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The Worst Advice I’ve Ever Given

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I’ve been a coach my entire life in some form or another, but I didn’t start getting paid to be a coach until 2003. In reflecting back on my journey as a coach, author and speaker, I realize I’ve given some terrible, albeit unintentionally so, advice.

Here are few of the doozies … and what I say today:

  1. “Suck it up” — I said this to my sons, the youth football players I coached, friends and clients. It was often accompanied by “Calm down!” For years, I was terrified of unleashed emotion — mine and others. Whenever I saw a person suffering through something, my bias against emotions spurred me to — at best- get them through that period. Certainly there are times that require us to be intensely present, and temporarily manage our feelings and responses to get s**t done. But now I say “Stay focused”. This is practical encouragement — which is what we mostly need in high pressure moments.
  2. “Go find yourself”- This is another example of well-intentioned but poor advice. I said this to Lynna when we moved to Austin. I’ve said it to friends and clients. I now know that we don’t find ourselves, we become ourselves. The original you exists inside you — not out in the world in some place, condition or situation. So now I say “Go inward.” This is where the journey of becoming begins. It is an invitation for self-examination. It is a reminder that you have a map inside you if you seek it.
  3. “Be yourself but not too much” — This was a one-liner I used whenever I gave presentations about personal branding. My intention was to remind people to be aware of how they are perceived. This is important, but the tone of this statement was more about being something so that others would accept you. It perpetuates attachment of your value to someone’s opinion of you. That’s why I now say “be bold.” Boldness is the very rare ability to speak truth in any circumstance and in the face of any kind of pressure. It serves your personal brand far more than managing perceptions.
  4. “Don’t do/say/be that” — I have often told people what to not do or say as a reflection of my own fears and biases. This is a common thing in unaware coaches — we project on others what we want them to be (or not be) and call it “coaching”. That’s not coaching. It’s controlling. I still struggle with this one; always ready to jump in with a “better” way of saying or doing something. I realize now this is reflective of my own insecurities. I now say “What do you really want to say/do/be?” By diving to the root and asking it as a question, I can focus on them and guide them through the process of true expression.

I’m certain there are way more than these four. In fact, if you’re reading this and I’ve ever given you bad advice, post it in the comments! I’m also certain there will be more mistakes as I continue coaching. That’s part of the perfect imperfection of being human — a cycle of fail, improve, grow that, if we’re willing for it, propels us to new levels of love and awareness.

11 Things I’ve Learned About Fear

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This thought came to me recently:

I have been given the privilege of learning fear so that I can teach others how to overcome it.

I guess this explains about why I write and speak so much on fear … and it’s mean and nasty cousins doubt and uncertainty.

So what have I learned about fear in my 46 years?

  1. Fear is a fog. Fear is not a solid. It’s a gas. So you don’t get over fear — you get through it. And just like fog, you just keep going and eventually you get to the other side. Just like fog, fear doesn’t kill you but staying in one place can. You don’t fight fog with your fists. You fight it with light and movement.
  2. Fighting fear makes things worse … at first. The first few attempts at dealing with fear almost always end up as failures. Fear fights dirty and is relentless. Yet if we continue (see above) eventually we will begin to defeat fear. If you just keep fighting, eventually your superior firepower will lead to victory.
  3. The only cure for fear is action. Fears don’t dissipate without some sort of direct action. By taking action, we will see that most fears can be defeated. That’s why it is critical to act on something — even if it is small. Even a small action provides a surge of accomplishment and encouragement.
  4. There’s a difference between danger and fear. Sensing danger is our built-in primal warning system. And it’s is very accurate and should be listened to. Fear is a figment of the imagination; a tool of the ego. Paranoia is when your ego sees fears as dangers — and often ignores actual dangers.
  5. Fear is a friend … if you harness it. Understanding the root of your fear is a great revealer of your true self. Fear also keeps you humble and hungry. Just as we are not trying to kill our egos, we are not trying to eliminate fear itself — just the effects of fear. In this way, fear becomes an ally in producing growth.
  6. The grooves of fear made in childhood don’t heal with time. Unless you get some specific counseling or therapy, childhood trauma creates a permanent groove in your psyche. Until you do specific healing, these wounds remain even if you feel like they don’t effect you. These grooves will inform all of your decisions related to career, relationships and self-worth. By healing them, you are returning the original You.
  7. Your biggest fear is my biggest opportunity for success. Fear is often an early indicator of areas for growth and opportunity. In essence, we are reverse engineering the fog of fear that the ego produces in order to stay in survival mode. By seeing fear as an opportunity and not a threat, we automatically take ownership and dominion over it.
  8. Fear and biases are an unholy alliance. Cognitive biases and world views are always reflective of our fears. When our biases are informed by our fears, we literally see the world different. But that perspective is rarely truth — more just a projection of our fears and experiences. This is the root of any dogmatic, narrow belief system.
  9. Mis-used coping mechanisms cause addiction to fear. Humans are amazingly resilient and relentless. It is one of the things that separates us from other creatures. We have built in coping mechanisms designed to help us survive real trauma and dangerous situations. However, if we mis-use these coping mechanisms, it actually creates an addiction to fear. This is why the best weapon against fear is personal growth. Coping mechanisms make you stay in one place.
  10. Expressed fears always shrink or disappear. When you write or talk about your fears, they always appear smaller than they were in our minds. Using expression to battle fears is why we need a strong group of friends to share with. Fear is rarely defeated alone — which is why we need tribes, communities and other support systems.
  11. Your fears are not your identity. Your fears, doubts and uncertainties are not you. They are a fog around you, but they are not your identity. Just like with experiences, if we attach our identity to our fears, we will be consumed by them. So even in the face of fear, remind yourself that you are separate from any fear.

