Why should I care?

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Maybe it’s a senior-level engineer who seems burned out. Maybe it’s a disaffected young dreamer, railing against the corporate machine. Or maybe it’s an “80-percenter”, content to live out their days in the cube farm, while the other 20% deliver. If you’ve been in any type of leadership role, you’ve no doubt been challenged to “light a fire” in an underperforming team member. I have an idea that just may help you…

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You’ve been there, right? Where you seem to try everything, but you still can’t seem to get through to them. It’s so common, it’s become acceptable to just give up. We’ve been conditioned to believe that there is a certain (large) percentage of the workforce who is not going to be productive. “They can’t all be rockstars, right?”

Wrong.

It’s about caring

What we’re seeing, time and again, is a fundamental disconnect between the mission and the people. We’re getting blinded by spreadsheets and deadlines, distracted from our call as leaders. It’s back-to-basics time. Time to circle back to the fundamentals.

Two simple, powerful truths are at play here, and when we accept these two tenets as fact, we move beyond attempting to “light a fire”, and focus on “kindling flames”.

  1. Everyone cares about something, and
  2. No one can force another to care about anything. 

Performance, then, is an outcome of internal motivation. No amount of coaching will lead to maximum productivity when there is no passion. Certainly people can “push” themselves, but that’s not sustainable.

It’s time to stop trying to find a trick that will motivate people to do work they don’t care about. It’s time to find the value in the work they do care about, and free them up to do it. Here’s what works for me:

  • Be what you want to see. Everyone gravitates toward their calling, and you need to do the same. Be honest with yourself: Is leadership your passion? If you don’t care about poor performance, a poor performer won’t either. Lead by example, and do what you care about.
  • See what your people see. You’re reading this and leading people because you care about it. Why are your people doing what they do (or not doing what they don’t)? One simple behavior will simultaneously show people you care and uncover what they care about: Listen.
  • Make your “show” match your “tell”. As in all interactions, you need to be clear, transparent, and consistent. Your people need to trust that you care. Demonstrate by letting them drive their work, even on something trivial at first. You have nothing to lose (performance is suffering already, right?) and you may be surprised with the results.
  • Focus together on the big picture. Explain (and be sure you understand) there will be growing pains. We are looking for a way to do what we love, but sometimes you have to “grin and bear it”. Just beware the patterns and hold each other accountable. Commit to caring for each other enough to keep communication open, and be honest if it looks like either of you is backsliding.
  • Stay focused on the goal together. As performance improves, you may find that you’ve got a happy person who can’t help your team accomplish its mission. That’s okay. Now that you have established trust, you can work together to explore other projects, teams, departments, locations, companies, industries that might work. This doesn’t mean “manage them out”. It means life is too short to be miserable.

Sometimes we all need to remember the fundamentals. I hope this helps you as much as it does me. If you feel like you’re trying too hard to motivate people, maybe you are. It’s time to stop “trying” and start “caring”. I’ve seen it work. Have you?

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Personal Branding is Simple, Not Easy

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Personal branding is about communication. Sending a message is easier today than at any point in human history. It’s fast, efficient, and (mostly) free. The Internet and social media allow us to connect with like-minded people around the globe. We can discover talented people, learn from industry experts, and share insights we’ve gained. The scale of it all can be overwhelming if you try to jump in without a plan. This post aims to help you gain comfort as you start your journey into personal branding.

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I’ll start with a confession. I’m new at this. I don’t have years of experience with social media marketing. I’ve never been a blogger with thousands of subscribers, and I just finally surpassed 100 followers on Twitter.

So, why am I writing about this? Well, I think you can benefit from my experience of just getting started. The lessons I’ve learned are fresh and relevant. If you’re reading this, you’re connecting with me, and I am my brand. That’s the real point here. If you take nothing else from this post, remember this: Your brand is you.

What is a personal brand?

You are already building a personal brand. Every time you interact with someone, you are communicating your brand. These interactions (both word and deed) establish expectations for others. Given time and consistency, people will grow more and more comfortable that they can trust you to meet their expectations. That trust is the most powerful outcome of building a brand. The definition of a personal brand, then, is “a consistent set of expectations held toward you”.

Build the foundation first

The relative ease of electronic communication allows us to interact with greater frequency and reach every day. That is, at once, a wonderful and frightening reality. Before we dive in to using the web for personal branding, we need to establish a firm foundation. This will be the basis that helps us achieve the consistency we seek. Without it, our communication on the Internet will only serve to confuse our audience.

  • Understand yourself first. This is about communicating who you are. You cannot build a brand by pretending you are someone you are not. Know yourself. Be yourself. All the time.
  • Communicate with people. Before you start using the Internet to build your brand, realize that there are real people on the other end of all those connections. Act accordingly.
  • Consistency begins at home. Remember the definition of a personal brand. Don’t let the Internet craft your message for you. Be who you are at home first.
  • Appreciate persistence. What you say on the Internet can exist forever. This is not a simple warning. It means new people can engage with you all the time. That’s powerful.
  • Practice appropriate cadence. You may be tempted to share a flood of ideas with people right away. That’s natural. Building a brand, though, is a marathon. Pace yourself and be consistent.
  • Seek connection, not metrics. Another temptation is to track your success against a number (like Twitter followers). Don’t fall in the trap. Remember, you are connecting with people.
  • This is not a broadcast. Building a brand is a two-way street. You’re establishing expectations. Do you want people to expect to be “talked at”?

As the title of this post says, personal branding is simple, not easy. There are only a few steps required to start building a consistent set of expectations. Those steps aren’t easy, though. You have to be ready for the answers you find as you examine yourself. You have to be intentional about consistency. You are going to need to apply faith and hustle. Are you ready?