11 weeks of personal branding …what’s next?

11 weeks ago, and before I started the personal banding course; one of the two courses in the final semester of the EMBA program at UNR, my understanding of how professional personal branding works was possibly outdated. Frankly speaking, I wasn’t sure about my learning outcome from this course. I thought I have done enough personal branding in my career so far and I didn’t need much more personal branding. Obviously, I was wrong.

My initial understanding of the strategy and process of personal branding is focusing on finding my personal professional uniqueness, building a reputation on the values and traits I want to be known for, and then allowing myself to be known for them. I do also believe that building a sound professional reputation enhances the chances of success in building trust with clients, coworkers, and employers. I always thought that personal branding is quite similar to creating a point of differentiation for a business or a product to be differentiated from the competition. As I fully understand there is usually a ton of competition for the best jobs, focusing on personal branding was a no brainer for me at the early stages of my career to stand out with my skills, reputation, work experiences, career achievements and academic background.

After 11 weeks of studying personal branding course, reading Mark W. Schaefer’s KNOWN: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age, and Jason McDonald’s Social Media Marketing Workbook: How to Use Social-Media for Business, I came to a conclusion that my initial understanding of the personal branding strategy is correct but the tools, techniques and platforms used these days are quite different from what they were a decade ago.

The career path that I have taken within the private industry has been full of challenges.  My hard work, adaptability, resilience, and persistence have helped me with my personal branding, have allowed me to build a solid reputation, and to become known in the transportation industry. I didn’t rely that much on social media platforms to become known but I have kept an updated profile on LinkedIn for many years ago, used to check my LinkedIn feed a few times a day, and follow up the people that I have had the privilege to work with or interact with by some way or another.

The main learning outcome from my personal branding course is learning about the modern personal branding strategy which is strongly rooted in content marketing. During this course, I learned by doing and laid out a solid foundation for my brand by creating a personal blog and blogging with distinction, creating a Twitter account and tweeting with the purpose and sending a signal with a message in an ocean of noise and commenting on the blogs of influential people. Using these techniques and social media platforms was very new for me and it required hard work, resilience, and a continual investment of time.

At the end of this course, I believe I have created a real portfolio of products that I can use to enhance my career, I met new and influential people who are liking and retweeting my blogs and tweets, and created content that reflects an executive-level brand message. At the end of the day, regardless of the techniques and platform used, developing a personal brand requires hard work, trial and error, consistency, resilience, and persistence.

So, what’s next? I am almost finished with the personal branding course but I feel like I am still at the beginning of my modern personal branding journey. I got the foundation done and it is time to continue learning and start with building the main floor.

There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an exam and finish with education. The whole of film, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning”  

Picture source: Differentiate Yourself Through Personal Branding (accelitymarketing.com)

My journey with the “Energy Bus”

Visiting Barnes & Nobel stores is used to be something I enjoy doing on weekends. Although I often end up buying online an audio version of any title I like, browsing in the store and especially checking out the Leadership and Management books section is so much fun. A hot Americano coffee cup a “must” have to complete my ritual of visiting B&N. Several years ago, and during one of my visits to B&N, my eyes caught a yellow book with a school bus picture on the cover but with “Energy Bus” sign instead of the usual School Bus sign. I didn’t hesitate to pick up that book to check it out. I found it difficult to put down. It was a very quick read and made me look at everyday situations in a more positive way. It was the start of my journey with the energy bus.  

I’m a big believer in energy and believe that life is all about energy, its flow and positivity through tough times, and how it controls people’s actions, emotions, and happiness. I do believe that we have inner energy towards ourselves and outer energy for our interactions with others. There are people who increase our energy and those who drain us. I use to think I used too much energy focusing on the opinion of others but that has changed after reading the yellow book by Jon Gordon, The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy.

The “Energy Bus” is a “self-help” type book that is told in a story reiterating the power of positive thoughts and behavior. The hero of the story is a man named George who is having a hard time with work and gets discouraged very easily when nothing goes the right way for him. The story of the book is an influence of positive energy which is taught to George and other passengers through the bus driver, Joy. Joy is more than just a bus driver; she is an Ambassador of Positive Energy.

“More people die on Monday morning at 9:00 am than any other time,” says Gordon. The book plainly points out how to be a “Chief Energy Officer” within our own domain, harness the positive energy of others and stresses the importance of presenting these actions in our personal and professional life. To be a successful CEO one must tap into the 10 rules described in “The Energy Bus” book which assist in making work a more positive community and environment to be a part of each day.