Why I Stopped Using FUD

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Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. FUD. Tapping into this part of the human psyche is as old as the human race. It is the foundation of most sales training programs, advertising models, and coaching methodologies. It is also rampant in relationships and parenting. It is the recipe for every scary movie or suspense novel.

So why is so prevalent? Because it works (for awhile). FUD taps into the pain center of the brain. It shocks a person into paying attention. The ego hijacks the entire system of reason (mind) and intuition (heart) and screams “Listen to this or die!!!!” It essentially snaps you in to NOW but in a high-alert, ego-centric state that promotes survival instincts.

I used to be the master of using FUD to get what I wanted. I knew the exact language to use to shock people into paying attention to me – especially with large B2B tech deals. I was using my gifts of intuition and communication to poke at emotional bruises and pick at business worries. I wasn’t mean – but I was manipulative.

Then about 5 years ago, I stopped. Not all at once – more of a gradual awakening. I began to learn a new way. First from my top mentors. Then in books like The Go-Giverand Made To Stick. I also had a personal conviction to “love more” – and I didn’t find anything loving and empathic about manipulating people’s fears for my personal gain. I found that there was so much more joy and fulfillment in helping other people achieve joy and fulfillment.

In addition the personal conviction and awakening, there was also a pragmatic reason for not using FUD: it harms relationships. We are now in the Human Age – where kindness is a tremendous competitive advantage. Where providing context and insight are high-value skills that are contrary to FUD tactics.

While FUD may produce short term sales, it kills brands. It ensures that relationships stay permanently at a transactional state: customers buying stuff and employees getting paid to do a job. FUD is unsustainable. Eventually people become numb to it. And using FUD to grow a business may work for awhile, but at what cost to your brand?

So what’s the opposite of FUD? I believe it’s PURPOSE. When people are connected to the meaning of something, it eliminates FUD. When people’s hearts are fed by a transformational idea, they become eager advocates of that idea. This is the intent of a real Brand Promise. That when you believe what we believe, we will all change the world.

A real world example …

Our ideal client at root + river is a 40+ year old leader with a heart. They have built a successful business but don’t really understand modern marketing. No one compliments them on their marketing or their brand. They have noticed that their business is not attracting the next generation of customers and employees. They are experiencing a whole new world that barely looks like the world that they built their business in.

They have plenty of FUD. But we never talk about it in our marketing and messaging. At a maximum, we use content and storytelling to show that their FUD may be creating blindspots. We do address it eventually- where it belongs: in the privacy and sacredness of a coaching session. Instead of FUD, our message and marketing language is about returning to the heart, about becoming a brand that is an extension of your belief system, about authenticity, about wisdom, about influence. We remind these leaders that although their brand may be a bit stale, they are not stale. They are still relevant and still add great value to the world.

Does it work? Yes. In a very short amount of time, we have attracted an amazing array of thoughtful, purposeful clients that are re-invigorated and seeing tremendous results. Would we attract more clients if we used FUD language? Well, we’d probably get more leads. But not leads from leaders that are ready for us. Because it is nearly impossible to re-connect people to their purpose, their calling and their value when they are consumed with fear. Instead, we are attracting leaders that are defiant – refusing to just opt-out to a gated community and retirement. We are attracting leaders with high EQ – the awareness that they need to evolve. We are attracting leaders who believe in meaning – and see their business and brand as an extension of their purpose.

It really comes down to this … when you talk to me (or Emily, Jen or Cat), I want you to feel uplifted and encouraged. I want to “provide a word in season to those that are weary.” I want to be memorable because I invested in your heart. And that is why I will never use FUD again.

