Coke, Pepsi or Generic Cola?

Just what are you all about? Are you fizzy brown water in a red can, or fizzy brown water in a blue can? I spend a lot of time talking with my clients (while drinking Coke Zero, of course) about their career goals  and strategies to help them get there. Before we can figure out how to get to the goal, though, we need to know from where we are starting, and you need to know it about yourself. An important part of that is understanding what you are all about. What skills do you have? What are you great at? What do you love to do? What do you stand for? Are you Coke, Pepsi or a generic cola in a plain bottle? Unfortunately, many have trouble with this conversation.

Think about people who are accomplished in their fields. Steve Jobs is a driven genius who leads his company to create amazing technology that people don’t just want to buy and own. They lust after it. They have to have it. They stand in line for it. The Jobs brand is something that people expect to see and are disappointed if they don’t get it at the big Apple events. There is nothing fuzzy or uncertain about the Jobs brand.

John C. Maxwell is another person with a strong brand. If you are in any kind of a leadership position and haven’t read his books, I recommend that you get one, read it and use it. Today. Maxwell is a leadership guru who provides his readers with useful and inspiring tools that leaders can use immediately. Again, he has a strong brand that is compelling and offers value.

What is your brand? What does it say about you? What can you say about it? Are you seen as a tenacious, results-driven executive who builds effective teams that have delivered year-over-year growth for each of the last seven years, or are you a business manager with seven years of experience? Do you see the difference? Are you the former or the latter? Are you a real brand representing value, or a no name with no brand equity: buyer beware? Take some time and clarify that for yourself now. Your future depends on it.


Humble to a Fault

The highlight of my morning today was having phone conversations with two former colleagues with whom I had not spoken with in several years. Barb Kelly is doing amazing things in her own business (Technology Business Group), bringing her values, experiences and entrepreneurship to her work and her employees. The other is someone we will call Paul who is recovering from some serious medical issues and is preparing to reenter the workforce. Our conversation left me wanting to share this point: You have to sell yourself.

Paul is a talented leader who has the ability to create and build teams that are very effective. One of his teams that I had the opportunity to support delivered top results in his sales region through great team member development that led to superior engagement and a competitive (though not too competitive) culture and a strong will to win. Paul should be proud of his accomplishments, though a very strong sense of humility is getting in his way.

Our conversation was about job hunting strategies, including his resume, and how he needs to do a better job of selling his accomplishments. Step one is to get the interview. That will happen with a great resume that is full of accomplishments and results, solid networking and consistent hard work in the job search. Step two – the interview – will be the time to display that humility and stories about team development.

For all of us, the lesson is simple. Many of us have a hard time bragging about our accomplishments. Humility and the desire to not appear arrogant or over-confident act against us. As you search for the next great step in your career, though, this can be a fatal flaw. You have to sell yourself and the value you bring. Let your humility and servant leadership qualities shine in the interview and on the job. Don’t let those same qualities cripple your search.

Ready or Not…

The February 28th issue of Business Week has two stories up front that paint a stark picture for those who think that everything is wonderful in the economy and the job market. The first, “The Union, Jacked,” describes the situation in Wisconsin and other states that are facing huge budget deficits and their struggles with public employee unions. The second, “A U.S. Recovery Built On Low-Paying Jobs,” points out that many people are settling for what they can get and taking jobs making much less than they were before. Neither of these stories will leave anyone feeling great about the fiscal and employment situations in the United States. So what can we do? 

There are no easy answers, but there are some obvious conclusions. First, even the jobs that everyone thought would be secure forever are not. What could be safer than a government job and union representation? Ask people in Wisconsin, Providence and other areas of the country where union jobs are being vaporized.

Second, employers’ viewpoints have changed. While the internal literature and recruiting materials may say, “Our people are our strongest asset,” their actions say, “Our people are our biggest expense.” As economies become more intertwined and globalism spreads, we must take action to keep ourselves competitive and solvent. Here are a few thoughts.

Challenge yourself to do your best work every day. If we accept the premise that employees are an expense to the company, we must also accept that we must provide more benefit than what we are paid. Just like any other factor of production, if an employee is worth more than the cost, that person is a justifiable expense. It’s a harsh reality, but does recent history make you think otherwise?

Learn something new that can make you more valuable to your current or a future employer. Is there a class you can take? A book you can read? A new social media tool you can master and teach to your team? Get creative and learn something new. Share what you learn.

Diversify. If you have ever read anything about investing, you know that diversification is a core strategy. When one asset is declining, another is likely to be rising. Think about your income the same way. What can you and others in your home do to diversify your income stream? Is everything hinging on one person? What if that person is you and you get laid off? Do you have a skill or interest you can leverage to generate income? We may not be talking about a river of cash today, but most income generating activities take time to develop.

Network and volunteer. By helping others – either in a faith-based organization or a secular setting – you may find a skill that you didn’t know that you have. You will also likely meet people that you don’t know today. How can you give today with no expectation of reward? It’s impossible to predict where this can lead, so why not take a chance and see what happens?

