a Norwegian flag and a note from “Rory.”

Unfortunately for Scott and the other four members of his team, his failure to be intentional proved fatal.

As a leader, you have a choice: be intentional on the front end—and multiply your chances of success, or fail to do so—and multiply the pain of failure for you and the people you lead.

For many leaders and organizations, un-intentionality is the norm. There may be a loose sketch of a plan or some grand vision, but little in terms of precisely how to get there.


When leaders don’t own the day, the day owns them—and their people pay the price.

I see it in organizations all the time. People act in constant fire-drill mode as management keeps them on high alert. Nerves fray, fuses get short, and relational explosions become a regular part of the workplace background noise. One person confided to me that the “always-on” environment felt like living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) all the time.

Under this level of constant stress, productivity plummets because it’s hard for anyone to go too far in any one direction when pulled in twenty other directions. Why would someone take time to build any kind of efficiency when leadership will probably react to yet another shiny object tomorrow? Not to mention the impact this un-intentionality has on the quality of life outside of work.

Intentionality Attracts the Right Talent

So what happens?

The highly-talented, high performers pack up and leave for a better place where intentional leadership, clear vision, and appreciation is the norm.


Talent always has a choice.

Organizations are left with C and D players after the A-team bolts and the B-team slowly slips out the side exits. C and D players aren’t particularly talented, but they’ve learned to survive within the chaos that un-intentionality brings. They do enough to stay out of the way, but not enough to make a positive contribution to the culture.

You may know what this feels like. Perhaps you’ve felt the pain before:

  • No prep. You were promoted to a leadership role because you performed well at your current position. But no one equipped you. When you got here, you found landmines, silos, secret handshakes, and unwritten expectations. You shoulder the burden and do your best simply trying to stay one step ahead of the next crisis!
  • No path. You have a job you enjoy at an organization you’re proud to represent, but you want to advance. You know you are talented and create success for the organization, but there’s no intentional advancement path for you. Leadership either doesn’t know or doesn’t care. You feel more like a cog in the machine than a critical part of the organization.
  • No clue. You work under a leader who is clueless. He or she may project confidence, but it’s untethered to reality. The team doesn’t respect the leader, so there’s an “every-man-for-himself / 8-in-the-gate / just-cash-the-check” mindset that permeates the team. You keep pushing forward, but your efforts fall short without buy-in from everyone else.
  • No restraint. You work for a leader or an organization whose appetite for achievement (and accompanying change) doesn’t match the organization’s metabolism or bandwidth. So everyone lives in a state of constant organizational indigestion—and all the potential ulcers that go with it.


Imagine what your workplace would be like if intentionality were the norm rather than the exception.

Take the Next Best Step

What if every employee was equipped and energized to bring their best to the table each day? What if people knew exactly where they fit and were provided the tools to contribute and thrive?

What if leaders spent more time on business planning—where to go and how to get there—and less time firefighting or looking over their shoulders at the competition?

Sound like an impossible dream? I assure you, it’s not. Organizations like this do exist. In fact, as a leader, you can help your organization become a place like this.

Here’s how to get started: Set aside a consistent amount of time each week to intentionally plan your next steps. Maybe two hours on a Monday. Maybe an entire Friday. Maybe for half an hour each morning.

Whatever fits your style and schedule, take a break from the hustle of team movement and take an intentional breath.

Make sure that each move your team makes has a purpose, and when you cross the finish line—with all members safe and sound—your team will thank you for it.


Leadership Truths

truth

 

As we close down 2015 and move into 2016, I sat back and reflected on some of my journey and the privilege I have to help others become stronger leaders. I’ve shared below a compilation of some of my favorite Leadership Truths. Take a look and choose your top 5 where you believe that by living that truth you can raise your own bar in the new year.  Commit to a little self-reflection and resolve to make 2016 a year to focus on cultivating your own personal leadership legacy and ensuring the influence you have on your team is always positive.

1.      Maturity is a choice not an age. 2.      As a leader, be contagious, not infectious.
3.      Leading a team is a different skill set than    accomplishing great individual feats. 4.      Create an organization that makes more leaders than it breaks.
5.      Lead where you’re strong. Team where you’re weak. 6.      Business and life are marathons. We have to strategically pace ourselves in order to finish.
7.      Great leaders are concerned about their positive influence, their legacy. 8.      Strategic placement of team members produces the best results.
9.      Self-awareness helps in building the right team for you. 10.   It’s your team.  You cannot complain about what you permit.
11.   When you need a little more pull from your team, try letting them chase a team just a little faster or better than themselves. 12.   Amateurs practice until they get it right.  Professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.
13.   Great leaders take time to get to know their team, really know them. 14.   Consider the strengths of the team as a component of strategy.
15.   Communicate in their language, not yours. 16.   Unleash the power of the team.
17.   You don’t have to flood your team with words to get them to action.  Be clear.  Be concise.  Be direct. 18.   Start ugly.  If you’re not willing to start ugly, you’re never going to start.  Learn.  Grow.  Make it pretty next time.
19.   Mentors know to put us in charge of teams that match our abilities. 20.   I can’t lead the team I want.  I have to lead the team I have.
21.   Frustration is a function of expectation. 22.   Lead people; manage things.
23.   If you’re a leader and not learning every day, you’re likely not a leader for long. 24.   Don’t ask for more sweat equity than you give.
25.   People join companies; people quit people. Be someone people want to stay with. 26.   Sometimes you have to drop or reassign a team member if it’s hurting the rest of the team.
27.   Experience it; don’t just witness it. 28.   Trust is the currency of leadership.
29.   Leading a team to victory is often the result of conquering or leading one’s self first. 30.   The mirror is rarely pleasant, but it’s almost always honest.
31.   Problems rarely work themselves out. 32.   As a leader, what you allow you endorse.
33.   The trail we carve as leaders profoundly affects the next generation. 34.   Nobody wants to be managed; people want to be inspired.
35.   Every leader gets the team they deserve, eventually. The team you inherited is not your fault. The team you have a year from now is. 36.   How you treat those on the inside is an indicator of how they will treat those who come from the outside.
37.   Don’t transfer emotional baggage to your team.  If you need to unload, talk to another leader 38.   For that extra motivation, learn your team individually and incentivize accordingly.
39.   Hire for values; train for skills. 40.   Find awesome, and copy it.