Making Your Leadership Brand Shine

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You have a personal brand (the impression others have of you and your abilities)  whether you think so or not.

To some people the marketing of one’s brand is of little importance. Their “let the chips fall where they may” seems to be aligned with the life they want to live.

For others the brand is a “look at me” quest (self-promotion)

And yet others it is, “Look at what I can do for you” (a service orientation). The focus of this article is important if you are,

  1. Crafting a career where you can be where you want to be professionally.
  2. Focusing on the leadership areas you want to develop.
  3. Positioning yourself to be assigned to inspiring tasks.
  4. Differentiating yourself from other equally strong leaders.
  5. Defining your unique value proposition to customers, partners, and colleagues.

Here are eight steps you can take to develop that brand.

  1. Be very clear with yourself and others what career path or area of service you want to follow. Intentions must be clearly communicated. If you are passionate about international business situations get an overseas assignment at some time in your career.
  1. Identify what differentiates you from other leaders. What is your value proposition? One leader I know defines himself as someone who “breaks glass”. His disruptive innovations are just what his company needs at this time.
  1. Seek alignment between your personal and organizational brand. If “getting a life” and “getting the job” clash, opt for the former. Don’t sacrifice anything of yourself for your brand. If you love being in nature don’t let long hours at the office squeeze out this love.
  1. Define and grow the leadership and professional skills necessary for success in the expression of your brand. Are you aware of the “gold standard” leadership skills that you need to be chosen for a particular task or position?
  1. Ask how you want your customers, investors, and colleagues to benefit from your brand in the next 12 months?
  1. Be intentional about educating your boss and other stakeholders about your brand. If you want to be a strategist get to the table where strategy is discussed. Ask questions that demonstrate that you “get it” when future planning takes place.
  1. Express your brand statement in a brief story that will give it emotional impact. (See blog posting on Telling Powerful Stories). Let the theme of the story be about times when you made a significant impact on a situation or when you were particularly passionate about an assignment. Condense the story into a one-line statement.
  1. Share your brand statement with others who know you well and ask for feedback on its effectiveness.

My Leadership Brand Statement

Helping global leaders change their world by discovering what inspires them and others

 What is your brand statement?

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When You Come To The Fork in The Road…

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 Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D


…. Take It!

Yes, Yogi Berra, if only it was that easy…. no difficult choices, no missed opportunities, no regrets.

In life, we all come to a fork in the road, a point at which we have to make a choice. Sometimes we are sure. But other times, we are filled with doubt.

With each path, there are upsides and downsides, certainties and uncertainties. We struggle. We make our decision.

Then comes the fallout. Did we make the right decision? Is there a right decision?

For those transitions imposed upon us such as the loss of a job or life partner, we may feel completely unmoored and uncertain about the future.

But transitions we choose to make, such as a house move, can also make us anxious: doubt can sink in, making us question our decision, adding to our stress, and making the move more difficult.

Since change is a fact of life, how can we learn to ride the inevitable emotional bumps along the way and not let our anxieties and doubt make these times more difficult than they need to be?

We are in the middle of such a transition right now. We sold and packed up our home in California to begin the drive back to central Mexico where we have lived part-time for the last five years. As we said goodbye to our home of 14 years and our wonderful friends, here are some of the things we learned:

  1. No matter how rational we try to be, change stirs up strong emotions.

Transitions can elicit a roller coaster of rapidly shifting emotions — excited to sad, confident to scared, trusting to skeptical — all within a very short period of time. Though such swings in emotions feel destabilizing, they are perfectly typical and to be expected. After all, conflicting or vacillating feelings do not mean we can’t trust ourselves or need to reconsider our decision.

Transitions also resurrect old feelings and issues even if they are currently resolved. When we recognize the origins of our negative or destabilizing emotions we can put them into perspective and refocus on the opportunities inherent in change. This allows us to also take better care of ourselves as we cross the high wire to solid ground.

