Personal Branding for Career Success by: Kelsey Herb, M.A.

Personal Branding, or the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers asFinKelsey_MG_0012
brands, is quite the buzz phrase these days. Take a moment to Google the phrase. When I tried it, I found nearly 60 million hits, many of which are books and blogs devoted to helping an individual stand-out as a star. A quick review of some of the top resources suggests that in order to differentiate oneself as a powerful influencer they first need to contemplate their values and aspirations then they can define a brand and start moving mountains.

This is a valuable starting point – especially for anyone who is just starting out, either in their first career or on a new career path – but it leaves you wondering about personal branding for someone who may already have an established career. Indeed, I found that these resources inspired more questions than they answered. Does a personal brand mean the same thing at the manager level as it does at the director level? What about in the C-Suite? Should the branding process change?

I reached out to a handful of colleagues with established careers in a variety of fields (consulting, education, business operations, communications, etc.) to get their perspective on this topic. The most powerful take-away from their responses was the call to BE AUTHENTIC. The general consensus appears to be that being true to yourself is the best way to define your brand and make a resounding impact on others. Responses highlighted that a person should reflect on “who I am” in their daily work.  Start by identifying a few adjectives that resonate with you.  At your best, what few words describe how you “show up?”  This, I would argue, remains true at all stages of your career. Build your brand around who you are and who you aspire to be. Then you can adjust the details to match your current career stage and environment.

I also asked my colleagues to provide recommendations for individuals who are young in their careers and looking to build a personal brand. Then I requested recommendations for folks who are established in their careers but still looking to build/enhance their brand. Interestingly, the responses tended to be very similar. Themes that arose included the following:

  • Recognize your personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Know your value and share it with others
  • Build your brand around your passion

Ultimately, these responses suggest that whatever your career stage, self-awareness and being true to yourself are the cornerstones of building a strong personal brand. Once you have this framework, you can augment your brand by customizing your style of dress, touch points (e.g., social media, personal interaction, conference presentations, speaking style, etc.) to fit your goals and interests at any given career stage. Look for incongruence in your delivery across mediums.  Behaviors, voice and packaging should all align.

This leads to shifting away from simply submitting a resume, to providing access to a number of personal brand assets, thus giving job seekers better odds of standing out to potential employers.

How Our Viewpoint and Self-Identity Shape Our Approach to Business

By: Suzanne Miklos, Ph.D. 

I completed a business growth course in December provided by Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses.  The course offered a wonderful opportunity to connect with other small businesses.  We immediately recognized that both our stated and hidden opportunities and challenges were the same and that we were all bound through entrepreneurial spirit.  It was powerful to see the leadership and determination that shepherded many of these businesses through the great recession.  I recognized that my professional identity was bound more by my doctorate in I/O psychology and my work in executive talent development than in being an owner.  It created space for me to nurture a lesser expressed part of me.  I have no doubt that this self awareness will change how I invest in growing my business in the future. 

This same experience was shared by many of my fellow graduates who described themselves as accountants, builders, service providers or manufacturers.  They now call themselves business owners. This shift in view represents an expanded, crystallized view of self as leader; and it can change everything.  In executive coaching, we focus on how what you observe leads to what you see and don’t see.  I often give the example of my bird crazy chocolate Labrador Retriever who will miss seeing a rabbit right in her path for the sake of looking in the trees for a bird.  When we look at ourselves and our possibilities differently, new options and actions appear.  From my perspective, this is a very powerful part of the class. 

When leaders become inspirational, organizational architects, they spend their time differently than when they are key workers in their businesses.  Rather than working in the business or on pressing customer issues; they spend time working on the business strategy, structure and processes. Putting together a business model that can deliver the highest value to customer’s means looking at how processes currently deliver to the client.  If you took a blank piece of paper and designed key delivery systems from scratch, are they operating optimally?

People processes are much the same.  When it becomes clear what kinds of skills and capacities are required to execute the value added process, a fresh look at the organizational design, key roles and key competencies is needed.  Matching the hiring of new people, training of existing staff and performance management that connects people’s efforts to goals is strategic talent work.  All large organizations periodically review processes and organizational design to continue adapting to the external environment and evolving internal strategy.  Many of them have staff to help but the process is essentially the same.

It is enlivening and empowering for leaders of small and mid-size businesses to take on a true leader role and put time and intention to designing their organizations.  It is not just for CEO’s of Fortune 500 firms but a high value activity for all CEO’s. And when you ask a Goldman Sachs program graduate what they do for a living, I own a business should be the answer!