The only thing that is certain is that change will accelerate and you will be affected. Take charge of your career and buckle in for the ride. Yes, it may be scary. Yes, you will likely face some tough times. But if you do something today when it isn’t an emergency, you will have the foundation, reputation and network you need to weather that coming uncertain storm.

Crouching Tiger, Pacing Bear

My wife and I often take our kids to the Beardsley Zoo in Bridgeport, CT for a couple of hours. It’s close by, we enjoy a pleasant walk and the zoo is managed well, with a lot of committed people making improvements and educating its visitors. One thought that strikes me often, though, is about the big animals. As we head into a well deserved weekend, I will keep it brief, but challenge you to consider this as well.

Every time we visit, one of the big animals – usually the bear or the tiger – is pacing back and forth, repeating the same actions over and over. Walk forward ten feet, bob to the left, return to the starting point, repeat. It will do this for hours. Does your job ever make you feel like that? You are going through the motions until feeding time (payday), pacing your cubical, and waiting for the day to end so you can get some freedom.

What would that freedom look like? What mountain would your inner bear traverse and what jungle would your inner tiger hunt if you would only let it out of the cage? Why not take some time this weekend to explore how you could make those dreams more real? Instead of just thinking about it, do something. People who succeed aren’t paralyzed by fear or failure. They take risks, learn from mistakes and move on. Go ahead, open the cage! Have a great weekend.

The Nine-Fingered Chef

If you have done any reading, research or work on social media tools, you know that terms like “personal brand” and “online reputation” are used by everyone. If you don’t have a robust LinkedIn profile, a Twitter account that you use regularly and a blog with daily updates that display your genius, you are nobody. These tools are very important, and will likely grow beyond anything we can anticipate today, but they are still just tools. My brother-in-law is attending culinary school and he has a set of knives that can be used to create gourmet dinners or disasters.

Dan Schwabel writes a useful blog on at about personal branding. His post today discusses the demise of the resume and how it will be replaced by LinkedIn profiles. There is one point that he doesn’t make, and maybe it’s obvious, but still worth discussing. Do you have what it takes to use these tools without hurting yourself?

First, is the material that you want to put before the world something that the world wants to see? Is the content clear, concise and well written? If not, put down the meat clever, Mr. Flay.

Second, are you committed to keeping all of these online tools current? If you are going to create a blog that you never update and that is just one more chore in your life, it won’t have the energy and enthusiasm behind it that makes it readable. The same is true for LinkedIn, Facebook and any other social media tool you care to mention.

Finally, the skills and attention to detail that are needed to create a great resume are the same skills needed to create a great LinkedIn resume. It’s the same material presented in a different venue. If it’s bad as a hard copy resume, it sure won’t get better as a purely digital document.

If you aren’t up to the challenge, get some help. If you are going to commit to social media, jump in and get to work. If not, put down those really sharp knives, keep your digits where they belong, and come back when you are ready.

Rainbows or Charcoal?

When you have nothing that you must think about, what do you think about? Is it family, your next vacation, a round of golf, or something else? Do your thoughts center on how you spend your days, specifically focused on your days at work? What do those thoughts look like? If you had to draw a color picture of those thoughts, would you need the 96 color box of Crayolas, the free three-pack that your kids get at Chili’s, or a dull chunk of charcoal? If your thoughts are illustrated in monochromatic gloom, maybe it’s time to do something about it.

Think about the situation this way: If you are not enjoying what you are doing to earn your paycheck – or if you despise what you are doing for your paycheck – why are you doing it? Can you really be great at something that you don’t enjoy? You may be able to force yourself to perform at an acceptable level, but will you ever excel? Will your personal reputation and brand ever be world-class if you know that you would rather be doing something else?

What happens when you spend time doing things that you really love? You could fill libraries with books and videos addressing this subject, but have you ever thought about it and followed this simple thought process? Check it out:

  1. What am I really good at? What do I enjoy doing most?
  2. Am I allowed to do these things regularly?
  3. If not, what can I do about it?

I have found that I really enjoy working with people to help them identify their goals and develop a marketing plan to help them find the next steps in their careers. The whole process of getting to know my clients, writing materials (cover letters, resumes, web content), and helping them land interviews is an amazing experience for me. I am good at it – or so my clients tell me – and I enjoy doing it. How about you? What are you good at? What if you don’t know? Here are a couple of resources to explore:

The US Department of Labor offers a fun package of career exploration tools. The latest is You will find an easy to navigate questionnaire that may help you identify careers that interest you and use your talents. You may find options to consider that you never thought about before. The second site – – let you enter skills and experiences and the site offers ideas for industries and jobs. The two sites together create a useful and easy package of career discovery tools.

Also consider tools that help you identify what make you special. The Gallup Organization’s Strengths Finder 2.0, along with the online assessment tool, can help you understand things about yourself and explores the ideas of strengths and talents in a compelling and accessible way.

Put down the TV remote, check out these tools, and discover things about yourself that may change your life for the better. All the best for your journey!