6 Branding Lessons from Geno’s Steaks

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Despite a heavy travel schedule over the past 15 years, last week was my first trip to Philadelphia.  While there, I asked some of the locals I met the best place to experience an authentic Philly Cheese Steak.  Of course, I received plenty of opinions but went with the most common suggestion – Geno’s Steaks. So on a Saturday afternoon, I found my way to Geno’s.  Not only did I have an awesome experience, I learned six more lessons about branding from Geno’s.

  1. Keep it simple – Cash only.  Simple menu.  No inside seating.  Brands tend to way over-complicate things.  To paraphrase Steve Jobs: sometimes the consumer just needs to be told what to buy.
  2. Stand out visually – There is zero doubt when you find Geno’s.  Bright signs.  Name on all street-facing sides of the building.  Everything painted Geno’s “orange”.  All employees in Geno’s gear.
  3. Create a line – The massive line out front also told you that you’d find Geno’s – and that it was worth the wait.  Ordering from a single window wasn’t the most efficient for Geno’s or the customers – but it created a massive line of people publicly stating their willingess to wait for something different.
  4. Have secret codes –  In addition to the recommendation for Geno’s, I was instructed in great detail about how to order.  My friend Kevin had taken me step by step through the process of how to order and what to say.  As I approached the window (20 minutes after I got in line), I simply said “Provolone with” and handed the lady a $10 bill.  I then watched the guy after me ask a bunch of questions and generally look like a tourist.
  5. Don’t afraid to be polarizing – At the order window is a sign that says “You are in America.  Order in English”. Being different (and controversial) forces polarization.  Polarization gives you a clear audience to attract.
  6. Stay true to your roots –  As this was my first Philly Cheese Steak experience, I don’t know if it was better than other cheese steaks in the area.  But I believed that Geno’s believes it is.  You can feel the pride and conviction for their brand.

A brand is a meaningful, relevant presence in the marketplace.  100% for Geno’s

Branding is the authentic amplification of what makes you awesome.  100% for Geno’s.

It’s not a brand if it doesn’t create stories, emotion and memories.  100% for Geno’s.

Differentiation Starts with Being Different

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Standing out is the most basic element of branding.  Getting noticed is the spark that leads to brand awareness – and maybe even convinces someone to buy your stuff.

This is called “differentiation”.  Here is a definition straight from Wikipedia:  In marketing, product differentiation (also known simply as “differentiation“) is the process of distinguishing a product or offering from others, to make it more attractive to a particular target market. This involves differentiating it from competitors‘ products as well as a firm’s own product offerings.

Differentiation in the glory days of branding meant buying “breadth” – simply buying enough advertising and promotion to create a brand.  All it took was money and a decent ad agency.  There are hundreds of examples of brands that were created this way.  The irony is that very few of them were actually good products.  Case in point: harken back to the crapmobiles that American car companies were pushing in the 80s and 90s.

In the past few years, three massive changes have taken place that have stood marketing on its collective ear:

  • Media fragmentation permanently changed “appointment television”
  • Social media made everyone hyper-connected
  • Over-commoditization created an over-supply of just about everything.

These 3 trends – and their ripple effect – changed the definition and purpose of differentiation.  Now, differentiation starts with actually being different.  Godin calls it a “purple cow”.  I call it bacon.  Regardless of the metaphor, you have to make or do something that has “wow” built right in.

A few modern brands get this: Ford, Apple, Google, Zappos, Ikea to name a few.  But many brands are still using the lens that the sheer act of creating an ad or promotion is differentiation.

Examples:

  1. Verizon’s Xoom – Part of the ever growing “pad” market, Verizon’s ads for the Xoom make little to no differentiation with it’s #1 competitor, the iPad.  The ads show the same features and benefits as other pads on the market – albeit, presented with lots of explosions and cool graphics.  Maybe the Xoom is different and better than the iPad, but you’d never know it from the commercials.
  2. Yahoo Mail – Yahoo is now spending ad dollars on promoting their e-mail program.  Maybe they are going after the straggler/laggard market, but the language of the ad is straight out of 1999.
  3. Bank of America – Their ads are particularly annoying because they promote features that other banks have had for years: on-line banking, bill pay, better ATMs, etc.
  4. State Farm – I’m sure State Farm is full of good people, but their new campaign of young, hip people singing the State Farm jingle has zero differentiation.  Maybe the message is that State Farm is available in case you need help, but that is lost in all of the gimmickry

Keep in mind that these are not poorly produced ads.  They are well-shot with high quality production.  The problem is the mindset behind the ads.  Competition for minds and dollars is an intense as ever.  So if you decide to spend money on promoting your stuff, at least give your marketing people and ad agency something to work with.