Leadership and Storytelling

Leadership and Storytelling

Leadership and Storytelling

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leadership and storytelling go hand-in-hand. In fact, leaders who lack the ability to leverage the power and influence of storytelling are missing the very essence of what accounts for compelling leadership to begin with – the story. If you’ve ever been captivated by a skilled orator whose articulation and eloquence has influenced your thinking, you understand the power of the art of story. I refer to story as an art form because it is. Storytelling requires talent and practice, but as with any worthy discipline, the investment yields great benefit.

A story is the root level driver behind successfully communicating any message. A subtle side benefit of well crafted stories can be found in their versatility – they can be delivered in person or by proxy, and in visual, textual, or verbal form. Stories are the instruments that tug at your emotions, speak to your logic, support your beliefs, and reinforce your positions. Great stories challenge, engage, inform, persuade, entertain, mobilize, convict, and inspire. Smart leaders understand stories highlight learning opportunities and create memorable experiences. Are you consciously and consistently using story to be a more effective leader?

There is no denying everybody loves a good story, and there are numerous reasons why. Think about the novels you’ve read, movies you’ve watched, speeches you’ve listened to, ads that have hooked your interest, or virtually any other message delivered by any other medium, and it’s the story that either seals the deal or leaves you feeling cheated.

As a leader, it’s your ability to tell a a compelling story that sets the tone from the top. Story is the fabric upon which culture is built. It helps you to successfully establish rapport, evangelize a vision, champion a brand, align expectations, build teams, attract talent, assuage concerns, relieve tension, and resolve conflict. A leader’s story needs to engender trust while implanting your brand promise in the minds of your various constituencies in a manner that is memorable, authentic, relevant, and actionable.

Stories are also quite revealing. Carefully listening to a leader’s story will reveal their character or a lack thereof. Disingenuous leaders misuse storytelling in an attempt to shield, buffer, distract, lull, or misdirect. They use story to prop-up their ego, drive their agenda, and to take aim on their adversaries. The storyline propagated by those playing at leadership is all about them. Their stories are laced with “I” and “my” and their primary focus is to shine the spotlight on themselves.

By contrast, the authentic and appropriate use of story has an outward focus, and is laced with “we” and “our” as the main points of emphasis. Great leaders understand a story is most powerful when it offers hope and encouragement, when it’s inspires unification and collaboration, and when it has a humanizing effect. Smart leaders understand storytelling is a highly effective method of creating engagement, opening or extending dialog, and finding common ground. Perhaps the most valuable use of story is to shine the light on others. Leaders who use the power of story to publicly recognize the contributions of others are simply more successful than those who don’t.

So my question is this; why not incorporate storytelling into your leadership repertoire? While leadership is a complex subject to be sure, it all begins with the story – tell it well and succeed; tell it poorly and fail. This is a simple, yet powerful message I encourage you to take to heart. Finally, while becoming a great storyteller is important for a leader, it’s also important for leaders to become great story makers.


Personal Branding Done Right

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Personal Branding Done Right

So what’s the big deal about personal branding? The mere mention of this topic sparks intense emotions and frothy debate. The legions of personal branding advocates believe it’s the great brand equalizer, and the growing constituency of disgruntled adversaries see it as little more than the latest form of snake-oil. So which is it? The answer is for you to decide…I’ll frame both sides of the argument and let you draw your own conclusions.

I have written often on the subject of personal branding, and some of my practice focuses on shaping the personal brands of executives and entrepreneurs. Needless to say, I’m a huge believer in personal branding. That said, much of my writing sides with the skeptics as I’m not a fan of the type of  “instant personal branding” preached by so many these days. If this sounds a bit schizophrenic, it probably is; but stick with me as there is a lot of meat that follows.

Want to build a strong personal brand? Let your actions speak louder than your words. Be the best at what you do, be authentic, be honest, be focused on helping others, and above all else, add value in the performace of your work. If you focus on making a certainty of execution synonymous with your name, you won’t have to promote yourself as others will do it for you. Strength of personal character and reputation are your personal brand. If you’re good enough, your personal brand will precede you, and you won’t need to shout it from the roof tops.

Let me break it down as simply as I can…There are two types of personal brands: 1.) The personal brand created by your character, work, and reputation, and; 2.) The personal brand contrived to make up for a lack of the aforementioned items. The former is a personal brand that is authentic, sustainable, and valuable, while the latter is just hype and spin that will eventually get lost in the noise and be seen for what it is…form over substance.

To be clear, I have nothing against leveraging the positioning and promotion of real talent/ability, or up-and-coming talent/ability, but I have everything against blatant self-promotion by those who pretend to be something they are not. Regrettably, the fake it until you make crowd is burgeoning at a rapid pace due to personal branding efforts based upon a lack of integrity. If you have to market yourself as a thought leader, then you are NOT. A sustainable brand is far more than a contrivance for personal glorification – it is a reflection of what you do, but more importantly, who you are and what you stand for.

