By Derek Hendrikz
Johnny Depp, Nelson Mandela, Madonna, Desmond Tutu, Michael Schumacher, Oprah Winfrey, Vladimir Putin and many others… These are some of the names that we think of when we talk about personal brand. But, there is also Jorge Wilson, the accountant; Willie Shabalala, the sales executive; John Naidoo, the artist and hundreds of others whose names you will never hear.
Whatever your occupation or trade, there will be people who struggle, people who make it and, yes, there will be super stars. This is as true for accounting and sales as it is for acting and music. You can be mediocre, supersede or even fail in absolutely any profession.
But, what are the secrets? How do you excel at that which most people are simply mediocre with? How do you become a brand? In this article, I propose 10 simple steps to be beyond comparison at whatever you do. Practice these principles and you will move from being good to being great…
1. Be You..
In the words of Albert Einstein: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." I recall once, walking on the shores of Accra in Ghana, seeing how fishermen pulled out nets from the sea. One of the things that they tossed to the side was an eel. I recall how the eel was struggling to breath, desperately trying to move and survive on the dry sand. I then took this eel to the water, and remember how it recuperated for a small while and then beautifully and graciously swam into the deep. Now, if I had to take a monkey to the see, it would probably be a very disruptive monkey. I would have to offer it huge incentives and it would surely be high maintenance to keep it there. The reason for this is simply that monkeys do not belong in water. Yet, if I gave that same monkey a tree, it would need absolutely no motivation or incentive to climb.
Monkeys climb trees and fishes swim; this is what they do best. It is the distinctive features of different creatures that creates the diversity needed for evolution and growth. Similarly, as humans we have different aptitudes, which makes us unique and special. These ‘gifts’ are mental and physical abilities and preferences with which each of us are born. Many people never do what they are born for and in this they continuously experience immense discomfort. Mostly, they will never even understand the source of their unhappiness. Examples of this would be were a born accountant becomes an actor or where a born musician does administrative work.
You see, the greatest actor of all time was perhaps not Robert de Nero, but very possibly James Smith. Unfortunately, James was too busy preparing for a ‘real job’ to realise this. We are all born with a gift, which is something that we are immensely good at. Discover this, or even better, let it discover you. When this happens, success transforms into substance. You can never be both, successful and happy at something that that is not your thing.
2. Take a Stand, Niche and Stick…
Neutral people attempt to avoid the conflict of taking a decisive stand on something. For this reason, they are often also very mediocre people. In so, Jack of all trades will absolutely master none. I often watch butterflies and it seems that they never enjoy the aroma of one flower, since they are always moving along to the next one. This ‘butterfly paradigm’ has the consequence that people who never stick to one thing, mostly struggle to master anything.
It is decisively important that you find something that you are good at and then stick to this. Research suggests that it takes an average of 10 000 dedicated hours to become an expert. Austrian psychologist, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, argues that a state of optimal focus (flow) requires both high skill level and demanding challenge. He further states that it is not possible to master any focused skill in less than 10 years of technical practice and knowledge. This means that it will take you at least ten years of specific focus to be an expert at what you do. It is therefore well recorded and accepted that you must stick to your knitting for a while before others will dub you as the Ultimate Knitting Master.
In précis, to become an expert, you will need four primary attributes. These are, purpose; intelligence; energy and intent.
Purpose will guide you to focus on that which you were made for;
Intelligence will enable you to comprehend the complexities of what you do;
Energy will afford you the resources to expend on your task; and
Intent will motivate you to continue in doing what you love most.
3. Be WoW…
As an author, a good friend once gave me extremely valuable advice. I needed guidance on how to publish a book. Most advice I received related to some ‘tricks of the trade’. But this friend gave me something different. His advice was simple and powerful; “Write a really good book.” There are no shortcuts, if you want to succeed, you must excel at what you do. Unfortunately, there is no way around this. Something beautiful and good can never hide. The world will find it, some way or another.
To excel at something, you need to create intelligence within your field. This is a process of achieving a high level of consciousness in something specific. In simple terms; focus will make you ‘WOW’.
4. Freak People Out…
If you do it in the way that most do, you will be remembered in the way that most are. The word ‘outstanding’ implies that you stand out. This is certainly not possible when you are simply part of.
We remember and celebrate extraordinary people because what they do is just so different to how others would do it. Think Lady Gaga, Salvador Dali, Snoop Dog, the Dali Lama, Keith Richards, Muhammed Ali, Einstein, or any other name that everyone knows. They stand out!