Questions: What complex emotions have you experienced in important life transitions? What memories of other transitions or life events are they attached to? 

  1. It is only a bad decision if our mind tells us so.

It is quite common to question a decision to make a significant change in our lives and necessary too; it makes sense to think through everything carefully so that we make the best choice.

The fact is, though, that we cannot control the future, which can take us into a downward spiral of What if? thinking. “What if” thinking can be paralyzing. It can stifle our imagination, hope, and the faith we need to move forward with our lives. How many people do you know who are afraid of taking risks because of the bad outcomes they imagine may befall them?

With all the scary scenarios that our minds compose we need to remember that we author those stories. Our minds, not the world, are our biggest spooks. However, we can turn around this ruminating. Instead of letting our negative fantasies run amok, we can ask ourselves rationally based questions such as

What are the positive outcomes of making this change?

What opportunities might I miss if I did not make this move?

What did I do in similar situations in the past to make a successful move?

In sum: What rational, positive thought can replace my scary, irrational thought?

Decisions, transitions, and changes are the inevitable stuff of life. The good news is we don’t have to regress to a place of anxiety or fear in making them. In making a choice about which path to take, we also have a choice in how we are going to respond to the consequences of our decision.






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Ten Signs of a Humble Leader

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Some of the most successful leaders in history display humility as one of their inspirational qualities.

Humble people display character traits where they;

1. Are grateful for the contribution of others and give them credit for their success.

2. Are aware of their strengths without being arrogant or grandiose.

3. Gladly seek out and act on accurate feedback from others.

4. Are lifelong learners.

5. Practice detachment from praise. (Sometimes living with success is harder than failure).

6. Refuse thoughts of entitlement.

7. Leverage their strengths with an eye on their development needs.

8. Take their mission but not themselves seriously.

9. Laugh at themselves without being self-denigrating.

10. Live more from the soul than the ego.

So what do you think?

How can a person be humble when they have to market themselves and develop their brand?

Are there sex differences when it comes to humility?

What about cultures where humility is seen as a weakness?


Do you have a story of a successful leader that you know and admire that was humble as well?


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Try Self-Compassion

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Written with Kristine S. MacKain, Ph.D

At times we can be so hard on ourselves!

Why can’t we give ourselves more slack? Think about it.

You set several goals for yourself: you are determined to complete five important tasks within a particular time period; you promise yourself to respond with more control when you child starts whining; you are determined to walk 15 miles this week.  And then what happens? You fall short of your expectations for yourself.  We don’t mean a stunning earth-shattering failure but you simply don’t reach your goals.

Then, you beat yourself up. Your thoughts take a self-accusatory turn:

  • “Why did I let myself become distracted when I wanted to finish those tasks by 5pm?”
  • “Why can’t I stop snapping at my child and be more understanding?”
  • “Why am I such a lazy slob—I’ll never lose weight!”

It’s stressful enough being so self-critical but there’s another problem with being this hard on ourselves: in doing so, we become completely caught up in our own drama, which unfortunately tends to bleed into other aspects of our lives, affecting the way we perceive others and the way we begin to view our lives, in general.

For instance, let’s say you are having a down moment because you haven’t reached those goals we were just talking about. You find yourself fixating on that and soon you are generalizing—all of your life looks bleak:

  • “My career is a dead-end.”
  • “I should have never had children.”
  • “I’m too old for exercise!”

Down the slippery slope you’ve gone. You have just blown that one incident into a personal catastrophe.

So, what happens when you consistently do this to yourself? Perhaps the answer is best captured by a quote we read recently: “People wrapped up in themselves make for a small and miserable package.”

Before we show you a way out of this downward spiral, let’s examine the root causes of this painful and, at times, disabling condition.

 Why do We Beat up on Ourselves?

