WHAT YOU HAVE IN COMMON WITH KUNG FU PANDA

In the movie Kung Fu Panda 2, Master Shifu tells Kung Fu Master Po that he needs to reach another frontier: inner peace. This opens up questions for Master Po. While pondering his existence, Master Po is called to fight a pack of wolves. In the midst of fighting the wolves he has flashbacks of his mother. With his energies diverted thinking about the past, he loses his personal power and the wolves escape. For greater self-awareness, Po begins a search for answers. Po asks the goose who found him when he was an infant in a crate of radishes and adopted him, “Where did I come from?” The goose was unable to provide satisfactory answers, so Po digs deeper and begins to ask himself: Who am I?

Intensely bothered by the lack of a resolution to his existential questions, Po is unable to concentrate. He loses battle after battle and consequently the faith of the other Kung Fu warriors whom he leads. The truth is known by Lord Shen, a peacock and evil ruler, who deceptively told Po that his parents had abandoned him. Unaccepting of Lord Shen’s story, Po continued his quest.

Guided by a soothsayer back to his past, Po learns the truth: that his parents did not abandon him, but rather sacrificed their lives to save his. This news strengthened Po’s heart. Returning to himself and a place of inner peace, Po attempts to convince Lord Shen to let go of his own unpleasant past. Shen refused to embrace self-empowerment and enlightenment. The driving forces of unforgiveness, bitterness, and jealousy compelled Shen to continue his ambitious pursuit to destroy Po.

During an attack of Shen’s furious rage, Po uses a kung fu technique that redirects Shen’s negative energy back to himself. Shen inadvertently cuts the rope releasing the last cannon ball—killing himself. Po, however, resumed authentically living his brand as the Dragon Master.

Since the beginning of time humanity has struggled with the questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What are my values? What makes me happy? What happens to me after I leave here? As we examine cultures and their political climates, societies struggle with these same questions. Most often the answers change as we grow, develop, and evolve. What I find interesting is that we frequently end up where we start, leading me to believe that we know the answers, but choose to explore our options, which is, perhaps, required for our growth.

©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility  available in paperback.  You can read the first two chapters at www.srenee.com.

How to Breathe Life Into a Dying Brand

I’m chair of the board of a scholarship fund in my parents’ name. It’s called the William J. & Reverend Shirley M. Smith, Sr. Scholarship Fund. To celebrate 50 years of marriage and their life and legacy of serving and giving to the community, it provides a three-year $1000 renewable scholarship to second-year collegians with a grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 – 2.5. The scholarship is intended to encourage, uplift, and develop those who are often overlooked because they aren’t considered to be the best or the brightest—but, we know better. We have all known people who started out as “least likely to succeed” but who finished well. My father and mother are two great examples of that kind of success.

My parents were high school dropouts. My father was a migrant worker who, through hard work and perseverance, built a small thriving business. My mother went back to school at age 36 to earn her high school diploma and later earned two Bachelors’ degrees–one in Marketing and the other in Theology. She was a pastor for 15 years. The scholarship helps students who need additional support to achieve their goals and dreams.

In creating the scholarship fund’s brand, I followed the steps that I usually follow to help a person or organization create a brand that produces anticipated outcomes. A mission that champions a worthy cause people can believe in. A message that is succinct, heart-warming, and engaging enough to inspire people to want to join the effort. A value-based proposition that is the gateway to someone else’s abundant life.

For the launch, we invited about 400 people to a church service called an Evening of Inspiration in honor of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. There wasn’t a cost. We accepted at-will donations. The response was phenomenal. We raised $16,000 in six weeks. Within six months, the kitty swelled to over $18,000. With a goal to raise $100,000 in five years, we decided to host our first major fundraiser seven months later. For our keynote speaker, I reached out to Byron Pitts, the Emmy award-winning 60 Minutes correspondent and author of Step Out on Nothing. Award-winning journalist Art Fennell, producer and host of Art Fennell Reports, committed shortly thereafter to act as master of ceremonies.