A short time after reading the book, I was promoted to lead the Engineering department in the company’s site in Pittsburgh, PA. During that time, the department was facing big challenges and the employee morale was quite low. Prior to my first department meeting, I went to B&N and bought all copies they had on shelves and I printed out the energy bus tickets from the Energy Bus website. During the meeting, I mentioned my journey with energy bus, presented the 10 rules to fuel life, work and team with positive energy, and invited the team to take a copy of the Energy Bus book and Ticket, and join the ride.

Are you a one-minute manager?

This post is among the series of posts about some of the leadership books which I have read and they have inspired me as a person and as a leader. In this post, I will share my thoughts and reflect on one of the classics and must-read books about leadership is “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. The original book was published in 1982 and it has sold about 15 million copies and has been translated into dozens of languages. Ken Blanchard is an American author, business consultant, and motivational speaker. He is known for the quote “None of us is as smart as all of us”.

Interestingly enough that the leadership style explained in the book is still relevant today, almost four decades after the book was originally published. I think it is evidence that the content of leadership (behaviors, actions, and practices) has not changed much with time compared to the context of leadership which has changed dramatically. In one of his YouTube videos, Ken Blanchard says that after all these years, the main message of the book is still the same and valid today and in the future: “The most effective way to lead people is to be a servant leader”.

The storyline of the book is about a young man who was looking for an effective manager to work for or to learn from and get inspired by. He has searched for many years and spoken with many managers in almost all business sectors. Some managers he met were autocratic managers (concerned about the results, not the people). Others were democratic managers (concerned only about the people but not much about the results). He did find few effective managers (concerned about the people as well as the results) but they didn’t want to share their secrets with him until he heard stories about a special manager who lived in a nearby town. He heard that people liked to work for this man and that they produced great results together. So, he decided to meet this manager and ask him about his secret.

One of my favorite gestures the authors made in this book is when the young man telephoned the special manager’s secretary for an appointment, she put him through immediately. And when he asked the manager when he could see him, the manager responded “Any time this week is fine. You pick the time.” The young man was fascinated and wondered what kind of manager had that kind of time available? I think this is one of the great lessons the book highlights. Being busy doesn’t always mean being productive.

When the young man met with the special manager, he learned about the three secrets of the manager’s success in getting big results from people, namely: one-minute goals, one-minute praisings, and one-minute reprimands. Basically, the process starts with establishing clear-cut goals. When evaluating results, good performance should be praised, and poor performance should be reprimanded when the performance fails to contribute to the attainment of commonly agreed goals.

Did you read this book? Please share your thoughts in the comment field below.

Do not be afraid of change. Be afraid of not changing

There are so many quotes and sayings out there about the importance of making a change in life or work but this one is a favorite “Do not be afraid of change. Be afraid of not changing”. I have this quotation written on a wood sign and it has been placed in a visible spot in my house. I have even sometimes taken it to work and placed it on my office’s desk. I think the message is clear and highlighting a fact that “change” and “fear” are related. If this relation is unavoidable, it is better to fear not changing instead of being afraid of change.

This quote has got me wondering why being afraid of change? Why shouldn’t we be afraid of change? and, why are we sometimes willing to change in some areas but reluctant to try anything new in other areas? It is also interesting that it is quite often that we want so much to go back and change things that happened in the past but we don’t want to break the chains of fear to get outside our comfort zone to do things differently in the future.

I think “change” is like a coin with two sides, a reward on one side and risk on the other. I also think that people’s reaction to change depends on their optimistic vs pessimistic attitudes. An optimist or a “glass-half-full” person can see the reward of change, enjoy the process of taking risks and growing in the process. Meanwhile, a pessimist or a “glass-half-empty” person may only focus on the worst-case scenario of taking the risk of change.

Regardless of what attitude a person has, I think “change” means taking a risk. No matter how big or small the risk is, what matters is if a person is a risk-lover, risk-averse, or a risk-neutral. What type of a person you are? How do you react to change? Please share your thoughts about change in the comment field.

The Truth About Leadership

More than a decade ago, I took the first leadership role in my professional career. My manager told me at that time that I didn’t have the years of experience needed for that role but I had the skills needed to succeed if I would continue in the leadership path to build up the expertise.

Reading books on leadership is something I have continuously done through the past 10 years to get inspired and learn from other people’s experiences. However, I realized that I can’t learn everything about leadership from books and I must jump into the pool and practice the stories and ideas from books to make better decisions and build up my own experience.

I got the idea of writing posts about some of the leadership books which I have read and they have inspired me as a person and as a leader. In this post, I would to talk about one of my EMBA’s textbooks “The Truth About Leadership” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, authors of the highly regarded leadership classic The Leadership Challenge. The authors understand that while the context of leadership has changed dramatically through the years, “the content of leadership” has not changed much at all with time.  

