Category Archives: 2018

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The Ruse of Experience

Category : 2018

The growth of technology and social media has generated new meanings for familiar words. Viral now refers to popularity, not an illness. A ping is an action, not a noise. Following means to subscribe, not to pursue. Experience has expanded to mean you achieved something-not that you were there.

From a CEO trying to secure the trust of a board to an executive moving to a C-level role to companies working to gain a position in a competitive market, leveraging the word “experience” as a differentiator is wasted energy. Experience is about participation, observation, perception, encountering something, and practice that results in superior knowledge or mastery. In short, whether its an executive or a company, experience simply means you were there. You participated. You interacted with a situation or event. You maybe even learned something.

Companies can serve their marketplace for the same amount of time with very different results. A quick look at Fortune 500 companies shows that a decade committed to a task can yield widely differing results.

Company Years in Business Fortune Rank 2007 Fortune Rank 2017
Texas Instruments 66 185 206
JC Penny 115 116 221
Wal Mart 55 1 1
Weyerhauser 118 105 341
Apple 41 123 3

A look at top executives reveals the same range of outcomes. During Jeff Immelt’s tenure at General Electric, the stock price slipped 25%. Since Facebook became public, Mark Zuckerberg has led growth from $153 million to $40 billion. In ten years, Indra Nooyi has grown PepsiCo from $39 billion to $63 billion, while Ginni Rometty has watched IBM shrink from $98 billion in 2007 to $79 billion in 2017. Obviously, length of time on a road does not equate to distance traveled-or results achieved.

Selling experience alone easily becomes a ruse. If you don’t have a story to tell, don’t try to pretend one exists. Without quantified results, your ability to distinguish yourself from competitors is diminished.

Your experience doesn’t differentiate. Your client’s experience creates market differentiation. What consumers tell about how you helped them, how your product or service impacted their lives-that sells. When a board or other execs talk about your impact in an organization, that creates more credibility than talking about your number of years of experience.

Strong brands sell what people buy-and people buy results


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In the Story of Your Brand, the Hero Isn’t You

Category : 2018

Since campaigning for class office in junior high, Leslie Nunn Reed has been a student and a story of successful branding. Today, as vice president at 5by5 – A Change Agency, Leslie helps clients tell their stories with clarity, reach, and impact, including names like Scott Hamilton, musician Matthew West, Compassion International, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center[1] .

During an engaging conversation with Leapfrog Executive Services, Leslie shared her branding insights and expertise. This is the first in a series sharing the 5by5 perspective on branding (5by5 is a StoryBrand certified Agency).

Whether for an organization or an executive, at its core, a brand is a promise you make to your customers about what you stand for, who you stand for, what you do, and how you do it. The human brain is drawn to clarity and rejects confusion. You can’t expect customers or people considering you for a C-level role to figure out who you are and the value you bring. Whether you are a global company or a successful executive, your brand needs a cohesive image and message to tell who you are and what problem you solve. Companies (and people) with a clear message win in the marketplace.

A brand is your story about your customer. When you talk about you to the customer, you’re making yourself the hero of the story. Great branding makes the client the hero and you the authoritative, trusted guide who helps the hero solve his or her problem. When meeting with an executive team, it is far more effective to show how you will solve business problems than to talk about your successes at another company.

The driving force in a strong brand is transparent trust that grows from consistency between what is said and the customer’s experience. Trust is earned and is very specific. Clients may trust a company or person in one area, but not another.

In discussing companies (or individuals) trying to create a brand perception inconsistent with who they are in practice, Leslie responded, “That disparity is confusing, and customers won’t burn the calories required to reconcile the confusion. They’ll simply move on to what is consistent and what they can understand.”

Whether someone looking for the next opportunity or a company looking for their next client, the Branding Process has three elements-

  • Assessment: Use objective research and market analysis to validate the ecosystem, audience, potential and existing brand perceptions. Then, develop a brand strategy and ways to communicate the message. When multiple brands compete for the same audience, the answer is to simplify-get clear on the message.
  • Brand Harmony: The brand look and sound must work together in concert. The photography, typeface, and colors must align and communicate the same message before creative visuals can be developed. Your LinkedIn photo should be professional-not an action shot on the golf course.
  • Driving the Brand: Multiple avenues are used to drive a brand – website design, content marketing, sales strategy, digital advertising and social media, influencer strategies, and the internal team. Again, all work together in concert in a successful brand strategy. On a personal level, a personal website, a strong LinkedIn profile, and professional comments on Twitter and LinkedIn all contribute to driving an executive’s brand.

