It Doesn’t Matter Who You Are

The following article was originally published in the December 2012 IGDA Perspectives newsletter on Leadership.  Two worksheets (one with the article and one without) were added at the bottom of this post for you to download to help you complete the exercise from the article. Enjoy!

“I am honest and hardworking” is a phrase pretty much everyone uses: job candidates, employees during reviews, leaders speaking to the press, criminals claiming innocence, etc. Statistically speaking, some of these people are lying. And some of these liars have no idea they’re doing it.

In an ideal world we would all be who we say we are. Better yet – we’d be self-aware enough to know who everyone else thinks we are. Then there’s this world. Here, our insight is cloudy at best. Intent matters less than perception and perception is the only reality.

That’s why when I give some of my talks, I not only explain corporate branding and imaging and how it affects good customer service, but personal branding as well. How you present yourself as an individual and how you handle yourself in various situations all affects how you are perceived. How you are perceived determines how you are treated.

You may think of yourself as the most kind-hearted, patient, and caring human being who has ever existed, but if your professional persona is seen selling out coworkers, yelling at subordinates, and sabotaging rivals, no one is going to associate you with Mother Teresa.

As a leader you have to be extremely careful about how you are perceived because it directly influences your effectiveness. It can be the difference between record growth and a “Going Out of Business” sale.

I can’t claim that I have got this down pat. I’m not immune to lapses. However, I am keenly aware of how I can come across to others.

I learned a long time ago that I picked up a lot of personality traits from my parents, friends, and early colleagues throughout the years. Some of these are great, while others … well, not so much. I’ve been working for the last decade or so to assess these traits, boosting the positive ones and removing or adjusting the negative ones.

The best part is that you can do this too. But first you need to get real about who you are and how others see you. Take a deep breath and prepare yourself – it can be hard to hear that inner you doesn’t match outer you.

I’ve developed an exercise to help with this self-assessment – “5 words or phrases.” It’s a three-step exercise that anyone can do and it’ll take you down the path to self-awareness, understanding how you are perceived, and empowering you to manage that perception. It works like this:


Step 1: Ask yourself who you are

Take out a pen and paper, grab your tablet, open up a text file on your computer, send yourself a text message, or print this out and fill it in the below – just get started. The method doesn’t matter, just that you get it down somewhere. I want you to write five words or phrases that YOU think describe you. This is not how you think others perceive you, but your own feelings about yourself. Focus on the you that exists in this very moment, not the person you were in the past or who you want to be in the future. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

The 5 Words or Phrases I would use to describe myself are:

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Got them? Good – next step!


Step 2: Seek insight from people you trust

Now I want you to go out and find at least five trustworthy people who know you (at any level). Trust is incredibly important. You want people who care enough about you that they’ll be honest, brutally so. Explain to them that you want their help with a self-improvement task and ask them for five words or phrases that describe and define you as a person to them. Ask them not to sugarcoat it – negative or positive, you want honest feedback.

I keep using the word “trust” here very intentionally. It’s of the utmost importance that you trust these people for honest feedback, AND that you trust that they have the best intentions when they respond. Do not take offense to any negative feedback – it is there to help you.

Pro-tip: Try getting feedback from people who have known you for different amounts of time. This way you can compare first impressions to those who’ve known you for a long time. (Think of all those times you’ve heard those “Once you get to know me, you’ll see I’m really…” statements.)

Feel free to meet in person, call, text message, email, post on Facebook or Twitter. Do whatever it takes – the more results the better. I’ve put in space for five responses below if you want to print this out and ask people. Okay – go ask them!

The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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The 5 Words or Phrases ________ would use to describe _________:

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Done? Great – last step!

Step 3: Compare and contrast

Now that you’ve gotten all the data it’s time to compare the two sets of answers. This is where you really get to assess your self-awareness. Did you say you were detail-oriented and 3 out of 5 trusted advisors agree – great! Did you say you were punctual and hardworking but most of your friends said you were lazy or always late? Great!

Yes, I said great! You just got a blessing in disguise. It stings to hear that you’re seen as lazy or disrespectful of other people’s time – but now you know. Better yet, now you can do something about it (if you want to, of course).

It’s okay to dig a little deeper for follow-up. Ask those friends/colleagues why they think you’re lazy or lack punctuality. Perhaps it’s because every time they come to your office you’re always on Facebook or Twitter. It’s possible that you’re a community manager and you have to keep up on what others are saying and manage those mediums for your job. In that case, you can use this opportunity to talk with your friends about why you’re on Twitter, and also use the knowledge to help inform how you interact with others in the future.

Perhaps a few people agreed that you had great attention to detail, but when you probed a little more you found out that they thought it was too much detail. It’s time for more self-reflection. Perhaps you need to be a little more succinct and hold details back when appropriate. It’s all about managing expectations and continuous self-improvement, something every great leader should do.