In this book, the authors describe Leadership as a matter of technique, skill, practice, desire, and commitment. This book thoroughly explains 10 fundamental truths about leadership and helps leaders to do a fact check on their personal leadership expertise. They devote a chapter to each of these ten concepts:

Truth #1 You Make a Difference: This truth is about the importance of believing in our ability to make a difference prior to positioning ourselves to hear the call to lead.

Truth #2 Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership: This truth is about the fact that people follow the leaders they believe in. Therefore, it is very important for leaders to do what they promise to do.

Truth #3 Values Drive Commitment: This truth is about the necessity of a good fit between what leaders value and the organization values.

Truth #4 Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart: This truth is about forward-looking and its effect on inspiring and energizing the followers.

Truth #5 You Can’t Do It Alone: This truth is about describing leadership as a team sport and how important to engage and develop others.

Truth #6 Trust Rules: This truth is about the importance of being a trustworthy leader and building mutual trust by trusting others too.

Truth #7 Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness: This truth is about the challenge of introducing a change because great achievements don’t happen without introducing changes.

Truth #8 You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All: This truth is about the fact leaders must go first to get others to follow their lead.  

Truth #9 The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners: This truth is about continuous learning and improvement as the master skill of leadership.

Truth #10 Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart: This truth is about loving the role of a leader and loving the followers.

When attitudes and behavior do not match

In one of my previous leadership roles, I had feelings of unease and discomfort for quite a long period of time from acting in a fashion that is inconsistent with my beliefs and attitude. Each time I think about that period of time, I wonder how many leaders and managers out there who are going through the same situation and feeling discomfort from acting in a way that is inconsistent with their attitudes.

During that time when I felt discomfort, I wasn’t aware of the root cause of feeling that way. A few months later, I had a course in my eMBA program about Organizational behavior. Professor Bret Simmons has taught me a lot about behavior and attitude. I also learned later that when our behavior is conflicting with our attitude, we will experience the feeling of discomfort of what is called “cognitive dissonance”. Apparently, this can happen to any person, especially in professional life. For example, an employee who doesn’t like his/her job (attitude) but he/she is required to work long hours (behavior). This type of conflict between the employee’s attitude and behavior will most likely cause a feeling of discomfort. The question is what to do to avoid such conflict? Is it possible to avoid that in all cases?

By Shanu

Just to be clear, I am not pretending to be an expert in this subject by any means. But because I have suffered from this situation, I wanted to share my experience and thoughts about it.

Back to the question of avoiding such conflict between attitude and behavior and if it is possible or not. I think any conflict can be resolved by introducing a change to one or both of the conflicting parties. But is it really possible and easy to change our attitude or behavior? Which one is easier to change? Please share your thoughts in the comments field.     

I can only say from my experience that failure to change either our attitude or behavior in such situations will more than likely lead to increased stress and withdrawal from the job situation.      

First time getting up in front of a classroom as a teacher

After being a student for almost 24 consecutive years between my primary school and until I finished my Ph.D. degree, it was time for me to get up in front of a classroom and take the stage as a teacher. An experience that I never forget and want to write about in my blog.

During these 24 years of being a student, I had dozens of teachers with different educational backgrounds and teaching skills. Each time I remember a teacher I had in the past, I realize how unique and different each teacher was in the way they were teaching. Being a teacher for the first time, I remember writing down my favorite teaching skills and styles which I liked from all my teachers. This helped me to identify what type of teacher I wanted to be and what teaching style I wanted to adopt.

At that time, the internet was just starting, and there wasn’t much educational content available online compared to our present time. Students were mostly relying on textbooks, literature, published researches, past years lecture notes, and exams. I didn’t want to be a teacher who comes to a classroom to repeat what is in the textbooks or past years’ lecture notes. I thought students can do that themselves and they don’t need a teacher just for that. Maybe answering questions related to textbooks but spending lectures time on repeating what is in the books wasn’t something I wanted to do. Instead, I wanted to add value by complementing the textbook reading material with a deep dive analysis, solving examples and problems, open discussion, questions and answers, and bringing up other perspectives especially from practical life.

My ultimate goal as a teacher was to offer my students complementary learning material that they cannot find in the textbooks. I wanted my student to get interested in attending my lectures because they know it is going to help them better understand the material and learn something outside the books.

New in town

This is not a song nor a tv show title. It’s about anyone who is new in town. Being new in town is an experience I have been through myself several times in my life so far. It is an experience that is different each time I go through it. It is unique, tough, fun, frustrating, enriching, nostalgia-provoking, re-energizing, and more of a mix of many good and less good things.

