Sleeping with Failure? There’s Success Under the Covers. | Undaunted Leadership

under cover 2463007473_0a30db1690_mFailure happens in spite of our best efforts to avert it.

Fear of impending failure can be haunting, even crippling. It can drain our self-confidence, crush our optimism, and stress our every move. It can also ignite us to fight the good fight, motivating us to do whatever it takes to stop it.

But failure will come anyway. When it does, we often feel defeated, believing our personal brand is forever tarnished and our career promise dashed.

That thinking would be wrong-headed.

Failure is an enigmatic bedfellow.

The reality is: Lots of success generally precedes failure. Companies don’t get to failure unless they’ve had a string of earlier successes that ultimately can’t bear the weight of the missteps. The same is true for us, as employees.

Leaders are the linchpin between success and failure. They are expected to take on business challenges and overcome them, facing potentially failure-laden problems like:

  • Turning an underachieving work group into a productive one
  • Achieving profitability from an existing or new product
  • Influencing financial analysts to upgrade company ratings
  • Attracting more investors/donors or winning grants to stay afloat
  • Reducing costs to remain competitive
  • Changing the operating model to increase efficiency
  • Restoring lost customer loyalty and/or confidence

Each of these challenges has the potential to tank the organization and the leader spearheading it.

In truth, not facing these challenges will ultimately guarantee failure. Neglect  begets failure. Taking on risk is your most important career-enhancing opportunity.

Impending failure showcases the leader’s ability to lead in times of trial. The steps s/he takes essentially buy time, stave off the inevitable, provide opportunities for repositioning, and create more elegant transitions.

Success is between the sheets.

Organizational failures, whether large or small, are often for the best.

When a business ends up closing or a work group gets eliminated, it means that what they were offering wasn’t what the times required.

Business failures are generally the by-product of decisions that took place before you became the leader.  Failures are set up well in advance through a variety of causes like:

  • A series of weak leaders
  • Low accountability and productivity
  • Unreliable revenue streams and poor expense management
  • Technology deficiencies and ineffective processes
  • A weak economy and the inability to compete

Business “failures” are basically transitions. Successfully leading an organization through the fallout from failure is a significant leadership achievement. It’s the most effective way to recast yourself and your professional brand as you move on.

The road to an unwanted business outcome is paved with an array of leadership initiatives that deliver, albeit temporarily, promising results like:

  • Redesigned survival strategies
  • Redirected resources (people, equipment, dollars)
  • New or enriched programs
  • Reduced costs and enhanced revenue
  • Performance and process improvements
  • Expanded partnerships and collaborative relationships
  • Improved communication initiatives
  • Broader outreach to community and public officials

As you look under the covers after a career-based failure, remember that the story line is about   the leadership initiatives you demonstrated. The culmination of those efforts likely:

  • Created an effective transition to a new direction or to endings
  • Demonstrated leadership decisiveness and courage
  • Provided valuable lessons learned for future ventures
  • Convinced stakeholders of hard-to-swallow business realities
  • Revealed the leader’s capabilities to face adversity effectively

We don’t like the feeling of failure and shouldn’t. But we can appreciate its value and the courageous actions it extracts from us.

Lead undaunted.

It’s easy to lead when everything is rosy. However, it’s the leader who gets us through a ship wreck with minimal casualties who earns our esteem.

Too often leaders blame themselves when things start to go south, as though all the decisions that set that course came from their desks. That’s rarely the case.

When potential failure becomes your reality, it’s your opportunity to step up and take the reins. Your actions may or may not turn things around, but your efforts will reveal a leader’s heart.

Photo from arkworld via Flickr

Want to Be Taken Seriously? Make Your Mark with Care.| Personal Branding Realities

The world is watching. You may like that and invite lots of eyes. You may hate it and try to minimize your exposure. Or you may be Marking Your Mark B 5503188585_563f776818_msomewhere in the middle.

