My Interview on The Complete Leader Podcast

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I was honored to be interviewed by Dale Dixon for The Complete Leader podcast.

The foundation of the conversation was about our root + river philosophy that “Leading is Branding”. I visited with Dale about how branding is no longer done in a vacuum separate from leadership behavior, organization culture, product/service quality – and how every leadership decision manifests in the brand in some way.  I shared three tips for how leaders can greatly influence their corporate brand and their personal brand by re-examining their self-care, habits and thinking as leaders.

Link here. 

I am a faculty member for The Complete Leader, a cohort-style leadership development program designed to rapidly prepare emerging leaders for senior positions. Learn more about The Complete Leader here.

root + river Open Letter

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2014 seems like a hundred years ago. It started with a whisper of awakenings and epiphanies, which became a roar of revelations. Then a move to Austin. Then the conviction that it was time to break out of the steady comfort of being a freelance consultant. That it was time to build something new and daring that blended leadership and branding, spiritual and practical, commerce and creativity.

The result is a new branding firm called root + river.

Launched initially as a creative platform with Emily Soccorsy to change leaders’ perspectives on modern branding, root + river quickly evolved into a business idea. We saw a huge need in the marketplace for a firm that could help leaders convert their 20th century equity into a 21st century brand.

2015 was spent honing, testing, arguing over and refining our language, processes and methods. This past year of working with clients proved our ideas and methods. The year also proved that I had found the perfect business partner in Emily. She is one of the most intense, smart, creative and heart-driven people I’ve ever known. If you don’t know Emily, I encourage you to follow her on twitter @emilyatlarge.

Now root + river is ready to share with the world. To serve rebellious leaders. To piss off institutionalists. To make branding mean something more than interruption and persuasion and instead make branding about leading from the heart, telling the truth and being a monument to a set of beliefs.

Please check out our website at for more, but here are few things to note:

  • We believe all brands start at the root — and this root is found in the heart and soul of the leader. From this root grows a set of beliefs that become the brand’s ultimate differentiators and constant source of value creation — manifested in the culture, products and human experience.
  • The core of our expertise is around defining a leader’s and/or organization’s core values and beliefs, translating those into a heart-provoking message and amplifying that message with modern marketing methods.
  • We primarily work with leaders over 40 that ready to opt-in to becoming a 21st century brand but don’t know how.

We provide the most value and impact for leaders that …

… are soulful, high EQ humans with a relentless heart for others.

… want to redefine and re-energize a brand that has become stale and boring — their personal brand or their organization brand … or both!

… have a strong conviction to build a brand that is bold, daring and aligned with their purpose and calling.

We work with solo entrepreneurs to small business owners to marketing leaders at large organizations. We have also partnered with a variety of brilliant experts on all tactical aspects of modern marketing so that we can focus on what we do best: strategy, message and coaching.

If this brings to mind a leader that we can serve, we would appreciate an intro. And if the leader that comes to mind is you, let’s talk!

In the interim, please follow us and mention us on social media:

Twitter: @rootandriver

LinkedIn: root + river

Facebook: root + river

Instagram: @rootandriver



Productivity Alphabet Soup

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One of my goals for 2016 is to teach what I learn from the dark side of being an entrepreneur, leader and human. I want to share my failures, struggles, fears etc in the hope that others will learn from that – and I will use these learnings to grow as well.

So here is one … I suck at being productive.

I’ve struggled to be productive my entire life. Or more accurately, I struggle to be productive when I don’t FEEL like being productive.  I have learned recently that this particular weakness is rooted in impulse vs initiative. This means that when I lose the power of choice, my “productivity” is only impulsive and not proactive. It permeates other parts of my life: fitness, learning, relationships, content creation, finances. If I feel like it, I do it. If I don’t feel it, I will still do it … eventually. And only after wallowing in shame and self-pity.

Any weakness is an opportunity to improve and the opportunity to use a system to create new habits. Having tried an extensive variety of other people’s productivity systems, I only learned that I’m good at not implementing other people’s productive systems #snark.