Climbing Everest Blind

Erik Weihenmayer is an amazing person. He lost his sight as a teenager and in spite of this disability, went on to reach the summit of Mount Everest and, ultimately, the Seven Peaks – the tallest mountains on each of the seven continents. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in Orlando this week and I wanted to share my strongest recommendation to learn more about him if you have the chance. You will be inspired and amazed.

Erik’s message is that adversity is really opportunity. Adversity can help you grow and do things that you never thought you could do. It would be easy to simplify the message down to a simple sentence – “You can do it” – or a Nike ad slogan, but that would be doing a disservice to him, his accomplishments and his service to others.

How can we take this example and inspiring story and apply it in our own journeys that will never take us to the highest spot on the planet? Maybe it comes down to striving to do the best that you can every day, and when it gets difficult, relying on your team – family, friends, coworkers – to help you get through. Maybe it’s relying on your faith, knowing that there is a reason you are facing the steep hill in front of you, and it’s all for a greater purpose.

More important than this, though, is the question of what you can do for others. Erik spends time discussing his accomplishments, but he also gives lots of credit to those who helped him, those tied to the same rope line, those scaling the same mountain face who helped him reach his goals. What are you and I doing to grow and develop others? What are you doing to serve others? What are you doing today that will allow you to reflect and say that you did your very best to help others do their best? What are you doing to make it count? I may not have a summit day today, but I can take steps to get there.

What’s My Motivation?

You have heard that line before, probably in a performing arts setting as actors work to figure out the energy that is needed to deliver their lines and do whatever they have to do to create a believable scene and character. Have you ever considered your motivation for doing what you do every day? What gets you to push the rock up the hill?

I hope that your motivation is more compelling and energizing than mere survival. If you are driven to pay the rent and keep food on the table and nothing more, it’s time to consider alternatives. Why? Because if you find something that you love doing, you will do it better, faster and with more stamina than if you have to drag yourself through an experience you hate.

I will share a personal experience to make the point. I served as a Store Team Leader for Target, and I had the opportunity to be the person responsible for opening the new store in the South Bronx in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. This meant long hours, an insane commute (70 miles each way) and working in an environment that was radically different than anywhere else I had ever worked. Why did I do it? Yes, money was part of it, but was not the only motivator. I also saw it as an opportunity to do something special, working with a talented leadership team to build a business that employed hundreds of people (if you want to see what that looked like, click here) and that brought quality products and services to an area that was disturbingly underserved by retailers. We made a difference in the South Bronx community. It counted.

So what’s your motivation? Why do you get up every day and do what you do? Is it to be the best in your department or field? Is it to help others? Is it to earn the respect of industry peers and competitors? If you can’t answer the question easily, take some time to do so. Turn off your gadgets, get away from your desk, and sit down with a paper and pen and write down the things that give you the energy to perform. I enjoy helping others identify their talents and accomplishments so that they can grow in their careers. My energy is directed towards activities that make that happen. What about you?

Identify your motivation and use it to deliver the performance of your life every day.

Where is Your Media Coverage?

The Super Bowl is behind us (congratulations, Green Bay) and pitchers and catchers report for spring training in five days. For those who are struggling to get through this endless winter – and who isn’t? – this is welcome news, indeed. Let’s stay with the sports theme and think about your career in this context. Think about some of the biggest headlines in sports, and you realize that they often focus on money. Player “X” is getting “Y” millions of dollars for “Z” years. The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the headlines.

Why do these players get such huge paychecks? Because they have proven themselves with performance when it counts, top players are in limited supply, and their new teams see that the benefit they bring is worth more than the money that they will have to pay. It’s really that simple. And the same thing applies to you. What’s the biggest difference between you and Derek Jeter? OK, there are many, but one difference is that he has sportswriters and other media watching his every move and statisticians and their computers tracking his performance. You have you.

So what are you going to do to ensure that you get the big contract from the best team when you make your next move? One thing is to ensure that your performance is documented and reported so that your next employer will see you as someone worth more than the paycheck. Be your own reporter. Keep a log. Create a journal. Instead of another round of Angry Birds, use your phone to update a notes file about your day’s accomplishments. And don’t forget to be specific.

Which sounds better?

“Aaron Rodgers reported to work every day and played his position as Quarterback.”


Aaron Rodgers led the Green Bay Packers to win Super Bowl XLV in commanding fashion, taking the lead early and never looking back.”

The second statement sounds a lot more exciting, doesn’t it.

How about this?

“Managed team of 10 customer service representatives to service inbound calls from customers.”


“Improved customer satisfaction scores by 17% in six months by training, developing and leading the best customer service team of 10 representatives to President’s Club award.”

You get the idea, right? The problem is that many people don’t take the time to record these accomplishments. Be your own ESPN, New York Times and agent all rolled into one. Challenge yourself to perform better, deliver results and record your accomplishments. Only good things can happen, like getting a good performance review and a raise or maybe landing the fat contract with that best company in your field. Go for it!