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Lasting Impressions

Category : 2018

“How you begin is how you are listened to,
and how you end is how you are remembered.”
                                           – Unknown

An impression. You create one in seconds. A poor one can follow you for a lifetime.

From early childhood, parents teach the importance of making a good first impression. Few of us realize how quickly impressions are created, how long they last, and how difficult they can be to dislodge from someone’s mind.

An impression is an idea, feeling, or opinion you create about someone or something – often without conscious thought. For professionals and companies today, like giving attention to a brand, the impact of first-and last impressions can’t be under-emphasized.

Some argue, “Look at billionaires. They don’t care about impressing people.” Yes, from Mark Zuckerberg’s characteristic T shirt and hoodie to Bill Gates’ mop top haircut to Sergey Brin’s “I’m still a geek” look, the uber-wealthy do sport some intriguing styles. And when you are a member of the Forbes Three Comma Club, you can dress any way you want. Until then, impressions matter.

Corporations that understand the importance of impressions jealously guard how a company name and logo appear. Surveys, focus groups, and market analysis are an integral part of any marketing effort to determine the impact of an impression before it is attempted.

In many situations, our impressions have little, if any tangible evidence to support them. The Association for Psychological Science reports that a series of experiments by two Princeton psychologists determined that an impression from a face is formed in a tenth of a second, and subsequent longer exposures don’t significantly alter the “first impression.” Research found people judge trustworthiness the quickest, and over time, those judgments don’t change.

That unfortunate reality is compounded when the first impression is created online. Jeremy Biesanz, Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia worked with more than 1,000 people exploring the accuracy and bias of first impressions formed under varying circumstances. Biesanz discovered the accuracy of impressions varied little between mediums, but impressions formed on-line tend to be more negative than those created in-person.

Another study found that after a first impression is formed, people tend to hang on to the impression, even after they are given facts that contradict what is believed. Add to that our universal tendency toward confirmation bias (seeking and assigning more weight to evidence that supports a conclusion) and all of us are forced to give at least some attention to caring about the impressions we create.

This does not mean professionals should shift their attention to impression management. Whether a company or a professional, manage your brand well, and you will have less difficulty managing the impressions you create.

Here are three areas where impressions matter:

Thanks to social media, you no longer have a separate personal and professional life or presence-you have a life and anyone, anywhere can dig into it and draw conclusions about you without ever meeting or interacting with you. A casual scan at LinkedIn profiles shows glamour shots, people with their children, a Hollywood character’s photo (likely in violation of a copyright), wedding photos, a shirtless weightlifter, or someone slugging their way through a Tough Mudder. Facebook images and postings often leave little room for interpretation. Like it or not, you must be conscious of what your social media presence says about you. For companies, managing social media impressions is as much about watching what others say about you as about managing what you say about yourself.

A quick search for resume images will give you dozens of examples of documents that quickly create an impression that even a great interview could have trouble erasing. Knowing that words comprise only six per cent of how we communicate, relying on a resume to create a first impression is a risky proposition, at best. A well-written resume focused on defined outcomes should reinforce an impression-not be the first attempt to create one.

The first few seconds of an interview are crucial for creating a positive impression. Mishandling the innocuous, “Tell me about yourself” question can set an interview on a course that will be difficult to correct. Assuming a business casual dress code or becoming too informal during an interview can easily cause the conversation to derail. If you are the interviewer, resist your inherent tendency to make a judgment in the first seconds of a meeting and spend the next hour looking for evidence to convince yourself you are right. As you draw mental conclusions, ask yourself, “What am I missing?” or “How could I be wrong?” or “Where is there evidence that disconfirms my conclusion?”

Malcom Gladwell reminds us, “We don’t know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don’t always appreciate their fragility.”

Company, executive, or professional, the impression you create is fragile. Handle it with care.


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Energizing Executive Innovation

Category : 2018

“Let him that would move the world, first move himself.”
– Socrates

Any CEO in touch with reality will tell you that innovation is critical to a company’s enduring success. Surveys reveal that between 23 and 45 percent of CEOs place innovation as their top priority. If innovation holds a supreme place in the minds of C-level executives, why do many leaders stumble in their efforts to innovate themselves as they progress in their careers?

The failure to capture an opportunity to innovate was pivotal in the demise of companies like Blockbuster, Macy’s, Blackberry, Yahoo, and Kodak (who?). Apple’s $3 billion purchase of Beats and Facebook’s $19 billion investment in WhatsApp prove that there are few, if any, quick-fix innovations. Whether built or bought, a credible innovation needs a clear path to its salability, scalability, and profitability.