What Happens with Vegas…

Recently, Thrive Magazine, a Publication of Summa Health System, featured an article about our very own Mary Demastes (that’s Suzanne’s Mom)!  It is a wonderful article about Mary’s exciting and very generous volunteer work with WAGtime, Summa’s dog visitation program.

Read all about Mary and Vegas’ experiences helping others heal happily!

WAG to go Mary (and Vegas)!

Vegas_Demastes Article


By: Dr. Suzanne Miklos

Leadership has a lot in common with hot air balloon rides. Last weekend, my sisters and thparents and I went on a hot air balloon ride. For those of you who have not experienced this yet, it’s certainly an adventure.  Just watching the balloon, large and vividly colored, fill with air and come to life, was a treat in and of itself. The takeoff was a little rocky as an unexpected burst of wind grabbed the balloon and dragged it before it was ready to go.  However, once we were airborne it was a beautiful, relaxing experience to see the countryside down below.  Ohio is lushly green in August, including the ponds!  Many people come out onto their porches to wave while the wildlife goes about its business.

Landing was interesting as well; there wasn’t a runway or an exact landing destination, so the balloonist had to find a good spot to land the massive craft so that the chaser crews could catch up in order to pack up the balloon and return the riders to their car.  We had the good fortune to land in a local farmer’s yard, shearing off a bit of an apple tree and nearly grazing a swing set.   The homeowners were out with small children on a four wheeler and they responded to our shouted request to land with permission.  They not only agreed, but also helped us roll up the balloon and allowed a truck to drive onto their property.  Our unprepared hosts invited us to see their blueberries and to pick fresh pears.   Ending our experience with a champagne toast accompanied by a blessing, which is the traditional celebration of a successful ride.

The following week I had the privilege to work with a leader, John, who has been struggling to create energy around a difficult region including gaining Staff support from other departments and geographic regions. People who don’t report to John and are already busy, yet they have the knowledge, data and resources to achieve important goals that John holds for the organization. A similar dilemma is when we tackle community leadership roles. Much like the balloon ride, the general direction is clear but the exact landing spot is not.  There is a blend of strategy and opportunism required to be successful.  There are many factors that are beyond our control and some interesting sightseeing along the way.

The landing requires collaboration of both people in the balloon, people on the ground and potentially people whose yards become the landing site.   When work is interesting, and engaging, and when people know they will make a difference; it is more likely for them to join in.  In these transformative times, leaders have to balance control with an ability to adapt to the present circumstance. One of our greatest powers as leaders can be that of an invitation for an adventure.

So what’s the “So What?” Factor?

By: Dr. Diane Govern

I’m a novice at blogging.  I’m skeptical others are interested in what I have to say.  For instance, even though I can’t resist reading the Facebook posts and blogs of my family and friends, I rarely post anything myself.  Even though I’m much more informed about minor (and sometimes major) details of important people in my life, after reading posts, I often ask myself, “so what?” Judgmental as this may be, I think it offers insight into effective communication.  So I am excited to stretch myself, to go outside my comfort zone and to “blog” about a concept that almost anyone in any audience can utilize.  It is the “so what” factor.

My traditional methods of sharing information and concepts are perhaps the reason I was drawn to consulting in the first place.  To a certain degree we all put on a consulting hat when we come to work (virtual or not), regardless of our role.  Our employer is paying for some expertise that we possess that will serve a particular purpose:  customer satisfaction, company profits, employee engagement, to name a few.  I have always liked the face-to-face interaction of consulting and knowing that my audience is interested in the information I have to share.

So how do we add value when we come to work?  The most meaningful conversations I have had with clients have all had a high degree of what we call the “so what?” factor.  What is the “so what” factor you ask?  It is the extent to which I can make a connection between the information that I am sharing and a meaningful outcome for the person(s) receiving the message.  The audience needs to walk away knowing exactly “what’s in it for me?”  This is the ingredient that many training professionals so often incorporate into their curricula.

When a consultant is engaged to solve a problem for a client, the client will inevitably ask “so what?” A good consultant will be able to answer the question with specifics related to the business outcome.  The next time you are preparing for a conversation with a client, boss, child, signification other, give it the “so what” test.  Then go ahead and reward yourself with some mindless Facebook time.