The team and I started with 17 weeks to plan the big event. Due to an unexpected schedule change, we lost nearly 5 weeks. As the lead visionary for this project—who lacked formal experience with event planning and fundraising—I suspected that trouble loomed nearby. I was right. I just didn’t know how much.

I had put together what I believed to be a tight branding strategic plan. I reached out to fundraising experts with decades of experience in fundraising. Their buy-in came easy. They gave me an abundance of advice, guidance, support, and resources. They even gave me permission to use their name to get appointments with key decision-makers at corporations. I felt better about the process. This excited me. I thought I was “in.” I miscalculated.

According to them, our branding strategy was impressive. In fact, one vice president of marketing told me that it was one of the best combinations of branding and marketing that she had seen in her 30-plus years in the business. They loved the story, were impressed with our short-term success, and couldn’t believe that Byron Pitts and Art Fennell agreed to come. Why would these two media heavy-hitters headline our event? We were novices at this. As the potential sponsors put it: The William J. & Rev. Shirley M. Smith, Sr. Scholarship Fund didn’t have a track record. No history. And besides, their funds were already committed to other better-known causes.

With little time left to secure corporate sponsors, I had to rethink the direction of the strategy. I asked myself, what’s missing? We had a solid brand. It had all the components: mission, message, and value. But the results from developing tier two—likeability, marketability, and credibility—weren’t alive, at least, not yet. How could our mission become likeable, marketable, and credible without a valid history? The people I was talking to who could make the decisions on corporate sponsorship didn’t know, and therefore couldn’t “like” my parents.

I needed inside influencers. I tapped into my professional network. There, I found it. I revised the plan by working on the tier three. I called people who knew and liked me. That decision was pivotal. They came on board. They introduced me to their friends and things started rolling fast. The brand started to breathe.

Although my parents’ construction company and a media sponsor came on board early, we didn’t get our first corporate sponsor until 30 days before the event. By the date of the event, we had secured six corporate sponsors M&T Bank, Walmart, Delmarva Power, WBOC-TV, Smith Masonry, Inc., and Computer Aid, Inc. (CAI), nine reception hosts who donated $500 or more, and sold over three hundred $50 tickets. Not bad for an organization still in its first year without a national platform.

©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility  available in paperback.  You can read the first two chapters at www.srenee.com.

WHEN NEXT DOESN’T SHOW UP, THEN WHAT?

Under a tight deadline to complete some writing, with my manuscript and Apple laptop in hand, I arrived at 11:50 a.m. for a scheduled 12-noon lunch meeting with a vice president of marketing. We were meeting so that I could thank him for his decision to provide corporate funding for a fundraising event I chaired.

Engrossed in the writing, I was startled twenty or so minutes later when I heard a voice from the other side of the table say, “You didn’t think I was going to show, did you?” While standing up to embrace him, I began explaining my deadline requirements for The Bridge. Our conversation continued pleasantly, when in a matter of minutes a surprising, but welcomed statement poured out of the heart and mouth of the 50-plus, successful white male.

“I could never write a book,” he whispered. I was stunned at his unexpected transparency. But I instinctively knew and understood that this was a moment for us to connect on a deeper and richer level. Compassionately, I offered, “Even though it doesn’t look or sound like it today, I thought the same thing when I was writing my first book, There Is More Inside. In fact, in the first chapter I share my insecurities with the reader about how I didn’t think anyone would buy or read it.” My identification with his self-doubt must have created more safety. The muscles relaxed on his face, and he disclosed, “That’s exactly how I feel. What do I have to say that people would want to know?”

Having listened well to his earlier ponderings, I reminded him of a statement he had made about how he hadn’t realized how much he knew until the opportunity for him to teach showed up. Appreciating my reminder of his success, he took in a deep breath and readily nodded in agreement. The coach in me, however, wasn’t through. I continued to probe. “So, what would you write about?” He confessed he didn’t know. “What are you passionate about?” I inquired. His eyes rolled upwards to indicate thought. But again he answered, “I don’t know.”

The confused expression on my face must have prompted him to continue talking, and had I known the magnitude of what he was about to share, I would have tape-recorded the entire dialogue. From my mental notes and a few scribbles that I jotted down that day, I have recounted to the best of my ability this man’s profound awareness and insight. Listen to his heart.

