- Who & Why?
When I was in practice as a securities lawyer, I used to think I had to be tough. Many days I also thought that the only way to compete with the male securities lawyers, I had to be mean. It all felt so wrong, yet it was all I knew. That was until the day when I couldn’t do it anymore. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever did ‘tough and mean’ very well. But who really does?
Yet I find so many of us still hang our professional hat on the notion of competition that includes being tough and mean. I’ve had several people (we’ll leave gender out of this for now) say that I’m just “too nice”. Really? Is that supposed to be a negative comment? If it is, then how do you explain why my business is doing so well?
While my response is not, “kill them with kindness” or “you wouldn’t know nice if it hit you in the head”, I do stop and think about what society, in particular professionals, consider an effective brand. Why is it that kindness doesn’t seem to be an option? Was it ever an option?
Here’s the deal, just because I’m kind doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. I think this is where the confusion happens. We automatically assume that if we are kind in business, then someone is going to run right over us and then we lose. Really?
On a recent trip through an airport, a billboard sign from Southwest Airlines caught my eye. It said, “Stand out by standing your ground”. To me that means, have an effective brand by holding firm to who you are and your values.
What does it mean to hold your ground? Since so many of us have boundary issues, I suppose most of us think it means we have to be tough and mean and ready to rumble.
It doesn’t mean that at all in my world. In my world standing my ground as an effective brand means being kind, yet firm. “No” means “no”. No explanation needed. Yet there’s no hostility and no grudges. Kindness can exist just the same by respecting the other party.
So what does this mean for you? Stop and think:
- Do you think you are too kind? If so, why?
- Do you maintain healthy boundaries with others?
- Or do you overcompensate by coming across as a rough and tough brand. Is it really working for you or could you be more effective as a brand by being more kind?
I’m always working on not being so rushed. As much as I meditate and work on being self-aware, the left-brained part of me wants to stay in control and push through everything- fast. Plus, I’m a work horse of sorts- I get lots of stuff done quickly! It’s great since I run a company. Yet, if I don’t stay self-aware of it ALL the time, it can be exhausting and frustrating.
In our culture, we all run around saying how “busy” we are and how “stressed” we are. In a world that is over-texted, over-tweeted and over-caffeinated, this all makes sense sadly, right? However, there seems to be more to this notion of being so busy and stressed.
To me, it seems we are developing very dramatic brands. It’s like being stressed and busy are so cool. I sometimes chuckle to myself when I hear people tell me how busy they are. Some are so busy they run out of time to respond to emails and calls and to eat.
Really?!?! No one wants to be around, hire or promote a brand that is so busy and stressed that they forget to eat!!
Don’t you think others are busy, too?
Every time I open my mouth to complain about being “so busy”, I stop and think how rude it will seem to the listener. It’s like I’m saying to them, “I’m so much better than you since I’m so busy”. What I’m really saying is, “I can’t manage my life and time and I like to publicize it because my brand is disorganized and drama”.
Being this busy is an ugly and unorganized brand. It is also just way too much drama.
A client of mine said the other day that he’s decided that at the end of his work day he is training himself to leave the office at a decent time to get home to his family. How? He stops and asks himself, “is anyone going to die if I leave now and come back to the work on my desk in the morning?” The usual answer is “no”- especially since he is an accountant.
That’s a low drama and pragmatic brand, for sure. I applaud him. You can see the results of this attitude he has: his brand is fantastic – he just made partner and is managing an entire office for his company. Low drama and pragmatic brands work!
What does this mean for you? Stop and ask yourself:
- How often do you go around telling others how busy and stressed you are?
- How much drama do you have around being busy and stressed- does it bring you some sense of being important to feel you are stressed and busy a lot?
- What do others see/perceive of your busy/stressed brand? Is it good? Does it get you seen/heard and respected? Does it drive clients, promotions and business to your door?
- Will anyone die if you limit your activities and stop before you hit your maximum stress limit? Unless you are a doctor, I think the answer is clear to this one.
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Life throws us so much “stuff” sometimes, it can be challenging to see it all as a gift. We end up having to juggle so many things that to me it is a miracle when I get to crawl into bed some days. Take today for instance: I had car “issues”. That, in and of itself, is stressful. Then my car got vandalized (don’t ask) on top of it all. I had to deal with all this between the hours of 6:30am and 9:30am. Then I came into the office (late, of course). I had a call followed by a staff meeting and then the bookkeeper had questions, too, to which I was the only one with answers. Get the picture?
Here’s the question: how was I supposed to separate the personal stuff from work and be a good employer and leader? How was I supposed to come into the office and be an effective leader/manager? Is it possible, you ask? Yes, and it can either be done well or… not so well. Here’s how I see the distinction.
I was with a client the other day. She was speaking of the challenges of managing her staff well when there were so many “interesting” and varied personalities involved. I suggested to her that she stop viewing her job as “management” and instead look at it as support. Why, you ask? Management is different than leadership. When we are asked to manage others, it’s as if we are given a set of tasks that those we manage must complete. Our job as managers is to just make sure the set of tasks get completed well by those we manage.
Effective and impactful brands are leaders, NOT managers.
Leadership is the brand that I look to cultivate for all clients. Leadership has nothing to do with a checklist or tasks. It also has nothing to do with giving stellar speeches or your title. Leadership is about having a brand that is: a) creative, b) large and forward-looking in scope and outlook and c) kind to those who report to you. If I had to sum up the concept of successful leaders with great brands it would be those who support others well. When we are able to support others in their goals and challenges, we are not only great managers and leaders- we are human beings who care. Simply put, people take instruction and want to be around those who care and practice compassion.