Businesses often fail because leaders fail. While the landscape of a market can be impacted by circumstance, the direction of an enterprise is determined by choice – the daily decisions of the executives leading a company.

The innovation conundrum emerges from the reality that what gets a leader to the C-suite is often not what enables a leader to succeed and stay there. Executives move up through organizations by solving problems and producing consistent-even predictable results. An executive’s career progresses when he/she is right much more often than wrong. Over time, it is not unusual to see a leader treat life more like an equation than the experiment that it is. While consistent process is critical to corporate success, an unwillingness to explore new options (a new process), is a sure route to joining the 460 companies that were on the original Fortune 500 list and are no longer there.

William Pollard is right. “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.” To bring innovation to a company, or to innovate in one’s life, a leader needs to generate or get a lot of ideas, and develop a significant level of comfort with risk – as illustrated in the following Innovation Matrix.

The Innovation Matrix

 

Copyright © 2015, Joseph Jordan, Jordan Development, Inc.

This is not counsel to throw caution to the wind. We have a name for people who like risk and possess very few new ideas for generating either business or personal growth – they are gamblers, betting it all on one role or in one place.

Those who avoid all risk and lack ideas become defenders  -protecting what they have without any vision for what could be. They see mistakes as failures, not setbacks, so they avoid the unfamiliar and stay with what they know.

Some executives don’t lack for ideas, but their risk aversion keeps them in safe (predictable) territory. They might venture into the world of progressive innovation, but they more often adapt to what is than reach out for new possibilities. They’ll take a change in title, but avoid a significant change in responsibilities.

True innovators generate far more ideas than they ever implement, but their risk profiles allow them to embrace an idea, consider its validity, and pursue or reject it in a short span of time. Companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Samsung are known for their innovations because they are led by executives who embrace innovation at a personal level.

An executive wanting to offer impactful leadership a decade from now, will benefit from assessing his/her innovation profile, taking action to generate ideas of what a future leadership role might look like, and developing greater comfort with embracing the risk of growth and opportunity.


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Thank You For Your Feedback…I Have No Plans To Change My Behavior

Category : 2018

Ask ten CEOs if their organizations promote a high-performance culture and you will get ten positive responses. In a highly-competitive global market, no top executive would admit to anything less.

Characteristically, a performance-driven culture provides a plentitude of feedback and coaching that is shared up, down, and across the organization. If companies are so committed to coaching for performance, why do surveys continue to validate the lack of bench strength and talent being readied for senior roles?

Could the onus for the talent gap fall as much to the people given coaching as to the need for better coaching? Candidly, why do many leaders in executive development programs complete those programs thinking and acting much like they did when the program began?

Coaching changes results when the person receiving coaching desires to change and wants the process to impact his or her behavior. Executive coach Martin Goldsmith says, “Coaching works best with high potential people who are willing to make a concerted effort to change.”

We should never underestimate the ability of a human being to quietly and effectively resist a desperately-needed change. Every January, health clubs are crowded with people who, for a variety of reasons, join a gym to “get in shape.” Let a few weeks pass and the crowd generally returns to normal, with only a few permanent additions. Those that stick around are the few that decided to change more than behavior-they made a fundamental shift in how they thought about their health and exercise.

Changing what you do will give you better results. Changing how you think will create sustainably better results that continue over time.

Perhaps corporate development would have a greater impact on building that needed bench of talent if high-potentials, succession candidates, or super-achievers weren’t allowed to begin a coaching program before they were assessed for—

  • Self-awareness (the “known to others, unknown to self” box in the Johari window should be very small)
  • Candor (about him/herself, not about other people)
  • Openness to critical (perhaps disapproving) feedback about his/her actions, style of engagement, leadership, etc.
  • A desire (a strong feeling of wanting) to change more than a willingness (being prepared to do something) to change

It is hard to build a strong leader in a weak or broken system. Change requires risk and often, failure. Successful coaching programs also demand the full and accepting support of senior leadership. Top executives need to model what they want to see and hold people accountable for the changes they need to make. People wanting to change how they work and engage with others need the freedom to mess it up on the way to dramatic improvement.

Rare are the people who have lost weight or gotten healthy for another person. If organizations want to see greater impact from their investments in coaching talent, they would do well to look as much at the mind-set of the candidate as the quality of the coaching.


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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.”