So in early 2016, I created my own. I call it the “Alphabet Soup” productivity system. I divide my time (which includes focus and energy) into four categories:

MCW – Mission Critical Work: One of our mantras at root + river is “Strategy first, tactics” second, so I apply that to productivity as well. MCW are action items that are directly tied to a strategy or iniative. I typically map that out in groups of 3 – 5 strategic goals – then decide weekly and daily what action needs to be taken to reach those goals. I never have more than five MCW items per week to keep focused – and to make sure that everything doesn’t become mission critical!

GSD – Get [Stuff] Done. This is a phrase I picked up from my business partner Emily Soccorsy. It’s exactly as it sounds – make a list and get it done. I start each morning with a fresh list of no more than seven GSD items. For me, it almost always follows in this order: 1) client work 2) business development and 3) grow the brand. This order keeps me client-centric – which is good for business development and growing the brand.

MSH – Make Someone Happy. For me this is more spiritual than tactical. If someone crosses my heart, I always reach out with at least a text or an email. I also have a rolling list of 8 – 10 influencer relationships that I apply the “Go Giver”principles to. Which, simply put, is “How can I serve them”?  This extends out to conversations with strangers where I try to engage their hearts with a smile or a conversation.

WOM – Work on Me.  In this area, I am trying to follow the counsel and coaching I give to my Austin Sessions clients. Which is this: self-worth drives everything else. I try to work on something weekly and daily in what I call the 5 Pillars of Self-Worth: 1) Physical output 2) Intellectual input 3) Emotional sensitivity 4) Spiritual intelligence and 5) Passion/energy. Each pillar has a 1 – 5 rating (5 the highest) with an action item for each one to move that rating up. I have found without exception that when my pillar ratings are 3.5 or higher, I’m far more productive.

Keep in mind that these are just a system for productivity. As soon as you become a system worshipper, the system is no longer effective. As such, these are no replacement for deep connections, honest conversations, shared adventures and the unexpected magic of life. But they may help you GSD as long as you remember to do MCW first, don’t forget to MSH – and above all, WOM!

Disrupt or Decay? 5 Natural Forces Shaping Your Brand

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We all see the changes. Internal and external forces pushing and pulling on brands. We see the disintegration of the old ways of doing business – but also the emergence of new ways that encourage collaboration, transparency and deeper connections. As market forces and societal trends shape brands, business leaders have a tremendous opportunity to harness these trends rather than just respond to them.

In a presentation is available as a keynote or a half-day executive retreat, I share my insights on 5 emerging business trends that are shaping the future of your brand – including your personal brand – and 5 competencies necessary to harness these trends. Relevant to senior executives, marketing teams and entrepreneurs, this talk covers:

• The convergence of leadership, culture and innovation.
• How Social Business impacts every area of business.
• The rise of “Rebellious Traditionalists”
• 5 competencies required for modern branding
• How to leverage your personal brand to elevate your company brand.

Fear and the Entrepreneur

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I-have-accepted-fear-quoteAn entrepreneur’s relationship with fear is the leading indicator of whether or not he/she will be successful.

Entreprenuers do not get choose whether or not to have fear. They only get to choose what they do with it. I’ve witnessed this first hand with my own fears as an entreprenuer and working with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the years. I’ve learned that fear is a near permanent condition. I’ve learned that no feeling replaces fear other than action. I’ve learned that bravery is not a feeling, it’s a behavior. I’ve learned that fear can be healthy fuel.

I’ve had a tenous relationship with fear my entire life. After turning 40, I sought some professional counseling due to a series of issues. My therapist asked me this: “What was your predominant emotion as a child?” My answer: fear. Although she was helpful in reconciling this childhood fear, I realized that fear is just part of my being. I’ve learned to embrace it … most of the time.