Often – and even predominantly – standing out relates to freaking out. But make sure that the strange hat you wear actually fits. If this is not the case, you might simply come across as ridiculous. Whatever you do to make people remember you must fit your construct and character. Furthermore, you must have the ability to be consistent in your uniqueness of character.
Standing out often requires some hyperbolic behaviour. This could be your personality, wardrobe, mannerisms, thinking, verbal expression, written expression, or anything else that makes you distinctive. Great comedians do not just pull a slight face; they pull a ridiculous one; top engineers are micro pedantic on detail; legendary world leaders think three or more times before speaking; etc. Overdoing things, without doubt, gets a whole lot of attention.
5. Do not be Cheap…
Of course, we all wish to be paid well, and if you are skilful at what you do, you most certainly will be. However, the ‘cheap’ I refer to has much more to do with submitting to that which is beyond your purpose. Saying “Yes” to secure a short-term benefit might very well create a long-term dis-benefit.
In my career, there were times that I have often engaged in something that I call, ‘professional prostitution’. In simple terms, this is when you render services purely for money. Of course, the reason that we deliver services is to receive remuneration. But where we do something that conflicts with our purpose and values, it is no more than professional prostitution.
As a consultant, where I’ve engaged in projects and services that I did not really believe in, it was always to make ends meet. What I did not realise is that the customer always remembers you by your last gig. A specific instance jumps to mind: I took on the presentation of a ‘disaster management’ training workshop. This is not my area of speciality, but I needed the money and thus I went ahead. I must have done a good job since many asked me to do so again and again! Eventually, I ended up as the ‘disaster management trainer’, and did these workshops for two-years! Now, this all sounds good and well, but the problem is that, although I pulled this off, it was not my speciality, and even though these workshops were good enough, they were never great. Consequently, customers regarded me as an average trainer, where if I focused on my real expertise, they would distinguish me as ‘the top trainer’.
This is as true for any employee, entrepreneur or manager. It is important to say “NO” to things that will leave a mediocre memory and as important to say “YES’ to things that will make you shine. NEVER BE CHEAP!
In fact, everything said here can be summarised in one word: Assertiveness. I do believe that assertiveness and success are companions to the end.
6. Move On…
The past is a place that does not exist. Self-endorsed victimisation is the practice of not leaving the past. The ability to move on after any emotionally disturbing experience is of essence to personal success. When you struggle to do this, you imprison yourself in a place that only exists in your own mind. To everybody else you are simply a sad soul.
I remember once, sitting in a pub next to a man who was sobbing in tears over his wife who has left him. It was such a sad sight that I thought it had happened this morning. After some conversation, however, I found that this is something that took place more than six years ago! A twilight zone, which only existed to this poor creature, tragicomically trapped him. His ex-wife has moved on – and in – with someone else and most probably rarely thinks of him.
It is a hard and painful reality when one realises that being a victim is no more than a self-imposed choice. Life happens in present moment. What you keep alive from the past is a choice that you make.
Successful people have an amazing ability to hear the word, “YES”. Most authors in this field, would agree that leadership is about influence, which inevitably implies a ‘yes’ response from those whom you attempt to influence. This is the essence of negotiation.
I have always been a staunch disciple of duality; a philosophy that suggests a paradoxical relationship between concepts. In negotiation, for instance, we will assume that the rule is to negotiate. The inverse of this is to NOT negotiate. To understand this duality, we need to appreciate that an increase on the one side necessitates a decrease in the other. In other words, the more I must negotiate, the less I must not not negotiate. Now, if this is true, then vice versa is as true. In other words, if rule ‘1’ is not to negotiate then rule ‘2’ would be to negotiate.
Please bear with me on this conundrum since understanding it is of extreme importance. Let us work with a practical example. When Apple created the IPod, they limited the need for negotiating a bigger piece of the customer pie, which Sony Ericson’s Walkman at that stage controlled. Instead, they baked a new pie. And if you own the entire pie, you do not have to negotiate a bigger piece. If the penny has dropped for you, then at this point, you should understand that where you must negotiate, it infers that you have not been able to position yourself in a place where you do not have to negotiate.
Since any negotiation will create uncertainty of outcome, the most powerful position will always be to not negotiate.