Why do our perceived shortcomings lead to self-flagellation? Why do we catastrophize the minor peccadilloes in our lives? Why can’t we be more self-compassionate?  Below, are some explanations that may resonate with you:

  1. We set the bar unrealistically high for ourselves, sometimes to the point of perfectionism. Then, we don’t cut ourselves slack when we fall short of a perfect performance. The roots of this behavior often go back to childhood where we were shamed by parents who themselves experienced shame. We may have heard messages like: “You got 5 A’s and one B” – what happened?” Or, “If you continue doing that, you will never amount to anything”. Unfortunately, we still believe those messages, re-running the tapes in one heads when we fail to meet our objectives.
  2. We live in a culture where winning the silver, rather than the gold medal makes you a loser—where only the winner receives affirmation. We function under the myth that winners never fail and that failing is taboo.
  3. We fail to think rationally; we generalize that we are failures based on one incident of failure, instead of seeing failure as part of the learning and mastery process.
  4. We think that self-criticism helps keep us from becoming self-indulgent, according to recent research on self-compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D., from the University of Texas, Austin.

The Way Out: Give Yourself a Break with Self-Compassion

The healthier, more productive way of relating to ourselves when we fall short of our goals is to substitute self-compassion for self-judgment.

Let’s start first with compassion for others. When you have compassion for others, you notice their suffering, you care, you feel empathy for them. This leads to a desire to do something on their behalf to relieve their suffering and make life better for them. In self-compassion, you do the same for yourself.

How skilled at self-compassion are you? In her work on self-compassion, Kristin Neff, Ph.D., has developed a free, web-based test for self-compassion that you can take to see where you fall on the self-compassion scale. (Also, read more on her website for additional information on what self-compassion is and is not):

If you score low on the self-compassion test and are inclined to self-hate and pity parties, here are some things you can do for yourself:

  1. See that the true value of your person lies in who you are, not what you do.
  2.  View failure as your “training wheels”—the way you reach success. Instead of thinking, “I was so bad at that!” ask yourself: “What can I learn from this experience that will help me succeed in the future?”
  3. Examine the logic of your self-loathing evaluation. For instance, you failed in one instance. Does that really mean that you will fail in every similar instance in the future?
  4.  Treat yourself the same way you would treat others with a similar shortfall, hopefully, with compassion. Recently, we heard someone remark: “If you treated others the same way you treat yourself for your own shortcomings, you wouldn’t have any friends!”
  5. Don’t try to deny or stamp out harsh self-judgment—suppression may only increases the intensity of the negative feeling. Instead, step outside yourself and observe and acknowledge the thought by saying “I’m judging myself again.” 
  6. Forgive yourself for harsh thinking. It helps here to see that what you think as unique to yourself is part of the general human condition.
  7. Replace your negative thought with a positive, reality- based evaluation like, “This was just one instance of a failing–it does not mean that I am always this way or that I cannot learn from this experience.”

Becoming more compassionate with oneself is a skill that can be learned. By integrating these seven new ways of thinking about yourself, you can learn to be a friend to yourself rather than your own worst enemy.

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What It Takes To Be An Exceptional Leader

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My whole professional career has been devoted to trying to understand what it takes for a person to be an exceptional leader. And I have worked with some of the brightest and the best of such leaders in every industry around the world.

What does leadership success look like?

What does it take for people to want to follow a leader?

The other day I interviewed two senior leaders about two future executives in their organizations. Here is what they told me.

“She is the most impressive leader I have met in my whole career”

 “This person is going to become another..(name of a very effective company president)”

What was it that they saw in these two leaders? In each instance it was a pairing of two complimentary abilities. These individuals,

  1. Have the intellectual ability to address the most complex business strategies and emerge with simple but elegant solutions.
  2. Get stellar results but never sacrifice their highest principles
  3. Display a self-confidence paired with humility that inspires people to follow.
  4. Drive change through relationships based on trust.
  5. Leverage incredible business knowledge and collaboratively solve problems.
  6. Reflect high levels of optimism even in the face of extreme adversity.