Our careers depend on the perceptions of others: bosses, coworkers, and customers. By observing us, they determine whether or not we’re:

  • competent and trustworthy
  • cooperative and approachable
  • committed and reliable

The way we come across impacts whether or not we get:

  •  hired or promoted
  • positive ratings and good raises
  • heard and reinforced
  • chosen for plush assignments

Because your personal brand identity is a priceless asset, you need to manage it with care.

Your brand tattoo

Everything we say and do that others hear and see builds our personal brand. It’s how we manufacture public perceptions.

Social media is the ink that makes your image visible and lasting, creating waves of exposure for endless audiences.

Whether we do it consciously or not, every word and picture that we post online is our effort to present the image we want others to accept. It’s how we turn ourselves into a product that we promote.

If you want to be taken seriously in your career, you need a serious brand image. When your social brand conflicts with your professional one, you may end up with a lot of explaining to do.

Social media is a strategic branding platform. The evolution of your personal brand on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and other sites becomes part of your indelible history.

You may end up having to rebrand yourself (which can be a difficult, time-consuming, and possibly unsuccessful task)  when your brand gets tarnished by:

  • those beach and bar Facebook pictures that depict an appetite for partying
  • harsh tweets that disparage political, business, and entertainment figures
  • endless inane and trivial Twitter posts
  • self-absorbed blog ramblings that lack substance

The way you present yourself online (either consciously or unconsciously) represents your brand management strategy–the way you want to be regarded by:

  • friends and family
  • the community and marketplace
  • professional associates and employers

It’s  incumbent on you to take steps to ensure that the image you put out there is one that you are comfortable exposing to everyone.

Remember: Your life is your business. Everything you put “out there” defines you, validates you, and positions you as either someone who adds value or doesn’t.

Keep in mind too that everything you see and read from someone else is their effort to build their own personal brand. Are you buying what they’re selling?

Your brand image is a major contributing factor to getting a job and keeping it.

Serious business

Strategic use of social media gives you a career leg up by helping you  build positive perceptions among those who can help you achieve success.

Posting information, adding thoughtful comments, and blogging enable you to showcase your knowledge, insights, passions, and communication skills.

There is often real, reportable payback like:

  • Visibility that differentiates you from other candidates for a job opening or promotion
  • Credibility validation helpful to consultants, therapists, and advisers
  • Connections with other thought leaders that can lead to professional collaborations
  • Invitations by businesses, other bloggers, and book publicists to partner with them

The key to success in any field is validation for what you know and do–and how you go about it.

If you don’t take yourself seriously and if you don’t exercise care with your personal brand image,  then the likelihood of your finding and sustaining a satisfying career is in jeopardy. It’s all in your hands.

Make your mark

Social media self-discipline and self-control are your friends. When you use them to stay focused on the career that you want and resist trying to one-up or entertain your “friends,” you will give your personal brand identity the boost it needs to sustain you through a fulfilling career. I’m pulling for you!

Photo from imatvi via Flickr

The Ever-Ready Exit Strategy—Your Career’s Best Friend

Jobs aren’t forever anymore. That’s a reality we often try to forget when we (finally) get hired.   

No matter how great our careers are going, things will eventually change and us too. The shine will come off our jobs, the company, our boss, and/or our coworkers. 

When our careers are moving along well, we’re energized. When they’re not, we start looking behind us. 

Time’s up. 

Getting a job is one thing and keeping it another. We tend to invest significant thought and energy in both. 

Like it or not, the time will come when the party’s over and very few have a strategy to deal with that. 

We tend to think of exit strategies as actions a company or entrepreneur takes “to transition one’s ownership of a company…[or] devise ways of recouping the capital they have invested….”  

Well, that’s you: Your life is your business and you’re the sole proprietor. That means your job is your source of capital, something that you need to protect and build. No time like the present, then, to develop an exit strategy to implement when you need it. 

When it’s time to walk… 

Change is both predictable and unpredictable, so we need to be ready to act prudently and strategically when conditions present themselves, like when: 

A line has been crossed—You’ve reached your limit of unfair treatment, broken promises, excessive workload, or disrespect

You’re motivationally bankrupt—Disappointment, negative or no feedback, ever-shifting direction, and disengagement have sapped your energy.

