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Your Personal Brand: 10 C’s to Effective Leadership

A company, an organization, a person all have a brand – it is what they stand for. Your personal brand is your word, your bond, your promise. “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel,” Maya Angelou. It is a journey with building blocks that establish your brand, your overall reputation. In evaluating and assessing leaders for C-Suite and board positions, 10 critical attributes distinguish candidates in our executive search practice:

1. Character is at the top of our listIt is all about having high integrity. A strong moral compass to always do the right thing. Jim Rohn wrote it best in saying that “Success as a leader is built on the foundation of character.” He noted that the following are the six basics of good character and missing even one creates a weak link, in one’s character: integrity, honesty, loyalty, accountability, self-control, and self-sacrifice. This last trait he described in Lee Iacocca, who became a legend when to bring Chrysler back from the brink of bankruptcy, announced he would only take a $1 in annual pay during that time. This is a classic example of a leader sacrificing for his followers. Great character, great leader, great leadership. “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching,” – C.S. Lewis

2. Courage: Great leaders ensure truth to power prevails, and where actions are for the greater good not oneself. Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Great leaders stand up for what is right even in the face of great adversity; they do the right thing against all odds and face fears head-on, often taking the unpopular stand in order to do what is right. Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.” How many times have we faced our fears and triumphed over them, spurring us on to face more and expand the purpose of our lives? Great leadership takes great courage.

3. Commitment: Leaders set a path, clearing the way for others to follow. Steadfast in their resolve, their commitment to achieve a goal, reliable leaders will consistently make the “choice” to follow through. I believe that Heidi Reeder got it right when she said that “Commitment is the foundation of great accomplishments”—which is supported by the words of the great Vince Lombardi, “Most people fail not because of lack of desire but because of lack of commitment.” I see it every day in many who had very little in life, perhaps came from nothing, but achieved their goals because they were committed to a cause, their dream, their passion, and making it happen. “Commitment leads to action. Action brings your dream closer.” – Marcia Wieder

4. Collaboration: There is an old African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Simply stated, but speaks volumes. Ask any innovative leader and they will agree that to stay relevant, to be on the cutting edge, to be visionary, it takes a team with diversity of thought. Apple’s Steve Jobs said, “Great things in business are never done by one person; they are done by a team of people.” When I interview strong leaders they don’t talk “I”, they shout “We”. They recognize and give credit to others for they know that they stand on the shoulders of many who came before them and got to where they are because of the support of others. Exceptional leadership knows, “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” – Althea Gibson

5. Competencies: Some define competency as a combination of practical and theoretical knowledge, cognitive skills, behaviors and values used to improve performance, perform a specific role, or to act/react differently by interpreting a specific situation, such as in a crisis. I often think of Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, as the epitome of this description when he successfully landed his plane on the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. His skills, his training, and his experiences, guided his decision making in those critical moments. In Sully’s words, “Not every situation can be foreseen or anticipated. There isn’t a checklist for everything.” The same is true in Corporate America, as top business leaders must make many decisions in the throes of unforeseen global events. In a recent Forbes interview, Mehran Assadi, CEO of National Life Group, notes that once a leader has a clear view of the road ahead, they must navigate accordingly. He says, “This requires I get the right people around me to help make the change happen.” He believes that clarity without competency has no value.

Think about how you react in grey areas; are you prepared to interpret and quickly integrate the known and unknown? Do you have the competencies to navigate through change?

6. Confidence: It is knowing and demonstrating what you are good at, and being self-assured. It is having a good self-assessment and grasp of the reality of your abilities. It is not about believing you are better than you actually arethat could be seen as arrogance. However, showing a healthy level of self-confidence is a must if you want to succeed. If you don’t believe in you, why would others? Studies show that some actions can actually boost self-esteem; these include: exercise, which releases a cocktail of endorphins that make you feel more alive; another, is your dress, your hair, your style and color of your clothing, all of which can positively impact you and the reactions/impressions you make on others; being a subject matter expert or having a particular unique skill that enhances your visibility and mastery in a specific area. Arthur Ashe once said, “One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” Are you preparing yourself for the next opportunity that presents itself and, more importantly, are you creating opportunities by continuously improving yourself everyday? Build your competencies and your self-confidence will follow. If you stretch, you grow! These are the building blocks of great leaders and leadership.

7. Communication: Many of the world’s greatest leaders are also the most effective communicators. They win the hearts and minds of people. They deepen connections, build trust, and promote teamwork while mitigating potential misunderstandings, conflicts and distrust. A great communicator is first and foremost an engaged listener who makes others “feel” they are important; making others feel their needs matter. As Mother Theresa remarkably stated “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Like learning another language, the “art of communication” does not come easily; it is a skill that can be learned and mastered but it must be constantly practiced. As an Executive in Corporate America, and now after nearly two decades in Executive search, I have observed and admired some remarkable leaders whose communication skills were exceptional. Here are some of their techniques: 1) Listen before Speaking; 2) Know your Subject; 3) Ask Insightful Probing Questions 4) Grasp what is not said, non-verbal cues, and body language; 5) Express Negative messages, feedback in a positive manner always staying above the fray; 6) Stay Calm under Pressure, buying time with a question; 7) Be your Authentic Self, letting your passion, values, and beliefs be your message; 8) Look People in the Eye, and speak up with authority and conviction; 9) Be Concise, to the point, simplify the complex. As former Prime Minister Winston Churchill said about emphasizing the need for brevity and editing in writing, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.” 10) Use Humor to connect with people. As former President John F. Kennedy said in his famous 1961 speech on their trip to Paris, reminding us all that Jacqueline was in her cultural and linguistic element, I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” Above it all, “feel” don’t “read” the words you are speaking.