What do you think makes for a great leader?

What leadership attributes would you include?

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got soul?

Cedric Johnson, Ph.D and Kristine MacKain, Ph.D

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Our natural inclination as humans is to live from the perspective of our ego: our thoughts and behaviors revolve around what we are getting or not getting from life or other people. We seek satisfaction; however, we never fully realize it because the ego is insecure and insatiable—it is never satisfied.  Consequently, we are often left feeling somewhat empty or disturbed, as if there is something missing from our lives.

Interestingly, many of us go through our lives never realizing that we can make another choice, a choice that allows us to see our lives and relationships with others through a very different lens, the lens of the soul. Switching from an ego-based to a soul-based perspective is a powerful paradigm shift. It dramatically changes the way we experience the world, improving the quality of our experiences and leading us to a deeper understanding of life and the great gift that it is.

How do we make the shift to living from the perspective of the soul?

First, we need to learn to distinguish ego-based versus soul-based thoughts and actions.

Second, because the ego is a constant presence in our lives, we need to recognize when it threatens to derail us.

Finally, during these destabilizing moments, we need to intentionally choose to view our life’s circumstances differently.

Here’s an everyday example of making a different choice. One of the authors had a long and frustrating travel day. The following morning, feeling exhausted and very grumpy, he left a popular hotel chain to meet a customer. As he exited the elevator, he read the hotel’s slogan, “Wake up on the bright side” and thought, “You must be kidding!” After he met the customer, however, he felt inspired to collaborate and help solve her problems. Suddenly, he found that he was engaging and energetic.

What happened? He made a choice. (Grumpy consultants are unemployed consultants!) But moreover, in choosing to be the best he could be for this customer, he discovered he had inner resources he wasn’t aware of.

We are all capable of viewing life from a soul-based perspective because it is an inherent part of who we are. It does, however, tend to be overshadowed by the insatiable needs of the ego.

At work and at home, it takes an intentional focus to respond to life’s challenges from a soul-based perspective. It also takes time to develop this awareness so that we can choose to shift our perspective at will.

As Thomas Moore notes: “Soul doesn’t pour into life automatically. It requires our skill and attention.”

Let’s take a look at some of the wiser soul-based choices we can make:

▪   We can choose kindness in responding to others (especially when they irritate us) rather than being judgmental

▪   We can focus on using our talents and abilities to serve others as opposed to showcasing our accomplishments.

▪   We can be present now, accepting what is and embracing it, rather than ruminating about the past or distracting ourselves with fantasies about the future.

Following is a checklist of typical life situations and our responses to them. Approach each category as an exercise, thinking of instances in your life where you acted from an ego-based or soul-based perspective and the impact it had on you and/or others.


Signs of the Ego                                       Category                          Signs of the Soul

Self-gratification                                    Personal actions                      Benefit others

Performance-based                                 Self-esteem                              Values-based

Conditional                                                  Love                                       Unconditional

Entitled                                                        Attitude                                  Grateful

Getting love                                              Relationships                           Giving love

Personal comfort                                        Religion                                 Compassionate action

Chattering mind                                         Meditation                             Transcending ego                         

Intellectual pride                                       Wisdom                                   Humility

Despair                                                           Loss                                       Hope

Promoting self                                            Education                               Serving others

Domination                                                  Conflict                                  Resolution

Parents’ agenda                                          Parenting                               Child’s aspirations

Advance self                                                Contribution                          Benefit others

What choices are you making to live a more soul-based life?

What impact has this choice had on you and others?

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The Limits of Our Knowledge

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“The more we know, the greater we find is our ignorance” – Gardiner G. Hubbard

The world is full of pundits sprouting off their expertise in one field or another. Everyone seems to know where the Malaysian Airlines plane crashed. But nobody can locate the aircraft.