You’ve drawn the short straw—The last-in and first-out formula puts you out the door, or a work assignment that’s detestable is forced on you.

You wake up—The moment of discovery that you’re in the wrong career hits you like a surprise party when it isn’t your birthday.

The perfect job comes along—An opportunity lands in your lap that you never expected, perhaps in another line of work or industry, but it’s tailor made for you. 

I’m sure you can think of other situations that are calls for “exit action.” Often there’s not much time to make decisions or act, so prior preparation is all. 

Be ready…. 

Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to get prepared. Consider these seven steps: 

  1. Stay solvent—Be smart about your money by living within your means, knowing what you can live without, and keeping some liquid asset near at hand.
  2. Create fall back positions—Set up some realistic, money-producing options just in case, like some freelance work, part-time work outlets, or a hobby business.
  3. Don’t burn bridges—Keep your emotions under control and face situations like a grown up, recognizing that we don’t always get what we want and understanding that word about you will travel fast.
  4. Keep tabs—Your records are important assets, so keep them up to date, including contact info for people in your network, the results you achieved in your jobs, and organizational resources you can tap.
  5. Be respectful—When it’s time to go, let your decision be known through the chain of command, avoiding drama. Remember you don’t want to be famous for leaving, but respected and respectful.
  6. Send the right message—Express your reasons in a big picture context, recognizing the positives from your job and acknowledging the factors that didn’t match your expectations. Use clear and calm language.
  7. Protect your brand—Your reputation and image follow you everywhere, both as you enter and as you leave a company. Take a marketer’s approach to your leaving by rising above negative issues and by showing gratitude for the positives.

Keeping it together 

A workable exit strategy is about mindset and practical positioning. The more you can accept the likelihood that you will eventually make a career change, the more you will look at your work as a gateway to another career phase. 

Change is a good thing. It keeps us moving when we may be getting too comfortable. We just need to be ready to make a gracious exit that will neatly open the next door. 

Photo from jm3 via Flickr


The Curse of Unshakable Labels—Overcoming Career Blots

“If you don’t make mistakes, you aren’t doing anything” is a leadership tenet that promotes innovation, risk-taking, continuous improvement, and decision-making. 

It’s a way to motivate employees, overcome fear of failure, and promote creativity. 

However, there’s an unstated caveat even in the most enlightened companies: “Some mistakes are unacceptable, even intolerable.” 

There’s a line we can’t cross and if we do, the mark on us is indelible. 

The dreaded line 

We make mistakes for lots of reasons: 

  • Lack of knowledge (Inputting the wrong code)
  • Inattentiveness or carelessness (Forgetting to notify the board)
  • Misdirected loyalties and confidence (Revealing confidential information)
  • Confusion and chance (Misspeaking to the media) 

Saying or doing the wrong thing has its consequences. Some are insignificant, some problematic, and some unshakable. 

It’s only after our gaff that we know its effect on our career brand.  The way we find out is often by how people refer to us as a matter of description or introduction: 

“You know who ____ is. S/he’s the one who: 

  • Lied about….
  • Couldn’t do the job
  • Went ballistic/threw a punch
  • Dressed like a bum/floozy
  • Lost that big account
  • Couldn’t handle the pressure” 

Once our mistakes become legend, they are hard to bury.

The case of Amanda Knox 

The impact of negative branding will be the forever challenge for Amanda Knox, first charged, sentenced, and then exonerated for the horrific murder of her roommate in Perugia, Italy. 

Amanda spent four years in an Italian prison for a crime, it was ultimately proven, she and her boyfriend did not commit. Her saga is a frightful one and some will never believe she didn’t commit this awful crime. (A third party has been convicted in the killing and is in jail.) 

From the outset, Amanda was the target of negative labels, particularly in the Italian press. She was called: 

  • “the monster of Perugia”
  • “foxy knoxy” (a former childhood nickname that resurfaced in the press)
  • “she-devil” 

Henry Chu, from the Tribune Newspapers, wrote: 

“For the past four years, Amanda Knox…has been the focus of breathless debate of whether she was a calculating, remorseless vixen…or the helpless victim of a character assassination and a botched police investigation in a foreign land.” 