“I’ve always known where I was going to next. I entered the job market and it was a natural progression. Next was just there. I would plan for my next logical step for advancement and professional growth. It’s laid out for you, an automatic sequence. But, what if there wasn’t a next? That’s when you realize, you left everything that you love and deeply desire on the sidelines for—next.  And, one day next doesn’t show up.”

We sat silently for a moment to ponder this undisputed truth together. Do most people take the well-traveled road laid out for them within organizational structures and systems? Do they wait for calamity to come before they ever seek their divine path of passion and personal self-fulfillment? When they find it, do they have the courage to cross The Bridge to get there?

©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility will be available in paperback beginning August 15, 2011. Pre-order your copy today.

ARE YOU OUT OF STYLE? What you should know that leadership isn’t telling you.

In the ever-changing, extremely competitive marketplace—in addition to slaying micro-managed leadership styles that squash creativity and risk-taking—a well-rehearsed, staged presentation that fits what you think leadership is looking for is not going to fly anymore. Therefore, an image that mirrors leadership is no longer a guarantee for success. If they already have one, why do they need another? You have to give them a logical reason to want to pay the big bucks for you! And unlike the last several decades where showing up for work on time, keeping your mouth shut and doing your job secured rewards, career advancement now depends on innovation, intellectual property, and value proposition.

Get this: According to Google, Googlers (the term used to describe employees of Google) “thrive in small, focused teams and high-energy environments, believe in the ability of technology to change the world, and are as passionate about their lives as they are about their work.” Notice how they describe their environment as high energy. This is what we used to call fast-paced environments. Fast-paced describes a behavior that leads to a mindset. The mind is often overwhelmed, confused, and frustrated because its environment is controlling its thought process. High-energy describes a mindset that leads to a behavior. In this case, the mindset is already established prior to entering the workplace. It is focused, creative, and free to make decisions. Big difference, wouldn’t you say?

Also, take note of the statement that they are as passionate about their lives as they are about their work. This means that their work doesn’t create their life, their life creates their work. When your life mirrors your work then you are living your passion at home and at work. When your work mirrors your life you are trying to make your life fit the work. This path has led to a lot of unhappy people. In the past, our work defined us. When the shift came we were given permission to define our work by bringing our experiences, creativity, and passion to our jobs. As Rick Warren, bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life was urging us nearly a decade ago to find and live a purposeful holistic lifestyle. Read more 

©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility will be available in paperback beginning August 15, 2011. Pre-order your copy today.

 

 

DO YOU HAVE A BRAND?

It is a cold winter Sunday morning. I’m running 20 minutes late. Church starts at 11 a.m. It is 11 a.m. I still have to pick up a child I’m mentoring who lives 15 minutes away. I arrive at his home. Instead of sending my usual text “I’m here,” I anxiously, but gently blow the horn. He walks to the car, opens the door, and jumps in. While pulling the seatbelt, he says, “Ms. Renee, you are the only person that trusts me.”

Showing no emotion, yet completely shocked by his eyebrow-raising statement, I wait to hear the click sound of the seatbelt that lets me know it’s okay to begin to back out of the driveway. As I put the car in reverse I’m suspiciously wondering: Am I about to get punked by a seven-year old? Shifting to a mindset lacking emotion or judgment, I asked, “Why do you say that?” Without hesitation he said, “Because every time something happens, my mom asks me what happened, but when I tell her she doesn’t believe me.” Trying to be objective, yet wiser than the mini man, I threw out another question. “So why doesn’t she believe you?” I don’t know, he replied.

I understood his bewilderment. Like what many of my adult clients face, this young child’s quandary illustrated a classic personal branding issue based on past events and behaviors. I searched my mental database looking for an age appropriate way to explain his problem and how he could solve it.

After serious contemplation, I couldn’t decide. Hesitant to guide him from pure assumption that he had created some trust challenges that needed correcting, I waited to collect more data. Driving on to our destination, I decided that reassuring him with a list of people who trusted him would suffice for the moment. I did, however, bookmark his statement intending to revisit it when I could best serve him.