In science there is the scientific method that is a valuable tool in the search for truth. But there is also scientific dogma where some “experts” hold to their views even in the face of contradictory data (an ego attachment to a position?)

In religion there are those who claim they have ultimate truth. I love what the Dalai Lama said that if science contradicted some of the tenets of Buddhism, he would give up those beliefs.

So what should this tell us?

  1. Be cautious of people claiming to be “experts” without a credible knowledge base. Retain a healthy skepticism even to a blog like this one.
  2.  Adopt an open mind: challenge your most cherished opinions and consider contrary points of view.
  3. Appreciate that with greater knowledge comes the realization that one still has so much to learn. The more we know, the more we come to understand how little we know.
  4. Recognize that people who hold themselves up as authorities may have hidden agendas such as the need for certainty, to be right, to be superior, or to have status in or respect from their social communities.

If we find ourselves with these impulses, how can we approach interpersonal communication in a healthier, more productive way?

1.  Humbly let go of the need to be right and listen carefully and engage people in dialog.

2.  Define yourself as a student rather than an expert; continually challenge your knowledge and remain open to learn, even from unlikely and/or opposing sources.

3.  Defer to those who are more knowledgeable in an area but at the same time question authority.

4. Boldly proclaim your convictions but have the intellectual humility to surrender them in the face of contradictory evidence.

This does not mean we should refrain from being assertive about expressing a position, decisive about an action, or confident about a knowledge base we have acquired.

However, we need to achieve balance by expressing a humility that recognizes the scope and/or limitations of our own knowledge and a self awareness that understands and monitors our underlying drives, such as the drive to be right.

Two excellent articles on this topic are,

“Beware the Everyday Expert” by Daniel Gulati in the HBR Blogs.

“The Folly of Thinking That We Know” by Pico Iyer; The New York Times, 3/21/2014

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The Power of Giving

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In the “What’s in it for me?” generation what have we GIVEN lately?

In a recent team-building exercise I commented to a group of senior executives “instead of asking what your team is giving to you ask what you can give back to other members in your regional group”.

Legendary NBA coach Phil Jackson of Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers fame talks about the importance of giving in his book “Sacred Hoops”. When he started coaching the Bulls he had a team of super stars like Pippen and Jordan. But the team was not consistently winning championship titles. One of Jackson’s first tasks was to sell the team on the virtue and practice of being less selfish. He told them in effect, “The name of the team is on the front of the jersey. Your name is on the back.”

What does it mean to live from a place of generosity and practice giving in deeper and soulful ways? Giving this way implies that

  1. We have an abundance mentality. Giving does not deprive us of our resources. Rather it multiplies them not necessarily in material things but in richness of spirit. It also, despite challenges, sees life not as a struggle but as a magical adventure.
  2. We know that life has everything we need. The giver sees the unlimited potential in the universe. In that light we live the life of the affluent in areas like love, friends, and physical and mental vitality. And yes, also in financial resources.
  3. We focus habitually on giving rather than taking. This is the antithesis of the suspicious person who constantly feels “What are people going to take from me?”
  4. We relinquish the attachment to outcome. We don’t use our giving as a PR tactic. It is more important that people receive than we acquire a good reputation. Giving is not a marketing strategy. If you want to be known as a philanthropist you will be a poverty stricken one indeed.
  5. We “slip into the gap between our thoughts” because every self and other-limiting thought is a story of our own creation. And as authors we have the power to move into the space of our true self, in the gaps.
  6. We consistently substitute kindness for judgment. When I am tired and insecure I often revert to judgment by placing people and situations into good and bad categories. My internal storytelling then converts the world into a miserable and chaotic place. Next time you feel inclined to judge. Stop. Substitute a kind act or thought.

What has the intentional and conscious practice of giving brought to your life?

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Improving Your Listening Skills

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(Updated from June 2012)

Highly effective listeners are few and far between.