This dichotomy of perception will likely follow Amanda for her lifetime. She’ll give her name and people will ask, “Are you that Amanda Knox?” And she will need to reply. 

Overcoming “those” labels 

Sometimes we deserve the negative labels we get and sometimes we don’t. They become part of our brand either way. 

You can point to lots of prominent people who have had career blots to overcome like former President Bill Clinton for his dalliances; Elton John for his drug and alcohol excesses, and Martha Stewart for insider trading. 

Our individual brands have their own unique reach. For some it’s global or national. For others it’s state or local. For us it may be within our company or circle.

Counteracting those labels isn’t easy but doable with effort. We fix negatives with positives, Big Positives. 

The good things we do need to overshadow the mistake(s) we’ve made. They need to be bigger and more memorable. They need to take the place of the negative story. 

Bill Clinton heads his global initiative, doing high impact work worldwide. Elton John raises boatloads of money to combat AIDS. Martha Stewart drives her business straight through those old negatives. 

Amanda Knox will have to do something too, something more than a book or a movie. She’s only 24 years old and faced with global notoriety she surely isn’t ready for. What she does next to overcome the blot on her reputation will be a challenging case in brand management. 

Guard your brand 

Your brand is your reputation and you’re its keeper. It’s tempting to think it takes care of itself, but that would be reckless. 

Our brands can be negatively affected without our knowing it, particularly through social media. So now’s the time to take special care of something that will take care of you and your career for a long time. 

Photo by deeleea via Flickr

Are Coworkers Crossing the Line? Check Your Boundaries.

Bosses have employee issues. Employees have boss issues. Coworkers have peer issues. Isn’t working together supposed to be easy? 

We often set ourselves up for the people problems we face. When we fail to set boundaries that keep out unwanted coworker behaviors, we pay a price. 

Ominous signs 

People problems generally sneak up on us. One day we realize we’re caught in a cycle we don’t like—one that’s interfering with our work. 

Typically, here’s what takes place: 

Unsolicited confiding: A coworker or employee shares a personal problem, a bit of gossip, a critical opinion, or a confidence. By listening and engaging in the conversation, we open a channel for more in the future that we really don’t want.

Uncontrolled access: The concept of the “open door” policy for bosses and willingness to “drop everything” to help a coworker sounds nice but is often counterproductive. Once we allow anyone to interrupt us anytime, we reward poor planning and devalue our own time.

Unwanted associations: We become friendly with a colleague who makes a great first impression. Later, we discover that s/he has a poor work history, a tendency to let us pull part of his/her weight, and is not well thought of. We need to create some distance.

Unanticipated involvement: We encounter coworkers and bosses who have strong views about what should and shouldn’t be taking place at work. Their perspectives have some logic on the surface but may be steeped in old resentments and personal interests. We’re asked or expected to “get on board” with them and support the “cause.” In time we discover that we don’t support their views and need to decouple. 

Making the break 

Experience is the best teacher for boundary setting. Once you realize you’re in a place you don’t want to be with coworkers, that’s the time to examine the boundaries you 1.) set and broke or 2.) never set in the first place. 

A workplace boundary establishes what you will and won’t allow. It says to your coworkers, “This is off limits,” “This is something I don’t do,” and “This is what I live by.” 

The time will come when you will need to (re)establish a boundary with someone who has crossed it. That’s not easy, but letting things go only make conditions worse. 

Here are some conversations that you might initiate designed to (re)set boundaries: 

Gossiping: “Several weeks ago, you told me about Joe’s marital problems and speculation about his involvement with his IT specialist. At first I got caught up in the details. Then I realized that it wasn’t the right thing to do. I’ve decided to stay away from office gossip. It’s not what I want to do.”

Interruptions: “As much as I believe in being helpful and supportive, I’ve come to realize that constant interruptions are negatively affecting my ability to lead/perform well. Too often, I’m asked for answers because it’s easier than looking them up and learning them. So, I will set aside a specific hour each day when you are welcomed to bring your ideas and questions.”