8. Curiosity: Leaders with an insatiable intellectual curiosity have a deep and persistent desire to seek answers to the “why” questions. Like children who constantly ask “why?”, their minds are seeking answers to a world unknown to them and in search of understanding. Organizational Psychologist Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic refers to it as “CQ” or curiosity quotient. In contrast to IQ or EQ, he calls it a “hungry mind.” He argues that having a higher CQ, leads to an inquisitive nature and an openness to new experiences. Quickly bored with routine, they find novelty exciting, and want to generate original ideas, putting them to action. We are on a technology learning path today like no other time. As Walter Isaacson argues in his book, The Innovators, strong communication generates and inspires innovation. In order to innovate, it’s not enough to just come up with big ideas, you also need to work hard to communicate them very clearly.

To build more innovative companies, a key attribute of leaders is having the intellectual curiosity and foresight to see beyond today. As Bill Gates puts it “I believe innovation is the most powerful force for change in the world.” AI has exponentially changed the ranking of companies, as only 60 of the Fortune 500 companies in 1955 are still listed on the 2017 Fortune 500. “In other words, fewer than 12% of the Fortune 500 companies included in 1955 were still on the list 62 years later in 2017.” Companies like Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple are quickening this disruption, with automation being the largest disruptive force. According to Jeff Bezos, recently ranked by Forbes as the world’s most innovative leader, “You have to be willing to be misunderstood if you are going to innovate.” And Steve Jobs said “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” These are three remarkable leaders with an insatiable curiosity who communicated new concepts that have forever changed the planet.

9. Champions: Ironically, I found myself thinking about what makes a champion while joining my husband on a weekend trip to Green Bay, Wisconsin to watch the Packers happily defeat the Buffalo Bills. Approaching 25 (wonderful) years of marriage, Bruce, a Bucky Badger, has taught me much about football, and why the Packers are perhaps the greatest team ever, with “13 league wins,” the most in NFL history. You can learn a lot about leadership from those in sports. Athletes are extremely goal-oriented. They dream big. They truly live their dreams. They are their dreams. They sacrifice a lot to be champions, competing at the highest level and they do not rest until they have achieved their goals. Vince Lombardi said, “There’s only one way to succeed in anything and that is to give it everything.” For athletes do not “accidentally” become great. They practice, practice, practice! I agree with Billie Jean King when she famously said, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

In the corporate world, leaders become Champions by surrounding themselves with great talent; recognizing and coaching, mentoring, and sponsoring others to be the best they can be. These Champions set and achieve ambitious goals with winning teams. There is a term that puts these corporate Champions in a special leaguethey are servant leaders. They remove obstacles for others, so they can succeed. These are the leaders who will attract and retain the very best talent creating the most innovative companies. They are the Champions of Champions.

10. Common Sense: In January 1776, at the beginning of the American Revolution, the pamphlet Common Sense was published anonymously and became an immediate sensation. Its author was later revealed as Thomas Paine, who advocated for independence from Great Britain to the people in the 13 colonies. It was written in a clear and persuasive prose marshaling moral and political arguments to encourage common people to fight for egalitarian government. Until 2006, it remained the all-time, best-selling American title and is still in print today.

Fast forward nearly 100 years, Abraham Lincoln said, “You must draw on language, logic and simple common sense to determine essential issues and establish a concrete course of action.” This sage advice would serve executives well today as they lead highly complex global organizations and lead people through a course of action. But sometimes the messages from leaders become unclear, less transparent, convoluted and then confusion sets in. Why is it that common sense today isn’t that common and that some say, “executives often leave their common sense in the parking lot when they go to work.” As said by Warren Buffet, “There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” So, why do many pontificate, repeat what has already been said, and complicate the obvious? Perhaps the overload of data is difficult to digest or the fear of asking a question that will make us sound foolish/uninformed, or our insecurity holds us back from reaching across the aisle to hear to the ideas of others?

Enhancing our “Common Sense” takes listening, in order to make good judgement calls and take smart actions. Helen Gurly Brown stated, “My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.” Listening to our employees, our customers, our competitors, keeping our ear to the ground and trusting our instincts are key ways to enhance our decision making and provide direction when oftentimes the path is unclear. Josh Billings said, “Common sense is instinct, and enough of it is genius.”

This concludes our series of 10 C’s that impact the way we lead. At Ellig Group, we too follow these 10 C’s on how we operate, individually and collectively.