When communicating consisted of sending radio waves into the air, engineers monitored and measured signal strength and clarity on a 5-point scale. When a message arrived loud and clear, both dimensions were rated a perfect five – giving the 5by5 Agency its name. Technology has transformed how we communicate and the speed with which it happens. But effective messaging in any environment demands strength and clarity. The individual or company with a solid brand will always aim for 5by5.

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Branding Lessons From P.T. Barnum

Category : 2018

Branding is building a reputation and crafting a message about who you are and the value you bring.  Effective executive branding is built on authenticity, integrity, and delivering what you say you are.

Can a brand be built on what is not true? History would say, “Yes.” Perhaps no one more effectively built a global brand on impressions and giving people “what they want to see” than Phineas Taylor (P.T.) Barnum. But the fact Barnum did it is not justification that his life is a model of success.

Hollywood used a generous dose of artistic license when portraying the life of The Greatest Showman. The resemblance between Hugh Jackman and P.T. Barnum is . . . nonexistent. Beyond the singing, dancing, and dazzle of the big screen, the life of P.T. Barnum leaves us an enduring lesson about branding. If you build your brand around impressions, stories, and carefully-managed deceptions, your energy must go toward maintaining the reality you create, often at the expense of truth.

Barnum was an unashamed self-promoter who, from an early age, loved notoriety. He went so far as to request an early obituary so he could read it before his death. As a 15 year-old boy, Barnum took on the support of his mother and five sisters by publishing a weekly newspaper, Herald of Freedom-and getting arrested three times for libel.

His career as a showman was launched at age 25 when Barnum introduced Joice Heth to the world, alleged to be George Washington’s nanny. While many flocked to see her, few seemed to care about the math . . . Heth would have been 160 years old in 1835. Barnum’s grand hoaxes expanded with General Tom Thumb (short because he was age 4 when he started with the show) and the Feejee Mermaid, eventually drawing 400,000 visitors a year to his museum-before he started his famous circus at age 60.

What can we learn from a life built more on fabrication than fact?

  • Notoriety is addictive. A world driven by immediate impressions, instant communication, and real-time feedback provides endless opportunities to be consumed by recognition. The number of people liking a post, viewing a photo, and following someone on a platform are measures of visibility, perhaps even popularity. They are not proof of a strong or noteworthy brand. Notoriety has an insatiable and undiscriminating appetite for attention-not truth.
  • Impressions are fueled by stories, not substance. Barnum’s display of the unusual captured attention as much because of the stories he built around his “exhibits” as the people he showcased. A brand built on impressions vs. substance requires an unending supply of new stories-usually bigger and better than those of the past.
  • It all catches up with you, in the end. Hollywood’s portrayal of Barnum was as charitable as it was creative. Behind the mystique was a man who exploited people, distorted reality, and capitalized on the gullibility of humanity for fame, opportunity, and personal gain. Barnum was capitalism at its best-and worst. His glittering success in the 19th century remains tarnished by the perspective of time in the 21st.

Barnum’s style of branding personified Nathaniel Hawthorne’s haunting reminder that, “No man [or woman] for any considerable period can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”


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Have You Missed Your Window?

Category : 2018

Life is full of misses:

Missing the boat. Missing the mark. Missing a beat.

The world of missed opportunities, includes a well-traveled trail of what-ifs.

  • What if Ross Perot had bought those majority shares in fledgling Microsoft for $60 million?
  • What if Blockbuster president John Antioco had snapped up Netflix for the $50 million Reed Hastings asked for it?
  • What would the tech industry look like if John Young, then-CEO at HP had listened to an engineer named Steve Wozniak and considered his PC idea a viable product?
  • The list of VC firms and individuals who passed on a chance to invest in Google is both impressive-and unfortunate.

Business opportunities are often missed when an executive miscalculates the scope of the opportunity, ignores or discounts important data, or when a leader fails to see the viability of an concept beyond his or her current realm of influence. Missed opportunities to make a strategic career move often follow a similar course.