Professionalism: “I’ve been concerned about the lack of courtesy at our meetings. In the past ,whether I was leading the meeting or simply participating, I too spoke out without being recognized, made sidebar remarks, and was focused on my BlackBerry instead of listening. From now on, I will stop that behavior and will request the same from my colleagues.”

Performance: “I’ve noticed that I’ve gotten sloppy about report deadlines because I can’t get the data I need from you (a coworker or colleague in another department). This seems to be a pattern throughout the organization, but it doesn’t do either of us any good to be seen in that negative light. Shall we commit to supporting each other so we can build a reputation of being on time?” 

Boundaries build your brand.  

Boundaries define who you are at work. They are the rules you set, making it easier for others to work with you. 

Without boundaries, we allow others to impose themselves on our daily work and impact our careers. With them, we regain control. 

Photo from kevindooley via Flickr


Losing Your Shirt and Other Consequences of Career Naiveté

No one wants to look inept, but sometimes we are. It sticks out like a sore thumb when we: 

  • Lack experience and skills
  • Don’t know how the game is played
  • Align with the wrong people
  • Say the wrong things inadvertently
  • Suggest ideas that can’t work 

Sure, we can try to hide or finesse our naiveté, but in time, word gets around. 

The good guys and the bad 

If we’re lucky, we work with a boss and colleagues who have been in our shoes and want to help us get our bearings. If not, it’s like being a sitting duck. 

The more competitive our workplace, the less time we have to get from naiveté to savvy. The price of being “stupid” can get steep. 

The business world holds fabulous opportunities along with risks of failure. There are terrific people at all levels of organizations where we find priceless mentors, leaders, and friends. 

The business world can also be a mean street. Survival is a daily concern, employees want desperately to hold onto their jobs, everyone wants to get ahead, and competitors are always lurking. 

If you want a long and successful career, you need to be smart about what’s going on around you. 

Start by not falling for these hollow assurances from your boss or anyone else: 

  • Just work hard and the rewards will follow
  • You can trust management to have your best interest at heart
  • The company leadership’s got everything under control 

Remember: The company watches out for itself first. It takes care of its stakeholders in order of priority, starting with investors and ending with employees. 

So we all need to learn how to read between the lines and figure out how best to align our capabilities with what needs to get done and with the right people. 

Hang onto your shirt 

If you’re wondering if you’re being naïve, ask your self these questions: 

  • Do I have a false sense of job security?
  • Am I deluding myself about how valuable my job is to the company?
  • Is my performance really good or could I be easily replaced by someone better?
  • Am I being taken advantage of by my boss and coworkers?
  • Have others been promoted over me? If so, do I know why?
  • Do I confide too much in people I’m not sure I can trust?
  • Am I working for less money than others doing similar or less work?
  • Do I really understand what’s driving business decisions? 

The consequences of naiveté are significant and varied: 

  • Job loss or stagnation
  • Neither promotion nor lateral movement
  • Questionable work assignments and/or work load
  • Business decline or shuttering, if you’re an entrepreneur
  • Personal brand damage by your detractors 

Your career is a precious asset that you invest in everyday. It’s important that you protect it just as you would your hard earned dollars. 

You’re not alone 

Everyone gets burned along the way, some worse than others. When I started out in the race horse breeding business, the veterans could smell my naiveté a mile away. Bloodstock agents, trainers, jockeys, and even buyers found a way to cheat me, but only once. 

As an equine art gallery owner, the artists I represented told me about how they’d been cheated by dealers who stole both their artwork and their commissions. I taught them how to protect themselves by the way I worked with them. 

When I was a corporate manager, I got stung by colleagues who would try to sabotage my projects, scoop an announcement, undercut my influence, and off-load their accountabilities on me. 

Experience turns naiveté into savvy, but only if we figure out how to put it to work in constructive ways. The best thing we can do for ourselves, our careers, and our employers is to work smart on every level. That’s what it means to be business fit, dressed in a well-fitting shirt! 

Photo from h.koppdelaney via Flickr