So what’s the big deal you ask? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to put their stamp on the world? Perhaps, but the problem with glory hounds is that they take opportunities away from those who deserve them, muddy the waters for undiscerning consumers, and serve to create unnecessary havoc in a market not in need of such distractions.

The reality is that most of us will probably never achieve the status of icons, nor do most of us really aspire to that end. However increasing your personal brand equity is good for adding value to your company’s brand, leveraging your earning power, and improving your job security and/or marketability. Personal branding is far more than an ego-play; it is smart business assuming it is done properly.

The bottom line is that personal brands can not only co-exist quite nicely with corporate brands, but they can add significant value to them. Don’t believe me? Regardless of how you feel about the following list of individuals you must agree that they have done a remarkable job of building a personal brand which has often times resulted in the creation of modern day empires. Think of Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs, and a whole host of others, and you’ll quickly see just how powerful a strong personal brand can be. In fact, spend some time browsing through the Forbes 400 and you’ll find that you recognize far more names than not. View a list of the Fortune 500 CEO’s and you’ll be surprised how many of their names have been converted into strong personal brands. Look at the Inc. 500 or Entrepreneur Hot 100 lists and you’ll see a number of strong personal brands in the making.

Unlike the surface level hype put forth by many, if you want to create a strong and authentic personal brand, the following five tips will start you in the right direction:

1. Make those around you successful. While some personal brands are built at the expense of others, or on the backs of others, the most highly regarded personal brands are built on the success they have created for others. Think “selfless” as opposed to “selfish.”

2. Be Trustworthy. Whether intuitively, instinctually, intrinsically, objectively, or subjectively, most people have an initial gut feel as to whether or not an individual is trustworthy. Over time, those initial impressions will either be validated or invalidated based upon actual experience. We all know the difference both in chemistry, and in productivity when working with those whom we trust and respect, as opposed to what occurs when working with those whom we don’t.

3. Focus on Performance. If you want to stand apart from the masses, develop a reputation for delivering a certainty of execution. Immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute. It is just not that hard to follow through.

4. Invest in continuing education: Okay, so you already make a great income, run your own (or someone else’s) business, and you’re busy. The sad fact is it’s far easier to reach the C-suite than to remain there. You will only stay in the corner office if you continue to refine and advance your skill sets and competencies. Never sacrifice or forgo learning because you think you don’t have time, or worse, because you think you already know it all.

5. Publicly give of your time. Get outside of yourself and lead by example. Get in the flow of relevant discussions, worthy causes, and public communities. Don’t be afraid of social networking, philanthropic endeavors, pro-bono work, and other intrinsically valuable investments of your time.

Authentic personal brand, or carefully crafted facade…the choice is yours. I’m very interested on your thoughts on this subject. Please share your observations in the comments below…

Brand Exposure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you understand the difference between presence, visibility and overexposure? Have you figured out how to apply the laws of scarcity to brand management? If not, then this post is for you. While a brand without exposure is not much of a brand, I consistently find that brand exposure is an aspect of brand management that is all too often overlooked as a success metric. Whether you’re assessing the strength of a personal or corporate brand, finding the appropriate level of brand exposure is key to sustainable growth in brand equity. 

As I stated above, having an underexposed brand, or what I like to refer to as having a brand in stealth mode, means that you really don’t have much of a brand. Conversely, having a brand that is mismanaged through overexposure can cause a brand to go into decline by diluting hard earned brand equity. The reality is that premium brands are viewed as such because they jealously manage their brand exposure. They pay attention to the both the frequency and reach of their exposure. While they are careful to insure that their brands are visible to the right constituencies, they simply won’t allow overexposure. When a brand’s pedigree has an element of mystique, scarcity, intrigue, or sophistication, said brand will be in high demand. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating brand snobbery, just astute brand management based on time tested success principles.   

Intelligent brands create at least some level of focused planning surrounding the issue of access to prevent overexposure. Once a brand is overexposed it becomes commoditized, diluted, and ultimately. will go into decline. While you might not detect brand taints associated with overexposure in the short-term, this principle holds true across most genres over time. Think about any overexposed brand that comes to mind and you’ll see that it quickly begins to lose its luster. Once a brand’s appeal begins to erode, it will require significant time and expense to recover. It is simply a more intelligent approach to consistently manage brand exposure than it is to let your brand run wild and then attempt to triage overexposure.  

Let me offer just a few examples to help connect the dots: Recording artists that release too many CDs over too short of a time period hurt their own appeal. The same holds true with authors that release books with too high a frequency, or actors that churn out too many movies. You may also notice that politicians who confuse their real job with that of a media celebrity will lose the respect of their constituency and taint their effectiveness.