Later that day we went to his favorite place, McDonald’s. After eating a six-piece Chicken McNugget Happy Meal, a cherry pie, and drinking some chocolate milk, he claimed he was still hungry. Surprised, I asked, “Are you sure?” Nodding his head up and down I continued, “What would you like?” He pointed to an oversized color poster hanging on the window that advertised a 10-piece Chicken McNugget for $1.99. “I want that,” he said energetically. “It’s only a dollar ninety-nine.” I didn’t offer to buy it for him right away because I wanted to give myself more time to think and make a good decision.

Finally I asked, “And what else?” He added, “A small fry.” After some savvy seven-year old negotiation, I silently opened my purse and pulled out my wallet. Looking for $3 for the $2.99 meal, I began explaining to him how to go to the counter, place his order, and pay the cashier. Watching closely from afar, I heard the cashier say, “You don’t have enough money.” Thinking that I could have made a mistake and not wanting him to feel embarrassed, I rushed over to find out where I went wrong in totaling $1.99 + $1 = $2.99.

Puzzled by the miscount, I looked probingly into the eyes of the cashier and asked, “He doesn’t have enough money?” She confidently replied, “He ordered a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, a small fry—and a smoothie.”

I smiled at her, peered down at the mini man, and gave him my you’ve-been-naughty look. I requested that she remove the smoothie from the order. I then walked slowly back to the dining area to wait patiently and wisely for him. As I perused my mental database again for the best way to handle this defining moment, I suddenly remembered the statement he had made earlier. But before I could say one word, the 4’2” fella hopped up in the seat and cleverly declared that the smoothie was for me. “I wanted to surprise you,” he announced.

I thanked him for his attempt at generosity. Then I carefully constructed an illustration that explained why surprising someone with a gift by spending their money on what he believed they wanted failed to exhibit genuine kindness. I also revisited his opening statement for the day, “Ms. Renee, you are the only person that trusts me.” This led to his first free coaching session on personal branding and its impact on his present and future relationships and endeavors.

If you are like him, you may not realize that you have a brand that you’ve been consciously or unconsciously building since you came to this planet. It’s the reason you were treated a particular way in school by your classmates and teachers. It’s what’s causing you to be overlooked and underestimated. It’s your brand that is still tagging along with you determining your personal and professional advancement.

The most important point to recall is that you have a brand. At any moment, you can assess it, redesign, and launch a new brand, which is probably the reason you are reading The Bridge to Your Brand.

If you’re just beginning the branding process, I would recommend that you complete this exercise. Write down three adjectives you think describe you. Then select and ask three people to provide you with three adjectives that describe you. Consider a family member, friend, and co-worker. Ask a customer, neighbor, or pastor. Supervisors, spouses, and children are also great contributors to this fact-finding process.

It is important that you give them permission to be honest and objective. Tell them that you are trying to grow and need their help. This will ease their mind to share their honest thoughts and feelings with you. Do not punish them for their honesty by debating, defending, or forcing them to justify their submissions. More than likely, the adjectives that you see more than once or the synonyms to those words indicate the way you’re received and perceived by others.

Even if you don’t like, agree with, or want to accept the descriptors, you have to remember that it’s the way others see you that is important during the research stage. It’s like going to the doctor; a diagnosis comes through the process of elimination. You have to figure out what is and isn’t working for you. What you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. What you like about what people are receiving and perceiving from you and what you don’t like.

As I tell my clients, stop saying, “I don’t care about what people say about me.” That’s not a true statement. You may not care about what everyone is saying about you, but you care about what some people are saying about you especially those you depend on for support. And, everyone needs support from others.

Did the adjectives that you wrote down to describe yourself match the ones given to you by others? The data collected serves as a starting point to awaken you to the fact that people have a clear opinion of you. That opinion matters, especially in environments where you spend the majority of your time—at home, work, and in other social settings. Awareness is growth. Are you awake and aware of what’s going on around you? What about what’s going on because of you?

©2011 All rights reserved. The Bridge to Your Brand Likeability, Marketability, Credibility will be available in paperback beginning August 15, 2011. Pre-order your copy today.