From 2011 to early 2014, I was involved with as a co-founder and CMO. I worked thousands of hours with the founder and CEO Ken Holsinger as well as with my fellow co-founder, our CTO Casey McMullen. Working in a tech start-up was one of the most intense, gratifying and terrifying experiences of my life. I learned many, many things from Ken but mostly I learned from watching how he handled fear. In his words, “You have to make fear your friend”. And he did … leading Klowd to a successful acquisition.

Fear often prevents entrepreneurs and other leaders from opting-in to modern business (5 of these fears are shared here on the root + river blog). But when they have a healthy relationship with fear, entrepreneurs will have a distinct competitive advantage as well as much happier, more balanced lives.

Here are four examples on how being friends with fear is an advantage:

  • Impulse vs Initiative: A negative relationship with fear makes an entreprenuer prone to impulse. This can be “shiny object syndrome” for new tactics, too quickly scrapping a strategy, listening to the “you should …” voices of friends and family. A healthy relationship with fear helps an entrepreneur learn the power of initiative: taking action on the right things. This creates momentum and a sense of control over the things that are actually controllable.
  • Intuition vs Paranoia: If you have a healthy relationship with fear, your intuition will be a finely tuned instrument for decision making, relationship building and setting priorities. If fear owns you, then your primal instincts will often manifest as paranoia. This creates a doom loop of over-reacting, jumping at shadows and carrying around a cloud of desperation.
  • Truth vs BS: A healthy relationship with fear allows an entrepreneur to simply tell the truth; to embrace vulnerability and transparency. In fact, expressing your fears shrinks them down and allows for reinforcements. Rather than prop up an image or try to put a shine on everything, they will speak the truth to employees, customers, investors, etc.
  • Message vs Slogan: The healthy entrepreneur always has a message to share. They speak their message in the face of fear. In fact, expressing the message helps alleviate fear. The entrepreneur with an unhealthy relationship with fear is always worried about offending someone or saying just the right thing to get the deal, or waving the magic wand of a slogan.

Most days, I still wake up terrified. But I’ve learned to re-channel this terror to remind me to keep going, to listen to my heart, to speak truth, to love people, to act on what I can control. Even if sometimes all I can control is to rest, heal and return to fight on.

Client Story: The Shoe That Grows

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kenton leeThe Shoe That Grows is story of a passionate leader chasing a conviction and making it come true in a very real and very impactful way. The founder of The Shoe That Grows, Kenton Lee shares his experience of working with Justin.


What problem or situation did you engage with Justin to help resolve?

We had always been a small nonprofit organization that was working on this one big project (The Shoe That Grows).  It took us years, but we got through all of our designing, prototyping, and testing. We were all set and ready to unveil The Shoe That Grows in the Fall of 2014. And we brought Justin in to help us get ready for the launch.

How would you describe the experience of working with Justin in the Discovery Session?

Justin is so great. He is incredibly personable. He is funny. He comes prepared. He communicates incredibly well – one-on-one, in a group, etc. We met at a local coffee shop and worked together for a few hours.  It was a memorable and impactful.

Coming out of the Discovery Session, what was the recommended brand strategy?

The recommended brand strategy was for us to really focus on our WHY – “Practical Compassion”- and then a few more specific things, too. The biggest and best thing that Justin did for our brand was help us discover our WHY. It has been the foundation of our messaging since then.

As you implemented Justin’s recommendations, what were some of the outcomes?

We had SO many people tell us that they love our shoes. But they also tell us that they CONNECT with our mission of “Practical Compassion”. They really identify with it. They believe in the same thing. They love this concept of “Practical Compassion”. So as we had larger and larger publicity – more and more people were connecting with this message of “Practical Compassion”.

What has been the most important takeaway or benefit from working with Justin?

Two things. 1) Justin is my friend. We became friends. His support and connection means SO much to me. I did not expect us to become friends necessarily – but, really, that has become the most important and valuable (and fun) part of the experience working with Justin.  2) Discovering and promoting our WHY – “Practical Compassion”.