So what does “support” mean? Support is whatever you make it to be. I always try to remember that supporting others may not look the way I think it should be- it is a very individualistic process that is based on the other person’s needs and goals, NOT ours as the supporting leader. This always requires us to choose to see things differently. This is true when you support/lead/manage people at work, when you interact with your spouse/partner and your children.
So stop and ask yourself:
- How do you support others?
- Do you stop to see things differently by putting yourself in their position?
- How can you improve upon your own leadership abilities?
- How can you develop an awareness practice to know when you could care more and be more compassionate to others?
When I graduated from law school in 1997, jobs were plenty. I was so very fortunate, as were all my classmates. Just about the only reason we had for not getting a job was if we failed the bar exam.
Looking back, I realize how blessed we were. I really didn’t have much anxiety around finding a job. If anything, my anxiety was more about whether I would find a job that I really wanted.
Fast forward 19 years. I have so much respect for recent law school graduates. They no longer have the luxury that we did when we graduated. Nothing is guaranteed once they graduate.
This may sound like a bad thing, however I see it differently. I think graduates these days are much more resourceful and scrappy. They are forced to figure out their brands and then market themselves in a way we never had to do.
This brings me to the dilemma I see so many law firms facing today. The majority of those who graduated law school a few years before me as well as those who graduated with me are mid-level partners in their firms. They are not the oldest in the partnership ranks yet.
As a result of when we graduated and our fantastic economic circumstances, many of these partners always had work- it was either always generated by more senior partners and given to them or it was easy for them to get work otherwise.
The problem I see is often, as a result, these partners are not able (or willing?) to generate their own business because they have always had business given to them. So their brand is practically non-existent and their marketing efforts, rusty at best. This may sound like a generalization and it is. This is based on my many years of experience working with law firms on branding. There are obviously exceptions everywhere.
Here are their top 3 Marketing Mistakes:
- They assume the business and work will always flow because it has always worked out for them in the past. Don’t get me wrong. I love optimism, however it has its limits. Because of this mentality these partners aren’t as open as they can be to seeing their branding and marketing needs differently. This hurts the entire firm.
- They don’t participate in marketing and branding work like others in the firm do. I see this regularly each time I go into a law firm to train the attorneys on branding and marketing. The room is filled with: a) 65 year old and above attorneys/partners and b) 27-35 year old attorneys/associates. They are all eager to learn because they know it matters. No where to be found are the mid-level partners ranging in age between 40 to 55 years old or so. This hurts the entire firm.
- They don’t choose to see marketing and business development activities creatively. I find when this level of partner does market their practice, it is in very traditional ways such as advertisements, taking a new firm website picture or speaking at a conference. Rarely do they stop and really focus on working on their own internal projection to possible clientele (i.e., their brand) nor how to collaborate with other attorneys. This hurts the entire firm.
The end result of all this is the following: one day within the next ten years, these very same lawyers are going to be the most senior attorneys at their firms as the older partners retire. As such, the older partner are no longer going to be around to feed them work. The younger lawyers will have already figured it out and have moved on without these partners. This hurts the entire firm because of the inequity of the situation.
What does this mean for you? If you are a mid-level lawyer and this description fits you, please consider:
- Choosing to see your marketing and branding efforts in a new light: What can you be doing differently to develop business?
- Working on yourself and your own brand instead of focusing on others.
- Hiring a consultant and/or coach to help you get up to speed. Most often in these situations, the timeline is accelerated and it will creep up on you before you know it.
When I was a kid, I had a lot of drama. I mean I could have won an Oscar weekly for my brilliant portrayal of a small, cute, middle-eastern, toothless (yes, I lost my teeth early and didn’t get them until much later) girl, who had it going on!
As I grew up and evolved out of the practice of law, I realized the drama in my life had to go, too. After all, the drama wasn’t adding more to my brand. It was in fact, detracting from it. Letting go of my drama was not easy. I didn’t realize how much my drama was who I was “being” until I was letting it go. I tried to look at it like I was shedding a coat that no longer fit me. The trouble was, it didn’t feel like I was shedding a coat that I no longer wanted. It felt like I was being stripped of my identity and my comfort zone.
How did I do it? Well, like all things in brand development, it required self-awareness. I had to stop and really look at each moment in my life. I had to ask myself if I was being genuine and coming from the heart or had an ulterior motive that required me to force others to “look at me”.
What I was left with when I shed much of my drama (I am always working on being completely drama-free) was FREEDOM. I no longer felt the need to huff and puff so much at others and at my own life. This meant I didn’t blame others (to their face or under my breath) for my life and what was wrong with me. I wasn’t a victim anymore.
Not being a victim allows me to be pragmatic. Things that happen in my life don’t hurt so much anymore. When someone says something to me or does something “mean” to me, I’m ok with it. I check the drama at the door and look at the situation pragmatically. I say to myself, “Isn’t that interesting?” instead of “how dare you?” I’ve come to realize these types of situations aren’t really about me, but about the other person’s outlook on life and people.
Being pragmatic leaves me with a great brand: I’m more self-confident, happy and compassionate.
So what does this mean for you? Stop and ask yourself:
- How much drama do you choose to have in your life? Why?
- If you could change one view point you have on others, or on yourself, what would it be and how would it make your life more drama-free?
- Who is the most pragmatic person you know and what about them works for you? How can you do this for yourself?
- How would your brand change if you had less drama in your life and instead had a more pragmatic outlook?