Bonus Step: The 5 words you wish to be

I also recommend that people consider doing an extra step which is writing down the 5 words or phrases with which you would LIKE to be described.

The 5 words or phrases I would like used to describe myself in the future:

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This helps give you a goal to shoot for and can help give you actionable steps to progress toward that goal.

For example, if you know that you are consistently described as “late,” but you want to be described as “punctual” in the future, then work to change that. Make it a habit to leave for events earlier than you think you need to, learn to anticipate problems, plan more ahead of time (what to wear, what to bring, etc.), set more alarms, get others to call you to make sure you’re up and moving in the morning. So on and so forth.

The point is that the best leaders are the ones who are constantly aware of themselves, how others view them, and what they can do to enhance that perception. If everyone on your team sees you as a tyrant who couldn’t care less about them, it’s going to be hard to get them to rally their efforts and support your projects. If, on the other hand, they see you as a collaborator who just wants to see everyone reach their full potential, then they might not balk if you send back their work ‘one more time’ for a review and polish.

In the end, though there are some innate traits that will be extremely hard to change, knowing is half the battle. For a great leader, that knowledge is what you use to win the war.

FREE RESOURCES: Please feel free to download one of our 5 Words or Phrases Review guides to have handy each time you complete the assessment!

PDF IconDownload full PDF – Includes entire original article with step-by-step guidance and worksheet to go through the review

PDF IconDownload assessment PDF – Includes review worksheet only

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A Better Experience: Google Calendar Pro-tip

(As originally seen on SheriRubin.com here: http://sherirubin.com/2013/03/google-calendar-pro-tip/)

I’ve seen people respond to Google calendar invites by saying, “I can’t respond to this” or “Can you please send this to my Google address at <insert Google/Gmail associated email here>?”

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t need a/your Google email address to accept or decline the invite. Here’s how:

Step 1: Open up the email which has the Google Calendar invite in it.

Step 2: Right-click and choose “Copy Link Location” (or similar) on the corresponding answer (e.g. Yes, No, Maybe, etc.).

Step 3: Open up any browser where you are not signed in to Google, e.g. if you normally use Firefox and are signed into Google, open up IE or Chrome or Opera or Safari (or just sign out temporarily in your main browser).

Step 4: In a new tab/window paste in the link that you just copied and hit enter/go.

That’s it, you’re done!

Note: for those of you who use Google Calendar for your scheduling system, this method will not put the event in your calendar. It simply provides a response to the person who sent you the invite. This is especially helpful for those who receive a lot of Google Calendar invites, still want to be courteous and RSVP, but do not use Google.

Hope this helps! Stay awesome!
Sheri

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Writing Letters: Gas Station Edition

Dear Gas Station,

I think it’s awesome that you have your very own gas station radio network that provides fun music and news updates for people who are standing at the pump. Truly! But then I heard your “commercial” that said (I’m paraphrasing here) “Hey Moms, Got kids at home? You should buy them candy! We’ve got lots of sweets inside to choose from. Your kids love candy and why not make them happy when you get home?”

First of all, what about all those wonderful dads who rarely get recognized for their parenting (especially single fathers! or loving gay couples!) in marketing and ad campaigns and are instead often shown as the “bad cop” parent, or the incompetent one, or the one who never takes care of his kids? This commercial implicitly says that dads would never consider showing their kids love by getting them candy. I hope that’s not your intention. But look even more closely – the language of the ad also implies that moms are the only ones who would try to butter up their kids with candy. So, now you’re insulting moms by a) saying she can’t have her kids’ love without candy and/or b) saying she doesn’t provide her kids with healthy treats, so candy is the only option – either way it ALL sounds bad.

And besides all of that, the worst part is how your ad assumes that moms are at the gas station filling up their car with gas alone. Because what you’ve really done with your loud radio network is upset the mom (your customer) standing there with her kids in the car who just heard ‘hey – REMEMBER THAT CANDY EXISTS AND YOU WANT IT! NAG YOUR MOMMY!’ On your end, you’re probably thinking this is a great way to boost sales by way of add-ons – “don’t just come to the gas station to fill up your car, remember we’re also a convenience store.” HOWEVER…

What you didn’t consider is that she may have just spent the last 10 minutes at the grocery store trying to tell them why they didn’t need any candy from the candy aisle or the checkout lane. She may have just spent the last bit of money in her wallet to buy enough gas to get them all home. She may also now be listening to her kids, who just heard your ad, screaming at her to go buy them some candy and throwing tantrums if she says, “no.” Now she’s exasperated with YOU and thinking “I can never come back here because that terrible ad made my life, in this moment, miserable.” Great job! (sarcasm) You’ve lost a customer for life.

Moral of the story: If you’re going to bother creating ads for your very own radio network, you may want to think twice about the messages you’re really sending.

Onward and upward!
Sheri

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