8. Manage Stress…
It is a warm afternoon in the Serengeti as a herd of Impala graze peacefully. A hungry lioness has been watching them for a while. She slowly creeps closer. The scent of danger was sudden as the Impala bull’s entire body snaps into survival mode. The Impala is now in a full physiological state of fight or flight. In this state stress hormones will override all other systems in its body. All major organs no follows suit to provide quick energy. Adrenaline and cortisol, better known as stress hormones, will now flood the Impala bull’s bloodstream. This will increase his alertness to potential danger. To survive, the bull will need every drop of energy. And so, the stress he now experiences will increase his body's metabolism so that he can overcome the effects of fatigue. As the Impala speeds up, his breathing becomes shallow to increase the oxygen supply to his muscles. The need for strong blood flow to his limbs will increase his heart rate and blood pressure. To survive, the Impala will need quick energy. The bull will generate this needed energy through his liver, which will convert all available sugar, fat and cholesterol into fuel. His saliva dries up and the digestion and elimination systems stop so that blood flows away from his internal organs to his muscles and brain. His muscles become tense and ready for action whilst perspiration will cool his body allowing him to burn more energy. But these are not the only physiological changes that takes place. Also, blood-clotting mechanisms will activate to protect him from blood loss in case of injury.
The stress that our Impala now experiences, will depend on the duration and intensity of the threat. And this is exactly the problem. For the Impala, the threat was external, physical and real. As soon as this danger disappears, the Impala’s physiology will return to a normal state. He will now continue to peacefully graze as if nothing ever happened.
This is very dissimilar to the situation where your manager wants a report at 2 p.m.; where you are going through a divorce or where you have excessive debt. Most stress that people experience rarely pose a real physical danger. It is typically one’s own psyche that triggers the emotional trauma. The belief that your stress has an external cause is mostly no more than a self-generated perception.
The problem posed here is that where you cause your own stress – but believe that an external entity is responsible – it can never stop. This is so since the entity that you believe caused your stress has no awareness of such. It is simple logic to assume that the best person to stop something is the person who started it. And every so often, that person is you. In so, clean denial of responsibility for your own stress will be the sole cause for continuation thereof.
The purpose of stress is to prepare your body for a fight / flight situation. Because most human stress is not caused by any real threat or danger, it is self-imposed and therefore it will continue until you stop believing that it is real. Stress suppresses your immune system and this is not meant to last for more than 60 minutes. When stress is excessively prolonged it will cause immense physical harm. There are several health threatening side-effects to drawn-out stress, such as insomnia; heightened tension; irritability; inability to concentrate as well as headaches and increased heartbeat.
Deepak Chopra, an internationally renowned physician and author, states that more than 80% of all diseases are caused by stress. Therefore, to live longer, you need to stress less. If the danger is not physical or life threatening, it is not real.
9. Avoid Depression…
Alec Baldwin; Beyoncé; Marlon Brando; Jim Carrey; Helena Bonham Carter; Ray Charles; Winston Churchill; Kurt Cobain; Charles Darwin; Ellen DeGeneres; Diana - Princess of Wales; Charles Dickens; Bob Dylan; Ernest Hemingway; Sir Anthony Hopkins; Angelina Jolie; Stephen King; John Lennon; Abraham Lincoln; Michelangelo; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and Trevor Noah all have something in common, which is that they all suffered, or are still suffering, from severe depressive disorders. These people all exceled in creativity; mathematics and philosophy, which proves that you can be both, immensely successful and depressed. Moreover, they are just a small group of people that I have extracted from a very long list.
Frequently traumatic life events such as loss of a loved one; unemployment or divorce will cause depression. Yet, there is ample scientific evidence proving that it is very often not a state brought on by choice. In fact, most psychiatrists will state that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance within the brain.
I know many people who suffer from severe depression, and all of them will testify that this is something which they have been living with their entire lives. And so, to state that one should avoid depression is ridiculous.
What I do believe, is that one can manage and live with depression. Research proves that people who suffer from depression should be extremely careful of the choices they make. Bad choices such as substance abuse will for instance increase a depressive mood. In reverse, good habits such as physical exercise; creative hobbies and goal setting will decrease a depressive mood.
10. Resolve Conflict…
As a student of duality, to me, it is always a critical dimension to success. In so, the ability to create conflict is as important as the skill to manage it. The best way to stay relevant is to continuously innovate, but, this causes conflict. At the same time, we do not want our implementation team to have conflict. This is a duality because companies must create conflict to grow and reduce conflict to perform. The one is inversely reliant on the other.
It is not possible to be successful without conflict. This is so because success will require you to challenge ideas, structures, constructs and processes. But mostly, success stands on the shoulders of a team. And as much as this team will experience conflict, they must resolve it to grow and learn. Unresolved conflict will without doubt result in demise.
Take these 10 steps to heart – they will assist you in climbing the ladder to personal branding success!
© 10 October 2016
Strategic Leadership and Organisational Performance Specialist