Animal Behavior

mileyWritten By: Suzanne Miklos, Ph.D.

Each part of my life offers an opportunity to reflect, pay attention and gain awareness.  Walking Miley, my chocolate lab, affords me that time.  Between her chasing squirrels, jumping into creeks to cool off, or fetching the proverbial stick, I have found that to be the perfect time for me to reflect. Humans are of course, animals, despite our habitually ignoring that fact. It is not far fetched then for us to watch animal behavior in order to increase our own awareness.

So I offer you a few life lessons I have learned by observing Miley.  The first lesson I have learned through observation is that self control can be increased through exercise.  When we are anxious or wound up, we tend to jump at the smallest out of place movement or sound.  Our prey drive is unchecked and small offenses garner a solid pounce.  I have observed many a wound up manager pounce before asking any questions. When self control rules, we investigate before jumping.

The second lesson learned is that even the most frequently travelled paths have different details (smells) that are worth checking out. Miley knows the way on familiar trails.  She trots along with experience and confidence. She frequently stops to sniff, explore or paw at the ground only to discover something new and different.  Remaining a learner, even though we think we know the way, takes energy for us to look closely at what may have changed since our last trip around. Humans have a tendency to over generalize our experiences, leading us to ignore or overlook differences we ought to have seen. Think of Ron Johnson applying Apple’s retail philosophy to J.C. Penney for example.

Miley is a bird dog, she spends a great deal of time scanning the pond behind our house for ducks, heron and geese, or gazing up at tree branches.  She will lay on our deck calm as can be, and then suddenly jump up, race across the yard, taking a flying leap after a bird that has invaded our air space.  However, with all her focus on things air bound, I have witnessed her completely overlooking a nice fat rabbit hopping directly across our path. How unfortunate that squirrels and chipmunks can slip by her unnoticed.  Yet, there are other times when I cannot spot, no matter how hard I look, what she has in her view.  The lesson here is that whenever we have a myopic focus it can cause us to lose sight of other possibilities.  We are hardwired to see the world in a specific way, which is to each of our advantages as long as we understand that our personal reality contains only a fraction of what is real.

Dogs walk until they are tired and then they rest a moment in the shade.  There is no guilt about stopping at 4.8 miles rather than 5 miles.  There is no watch to be checked or path that will end.  Being fully present and aware is a gift we humans must give to ourselves and others we encounter.  When coaching talented executives, it is clear that humans are superior to our animal counterparts, but yet they are an excellent reminder of how important it is for us to stop and “smell the roses” and to take notice of how we observe ourselves and our environment.

Happy Trails!

Which Traits Garner Leadership Success?

Written by: Kelsey Herb, M.A.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to advance in the business world? Or better yet, have you ever wondered why so many successful mid-level managers flounder when they reach executive status? A recent leadership study, conducted by PDI Ninth House, suggests a big part of it is personality. Any HR leader will tell you that job demands change and job complexity increases as you ascend the leadership ladder, and this study suggests that the requisite personality characteristics change too.

Personality appears to be related to whether a leader ascends the ladder or gets stuck somewhere along the way. The global study by PDI Ninth House included over 11,000 leaders (from 1,340 companies across 147 countries), and it yielded some valuable insights. There are certain traits that appear to guide leaders in achieving upward mobility, while others hinder progress. A few of the major take-aways from this study are provided below:

  • Making it to the top takes a balance of results-orientation AND working well with others. Unit leaders scored highest on competitiveness and intimidation, yet lowest on being considerate. On the other hand, CEOs scored highest on being considerate and were least likely to engage in intimidation behaviors.
  • Being overly competitive may actually hinder leadership advancement. Competitiveness is important in organizations; however top executives display less competitiveness than mid-level managers. Leaders must not let their desire to win interfere with the vision and objectives of the organization.
  • Top traits leaders should emphasize to ascend the leadership ladder:
    • Influencing others and selling ideas
    • High energy levels
    • A take-charge approach
    • Optimism
  • Traits that can derail leadership advancement:
    • Passive aggressiveness
    • Micromanagement
    • Manipulation
    • Attention to detail (delegate!)

Clearly there are key traits that can be leveraged to guide leadership advancement as well as traits that can hinder advancement.  Understanding these traits can benefit leaders looking to move up in their careers, HR professionals, coaches, and anyone else with a vested interest in successful leadership.


For more detailed discussion of the results of this study, read “Personality and Progression” by Joy Hazucha