After interviews with 10,000 senior executives in Fortune 500 companies, The Profitable Ideas Exchange reports that the majority said they do not build time into their schedules for an essential protection from a near miss – making time to self-challenge. The unwillingness, inability, or failure to open one’s thinking (and conclusions) to new information, candid questions, and cold realities is a sure route to a missed opportunity-in a business or a career.

A wise executive that captures and leverages opportunities invests the time required to challenge today’s thinking so he/she is ready for tomorrow’s opportunity.

Though dyslexic and holding a poor record of academic results, rather than waiting for opportunities Sir Richard Branson has created them. From a mail-order business selling records, his Virgin Group has evolved to now control more than 400 companies. While not a perfect model, Branson’s insights can open a leader’s mind to valuable perspectives–

  • The lesson that I have learned and follow all my life is that we should try and try and try again – but never give up.
  • You don’t learn to walk by following rules, you learn by doing and falling.
  • One thing is certain in business. You and everyone around you will make mistakes.
  • Don’t think what’s the cheapest way to do it or what’s the fastest way to do it, think what’s the most amazing way to do it.

If you feel like opportunity has passed you by, consider your next step, then give us a call.


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How to Know When It Is Time To Go

Category : 2018

What do Jeff Immelt, Travis Kalanick, and Howard Schultz share in common? Besides a healthy net worth, these executives were three of the 919 CEOs in publicly traded North American companies that either resigned, retired, or got fired in 2017-the most movement in the top spot in a decade.

Shultz wanted to get back into the workings of the business, specifically, the emerging Starbucks Reserve brand. After 16 years at GE, Jeff Immelt’s move was planned, but acccelerated by three months. Travis Kalanick left Uber after five major investors demanded his resignation-at the same time the company was short a CFO, CMO, Gen Counsel, Chief Diversity Officer, and Senior VP Engineering. But who’s counting?

C-level leaders with low social capital (a weak professional network) tend to stay where they are until forced to move. Executives with a broad network of business relationships are more likely to proactively explore options.

How can a C-level or senior executive stay ahead of the wave of corporate change and make an orchestrated transition rather than face an abrupt departure? Here are five questions C-suite executives need to answer when contemplating a move.

  • Does the company need to go where you can’t take it? While few of us are omnicompetent, boards increasingly expect the CEO to be successful at everything. While a C-level executive needs a broad knowledge and skill base, trying to do everything equally well or attempting to create the impression you can do it all is counterproductive. If the company needs to move in a direction the CEO isn’t equipped to take it, the top executive needs to demonstrate the courage to move to a job that is a better fit.
  • Are board conflicts increasing in frequency and intensity? Any group of highly-intelligent, honest people will engage in conflict. Patrick Lencioni reminds us that is a trait of a healthy team. The conflicts that signal it’s time for a move are more than disagreements about the business. When working relationships deteriorate into mutual toleration, board members transition unexpectedly, or when direction is determined without input from the affected executives, the forces of unwanted change are beginning to build.
  • Are there more bad days than good days? If a C-level leader isn’t having a rough day here and there-maybe even several in a row, he/she is likely not doing much. When a leader dislikes the job more than he likes it or finds that her energy is gone by 10 AM most days, it may be time to find a place that will again capture the leader’s passion.
  • Were you not selected for a promotion that fit your competence profile? While this is not a tell-all indicator, it is one to keep in mind. When an opportunity that fits a leader goes to someone else less qualified without explanation, or with an explanation straight from the marketing department’s pen, it might indicate it is time to move on. When you are not “in the loop” for important conversations, when decisions are made that affect you without input, or when responsibilities mysteriously get shifted to another team, change isn’t far away.
  • Do you have a reputation you can’t outgrow? Although he has performed in a wide range of roles, when you think of Jim Carey, Dumb and Dumber or Ace Ventura quickly come to mind. Even when acting in a comedy, Morgan Freeman comes off like a wisened Zen master. Alec Baldwin is one of a few people in the world who can be a jerk and get paid for it. Actors can get type-casted. A leader can get role or reputation-casted. If an executive can’t convince senior leadership or a board he can perform well in another role, it might be time for a move. Every leader encounters a failure or two. But if a mistake or a period of poor performance hang over a leader like a cloud, it is time to consider a move.

Novelist Ayn Rand is right-“You can ignore reality, but you can’t ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” An effective leader is a prepared leader, someone firmly grounded in reality-even when that reality indicates it’s time to consider new options.