Please keep in mind that the personal brands of business people are not immune to the phenomenon mentioned above. The goal of a sound brand exposure strategy should be to increase your demand, which in turn allows you to pick and choose your opportunities, which in turn further increases your demand…the goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace, but to have the right opportunities seeking you. 

I’ll close today’s post with a prime example of personal branding overexposure that while a pet-peeve of mine, will certainly draw the ire of many. I’m a huge believer in the use social media and social networking to further brand exposure. That said, I have little use for social networking junkies who collect friends/followers/contacts just for the sake of watching the numbers go up, while adding little or no value to their network. I would suggest that if your brand is based solely upon the quantity of contacts in your LinkedIn network, or the number of followers you’ve amassed on Twitter, and not the qualitative relevancy of said contacts, then you are more likely stroking your ego than you are acting as an astute personal brand manager. If no real interaction, no real value add, or no real engagement takes place, then while you migh have a lot of contacts you likely have very few relationships – there is a difference. 


Influence and Personal Branding

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Ripple Effect of InfluenceI’m often asked how to tangibly measure personal brand equity and my answer is quite simple…The value of a personal brand is directly proportionate to its ability to create and wield influence. When it comes to the subject of personal branding much has been written about authenticity, transparency, marketability, thought leadership, etc., but it is the ability to leverage the sum of these individual brand components for influence that determines the true strength of a personal brand. Put simply, a personal brand that cannot open doors, or influence actions and decisions, is not much of a personal brand.

When I refer to influence I’m not talking about manipulation, cheap marketing gimmicks, or other forms of skulduggery, as ill-gotten gains will always be exposed for what they are, and will never be worth the compromises that were made in order to achieve them. Not only is true influence much easier to acquire, but it is also sustainable. Put simply, true influence is nothing more than leveraging your personal brand to work with and through others to achieve a stated objective while staying true to your core values and maintaining your integrity.

The following concepts comprise the three pillars of influence, which if properly understood and implemented can help anyone become more efficient, productive, secure and successful:

1. Influence is built upon making others successful
: This is often times referred to as the law of reciprocity. The theory is that if you invest yourself in making someone else successful then they in turn will likely be predisposed to helping you become successful. While this principle will not always pan out, in my experience it has held true in well over 90% of my interactions over the years. Those who make astute investments into people and relationships will benefit tremendously by doing so. 

2. Likability
: People do business with people they like and avoid doing business with people they don’t like it’s just that simple. Are you approachable, positive, affable, trustworthy, a person of character and integrity or are you someone who is standoffish, pessimistic and generally not to be trusted? Those the fall into the camp of the former as opposed to the latter will find themselves having more influence and success.  

3. Value and scarcity drive influence
: Understanding the value of your position, brand, authority, resources, access to people or knowledge and any number of other items as it relates to fulfilling the needs and desires of others creates influence. To the extent that anything under your direct or indirect control is scarce or proprietary your ability to influence will increase significantly.  

Bottom line Don’t manipulate for personal gain, rather facilitate for mutual benefit. Take a sincere interest in the success of others, work on your likability factor, have access to things of value or scarcity, and as your influence with others increases so will the value of your personal brand. Lastly, I would ask that you consider using your influence to assist those who have little influence. If you don’t incorporate this last thought into your world, you’ll be missing one of the greatest rewards life has to offer…serving via influence.

Personal Branding Simplified

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

5 Attributes of Personal Branding

Great personal brands are simple, understandable, and straight forward in their brand promise. If you want to create a strong personal brand do yourself a favor and avoid the hype and rhetoric being espoused by the masses of overnight personal branding experts who have suddenly flooded the marketplace. Most so-called personal branding gurus are more akin to modern snake-oil salesmen than they are legitimate professional services providers. Personal Branding as a marketing discipline has regrettably been diluted by the hordes of attention seeking purveyors that seek to separate you from your money by confusing hype with branding. Hype and spin have little to do with creating a growing and sustainable personal brand. Personal brand equity is built over the long-term by doing the right thing, and adhering to the 5 personal branding attributes (see above) that I developed more than a decade ago. 

True personal branding professionals use a values based business process to help clients develop a brand strategy that puts their best foot forward while remaining authentic in their messaging. This is best accomplished by utilizing a solid business process which results in a certainty of tactical execution. Smoke and mirrors gimmicks might work for a short while, but when the ruse begins to unravel there will be a very steep price to pay….the loss of your reputation. 

Strong personal brands are built by understanding that it is the ability to leverage your gifts and talents to help others succeed in achieving their goals and objectives that makes the difference. The following illustration depicts a common sense approach to focusing on the items that truly add depth and breadth to the personal branding process:

Keeping the main thing the main thing

More information on personal branding can be found by viewing other posts in this category or by visiting our personal branding page.