Reflect on these statements;

“Can’t he just listen and validate my feelings? Why does he try to always fix the problem?”

“Every time we are on a conference call she is checking her email.”

“All people want from me is to be their audience”

Here is a tool you can use to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of your listening skills.

(I used this checklist in my Executive Development Workshop in Mexico City this month.)

How to Use the List

1.   Tell someone you trust that you want to improve your listening skills.

2.   Ask them to observe you in a group situation and rate you on how well you listen.

3.   Spend time with the observer going through the checklist and identify areas where you need to improve your listening skills.

4.   Evaluate each area as: Highly effective, Effective, or Needs Improvement.

Listening Areas to Assess


Eye contact. You consistently made eye contact in a natural, attentive manner. You did not appear distracted by, for example, fidgeting, looking around the room, or staring.

Body language. Your relaxed body (for example, open arms or arms at your sides; eyes focused on the other) invited the person into a conversation. You did not shut them out or show you were distracted (by, for example, yawning frequently, staring off into space, or having your arms crossed in a defensive manner).

Not interrupting. You let the person finish a thought before speaking. You did not appear on the brink of wanting to say something.


Door openers. You invited the person to express himself or herself honestly. For example: “You say it was a difficult situation; do you want to elaborate?”

Attentive silence. You sat quietly and attentively. You were not afraid to sit together in silence. You did not break that silence with a nervous statement or question.

Occasionally asked open-ended questions. You did not solicit yes/no answers. If the person said, “I don’t like my job” you responded, for example, with: “What about your job don’t you like?”


Summarizing. Using the other person’s words, you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.

Paraphrasing. Using your words, you showed you understood what the person said by making a brief, summary statement.


Accurate empathy. You showed that you were aware, understood, and appreciated how the other person felt. You showed that you understood the situation from the other person’s point of view.

Reflecting the other’s feelings. You reflected back (or “mirrored”) how you interpreted the other’s emotions or reactions by saying, for example, “You seem really hurt by the negative feedback you received.


So after people observed and rated you, how effective were you as a listener?

What two skills are you willing to practice to become a better listener?

 Your comments are valued.

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Getting It Right At The Top – Selecting Great Senior Leaders

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Choosing and training great senior leaders is the key to any organization’s successful future. Here are some strategies for finding and preparing leaders for executive success.

 1.   Identify the “Gold Standard” for Senior Leadership.

Job success at the highest executive level requires that a person has the capacity to shape future strategy, sense changing trends in an industry, lead across many functions, influence change management, and drive short and long-term profitability. Just because a person has succeeded at executive leadership at lower levels does not necessarily qualify him/her for more senior positions. With the “gold” leadership standard in mind organizations need to train, expose, and select their future leaders. This is done when companies

2.   Expose future executives to enterprise level projects.

Future senior leaders need to be given the opportunity to work on key business issues that involve cross-functional and global collaboration focussed on the mission of the company. In such a context, those who step up to the plate and lead with flexibility of thought, ability to “connect the dots” by anticipating innovative and profitable trends, influence change, and have the group naturally follow them are more than likely the key executives that will take their organization into a successful future. It is also essential that these “learning groups” be sponsored by the current top leaders in an organization.

3.    Select leaders with self-awareness and empathy.

“When the seventy-five members of the Stanford Graduate School of Business Advisory Council were asked to recommend the most important capability for leaders to develop, their answer was nearly unanimous: self-awareness.” - Bill George, past President and CEO of Medtronics

Many data driven organizations attract and reward people who are “stuck in their heads”. They forget that great leaders are also skilled in self and other-awareness.

Self-awareness is the reflective ability to perceive and understand our own underlying motives, strengths, and limitations.

A lack of self-awareness severely limits our ability to recognize and respond accurately to the emotions of another person (empathy).

There are many other leadership qualities that make for successful senior leaders.

What would you suggest to organizations that want to identify and nurture great senior leaders?


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