I think the best way to describe the experience is by comparing it to pushing the restart button of your PC. A scenario most of the people have experienced. Imagine being busy working on something on your PC and suddenly the PC is not responding. Pushing the restart button and waiting for the PC to restart is frustrating, time-consuming and in many cases results in losing some of the progress made in what we have been doing before the restart. The good news is that the PC usually gets back to working normally and we can carry on our work. In life, pushing the restart button can happen to many people and in many different situations other than moving and living in a new town. I think the experience tends always to start with a mix of many good and less good things before settling back to normal every time it happens.

As I mentioned earlier, the experience is unique because it depends on so many things especially the way we see it and feel about it. Maybe because I am an engineer, I think about the experience of being new town as a process that usually starts with adaptation and then goes into integration. The outcome of the integration usually decides if new town becomes home and there is no difference between ourselves and the society we live in or another click on the restart button would be needed.

I think adaptation starts from the first minute we move to a new area, town, city, or country. It is an act of observing the new surrounding (people, location, language, culture) carefully in order to gain information about the new host society and to make terms with it. It is like planting the seeds and seeing whether it will grow into something or not. After gaining enough knowledge about the new host society and acquiring more traits of it, we get into the integration phase of the process of being new in town. Integration usually starts when we start functioning within the new society, establish relatively robust relationships with people of the host society and take part in diverse aspects of its life. It is like the state when the PC starts working normally after pushing the restart button although that doesn’t mean the possibility of another restart is fully eliminated.

Going through this process several times in my life has taught me to let go of my expectations, hold a grip on the possibilities, come to terms with a language that might be very different, and values and behaviors that might not always correspond to my own, and both learn from and accept such differences while not abandoning my own.

It’s okay to have problems, but it’s better to fix them

Life is full of problems and sometimes it feels like solving one problem creates a new one. So, if we cannot avoid problems, it is always better to deal with them than ignoring them. Sometimes problems can be solved but sometimes they remain unsolved. Regardless, the real value of dealing with problems is experience and personal growth. We’ve all heard the adage that “whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger”.

A workplace is a part of life and it has problems, e.g., a project delay, project over budget, decreased sales, errors in design or manufacturing, material shortage, resource capacity constraints, quality problems, shipment problems, stock market crisis, downsizing, etc. There are an endless number of tough and tiresome problems which can happen in any workplace. The most important leadership skill is dealing with workplace problems, facing them head-on, instead of ignoring them, and by always looking for new ways to deal with the problems and never giving up.

So how to deal with problems? Although there are several standard practical and proven methods for problem solving, but there are few things leaders should do to ensure the success of any problem-solving method.

  • Taking responsibility for the problem is the first thing to do instead of blaming, complaining or making excuses.
  • Begin solving the problems by using lessons from solving past problems and staying vigilant of other possibilities than just what happened in the past problems.
  • Ask questions and see around, beneath, and beyond the problem itself.
  • Guide the problem-solving team toward their goals without them being frustrated or confused.

I think effective problem solving is one of the key attributes that separate great leaders from average ones. So, what type of a leader you want to be?

What do you do about an employee who isn’t performing up to expectations?

Although addressing employees’ performance issues should be one of the main tasks of a people manager but I think it is rarely taken seriously based on my experience. I think some managers’ discomfort of confrontation exceeds the potential reward of improving an employee’s performance. Pushing the problem away is the type of strategy which is usually taken to address employees’ performance issues. It is very likely that poor-performing employees move around among the organization’s departments until they end up either leaving voluntarily or involuntarily.

I believe that it is not appropriate to “pick your raisins (from the cake)” which means taking the best parts and leave the less good parts. As people managers, we cannot focus on the good performers and ignore addressing the poor performers. At the same time, managers should not spend too much time and energy on addressing performance issues.

I used to estimate the gap between employees’ current performance and the desired performance. My approach of addressing the performance issue depends on how big the gap is. If the gap is not too big, I put together a performance improvement plan and work with the employee until he/she will reach the desired performance. However, if the gap is too big, I think the employee is not a good fit for the job and it is for everyone’s (organization and employee) benefit if the employee thinks of other roles within or outside the organization. I believe that some people need to be pushed to make changes to their career path in order to utilize their hidden skills and shine. I hardly believe that anyone wants to be recognized as a poor performer. I think people just pick the wrong roles and end up working with something they don’t enjoy nor excel at. They need someone to confront them with this fact and perhaps help them pick a better alternative career path.