15 Seconds of Fame…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

15 Seconds of Fame15 Seconds of Fame” – It’s been said that at some point in everyone’s life they’ll have their 15 seconds of fame…Your 15 seconds of fame may come to you in good times or in bad, it may happen as a result of tremendous diligence and hard work on your part, or it may simply occur as a matter of chance. Regardless of the reasons or circumstances surrounding your moment in the sun, my question is this…what will you do to maximize the opportunity when it presents itself? In today’s post I’ll share some thoughts on how to leverage your 15 seconds when it arrives…

When your time comes (and it will) you have a choice to make…You can take it for what it is and just let the opportunity pass you by, or you can leverage it for all it’s worth. There is really no right or wrong choice here as it simply boils down to personal preferences and priorities. That being said, if you’re a person who wants to capitalize on your 15 seconds of fame you need to be prepared. Let me make this as simple as I can…the only way to maximize the opportunity surrounding your 15 seconds of fame is to extend it. If you let the 15 seconds come and go it’s over. However, you can easily extend the clock with a plan.

My favorite example of someone who is maximizing their 15 seconds also happens to be a recent example…His name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, aka “Joe the Plumber.” A self-purported “average Joe,” this 34 year-old tradesman jumped all over his 15 seconds by doing something that most people don’t do…He hired a publicity firm to extend the clock by developing his message, and promoting a highly marketable and timely personal brand. “Joe” simply took the opportunity and ran with it…

You Go Joe...So, what does Joe have to show for his efforts? A new website which sells memberships (for only $19.95 you too can join Joe’s cause), a blog, a new book deal, and media appearances galore. All this has come as a result of a great sense of timing…Joe realized he was a hot commodity and decided that he didn’t want to fade away as he so easily could of… The result is that this “Average Joe” isn’t so average anymore…Moreover, his days of fixing toilets and sinks are likely gone forever (assuming his new handlers do their job properly). So what can you do to leverage your opportunity when it comes? The following list contains three items for your consideration: 

  1. Be Aware of Surroundings: Joe could have easily just stood in the rope line and let Barrack Obama pass him by without uttering so much as a sound, but that’s not what he did. Opportunities most often come to those who look for them. You can’t hit the ball if you don’t step-up to the plate and swing the bat…
  2. Assess The Opportunity: When the event happens, take the time to assess the opportunity to determine the potential upside as contrasted with all the potential risks. Seek advice and counsel from friends and family and decide whether or not chasing the opportunity is worth the sacrifice it will take to extend your 15 seconds.
  3. Get Professional Help: Just as Joe did, leverage the advice of professionals who understand what’s involved in branding, promoting, positioning, and messaging in a fashion that will catalyze momentum and public interest. When opportunity knocks, there is no time for a do-it-yourself learning curve.

Personal Branding by Association

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The impact of your associations on Personal branding should not be taken lightly by executives in today’s world. Your long-term success as a top CEO or senior executive will be heavily influenced by the strength and character of your personal brand. The perception of your personal brand by key constituencies such as your board of directors, investors, the media, key employees, customers, partners and other key stakeholders will not only have an impact on your current role, but future roles as well. In today’s post I’ll address what is becoming more and more of an issue with regard to your personal brand, which is the conclusion people draw about you based upon the company you keep…

The reality is that who you associate with on both a personal and professional basis matters…There is truth in the old axiom which states “perception is reality” and this is particularly accurate when the perception catches fire and becomes a widely held belief. The good news is that if you make sound choices in your personal and professional relationships you will benefit from doing so. On the other hand, should your choices place you in the company of those who are not respected and largely thought of in ill fashion by others, your personal brand will likely suffer as a result.

The most recent and powerful example of guilt by association would be Barack Obama’s long-term relationships with questionable associations such as Bill Ayres, Rashid Khalidi, Tony Rezko, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and the list goes on…Regardless of how you feel about either one of the aforementioned individuals, there is no denying that Senator Obama’s personal brand has undergone tremendous scrutiny and has received a glut of negative attention as a result of this one single relationship. 

Anyone of us can reflect back over time and cite numerous references of occasions where we have observed someone in the company of an individual who we did not hold in high regard. Almost to the one these situations caused us to question, even if ever so briefly, the character of the party of the first part. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the mistake most people make in choosing their relationships is that they make there decisions based upon the wrong criteria. If you choose your acquaintances based on an alignment of values as opposed to the exploitation of an opportunity, or for social climbing purposes your personal brand will likely stand the test of time. If however, you make your relationship decisions based upon short-term gains you may unconsciously place your future at risk. 

The lesson contained in today’s post is a simple one…you will be judged by the character of those you associate with, so my advice is this: jealously guard your personal sphere of influence, and limit your network to those individuals who will enhance your personal brand and not detract from it.