Unleashing Your Voice Blog


I met Elise Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell, when I gave a keynote last month at the PRSA’s Counselors Academy (a convening of C-suite leaders throughout the public relations industry).  She has a great story, building essentially a one-woman communications practice in Fayetteville, Arkansas, into one of the top 10 fastest-growing public relations companies in the world (and winning all kinds of industry kudos along the way).  She’s also recently released her first book, Leading Through the Turn–a leadership book that cphoto cindy blog motorcycle bookombines lessons learned from her passion for motorcycles with her conviction that real professional success and significance has to be  about the journey as much as the destination.

That’s an idea that gets traction in personal growth circles, but not so much in the business world where crossing the finish line fast is often revered above all else.  Elise found a voice with an alternative view, and had both the passion and conviction to speak her truth.

Any organization, leader or professional who wants to find an authentic and inspiring voice needs to do the very same thing.  It’s about aligning your Why (the passion that motivates and fuels your journey) with your What (the conviction that shapes meaningful, destination-oriented action).  When you do that, what you say will always convey the courage of your convictions—and your communications will carry the kind of heart and determination that gets heard.   Even the more provocative things you have to say will be received differently because they’re grounded in authenticity.  Remember this:

  • If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll find the confidence to say what you believe is right–even though other people may not agree or approve
  • If you have the courage of your convictions, you’ll become brave enough to do what you feel is right—despite any external pressure for your to act differently

You’ve got to get in touch with both your passion and your position to do this, though. Having the courage of your convictions is really about bringing both the head and the heart into play, and that’s a hard to ignore combination because it leverages both feelings/emotions and thoughts/beliefs.  Remember that passion is a strongly held feeling of enthusiasm or excitement that brings you alive for others.  Conviction is a strongly held thought or belief that lends credibility to your stance.   Enjoying the journey and reaching your destination usually doesn’t happen if you don’t have both.  Why?

  • Passion without conviction can be disempowering–generating a lot of excitement without anything actually happening. Passion without conviction can actually be baseless, overly zealous, shrill (and even dangerous if it’s blind).
  • Conviction without passion can be disengaging—generating a lot of action that may start to feel purposeless over time. Conviction without passion can actually be judgmental, dogmatic, flat (and even dangerous if it’s heartless).

If you want to get more in touch with the real courage of your convictions, take a few minutes to explore these questions and what the answers really mean.  This can be an exercise you do for yourself as a leader or with a group as a culture or brand-building activity.  Once you’ve brainstormed your answers, then consider how those insights could shape a more powerful stance, start a conversation or just get others more interested in you.  I’ll share my own answers as an example.

What are you most passionate about, and why does that matter to you?  (NOTE:  Don’t just list things you like to do at work; this exercise is about finding clues to your voice through a more holistic lens. Would that look different for a group or organization?  Sure, but brainstorm a list of individual interests to see if some collective passions emerge that might also be shaping/driving your culture).      

So, I’m passionate about expression and identity, redemptive stories, great writing and design, music with moving lyrics, color, abstract painting and collages, poetic voices, positive psychology, human motivation, causes/organizations that empower well being, mentoring, purpose and legacy.

If I think about why these things matter to me, the pattern that emerges is my core identity as a creative type who loves expression that’s meaningful and really matters (and has a positive, purposeful tone).

What do you know or believe more than anything else, and what are you willing to do because of that? (NOTE:  Remember, these are core principles that shape who you are and what actions you’ll take.  Shared beliefs would be uncovered in a group exercise to explore this question as well).

So, here are my answers:  I believe that everyone has a story to tell and a voice that deserves to be heard.  I believe that there’s something special about every individual and organization that needs to be seen and acknowledged.  I believe that we’re all part of a tapestry where every thread matters.  I believe that well being is a fundamental human right.

If I think about what I’ll do as a result—well, it feels like I’m doing this right now—authentic branding/communications work that helps individuals and organizations get heard and contribute in important ways.  I especially love working with purpose-driven organizations and non-profits that cultivate well being and serve the under-served, so that fits in as well.

When I put passion and conviction together, I think it gets back to my slogan.  My premise is that a truly authentic voice is essential for success, contribution and well being.  If that’s provocative, it’s only because a lot of communications out there are about spin and saying what we think other people want to hear.  I like helping my clients be courageous enough to lead and shape their brands with authenticity.

So where does the courage of your convictions take you?  Feel free to share any insights about your own courageous convictions with me (or tweet them to @storybrander).  And remember to enjoy the ride as you move toward that finish line!

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value.  Take the SVSS for yourself here:  http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.

I love a good story.  You probably do, too.  Stories influence, inspire and capture our imaginations like nothing else.  We tell them all the time, whether we realize it or not.  And they scare the heck out of many of my clients.

I’m not talking horror stories here, and I certainly don’t mean my clients are literally afraid of narratives. What sometimes gets me a deer-in-headlights look is suggesting they need to know and live and tell their own story in the world to have a really successful brand.  Maybe it’s a little intimidating to realize that answering the question who are you? is what jump starts a compelling brand identity—but it’s the surest path to being seen, heard and apprecman and woman with 3d book pile backgroundiated for something that draws the right clients, members, donors or other important audiences to you.

Traditional branding strategy says you should start by understanding your target audiences.  And of course you absolutely do need to know what they care about and what makes them tick.  First, though, you need to understand who you are and what you’re uniquely prepared to do so that you can have a vibrant, vital, authentic, arresting conversation with the world about it.  This applies whether you’re a solo practitioner or running a firm—a “self” is either an individual with a personal identity or a collective with a discernible character and capacity (which usually adds up to a strong  group culture).

When you understand yourself, you have a foundation for creating the kind of zeal that gets attention.  So if you want to get crystal clear on your unique value, start by typecasting you or your organization as the protagonist in a story you’re truly moved to live and tell in the world.  Then frame a narrative that’s based on the two key components of a truly great story:

  • Every inspiring protagonist has a quest—it’s the purpose that captures your reason for being; a fuel that enlivens and animates you.  Getting in touch with purpose keeps you and/or your people truly engaged in your work.
  • Every great story has a happy ending—it’s the promise or outcome you can always be counted on to deliver.  Getting in touch with promise clarifies what makes your story matter to anyone else.

I’m a Creator with a quest—and a purpose— to help my clients understand and let others know who they really are in the world.  I’m a zealot for “empowering self expression”—the kind that positions organizations and people to talk about what matters most to them.  Why should anyone care about that?  Well, I promise to help clients find a voice that will inspire and influence others (added bonus:  they’ll probably experience more aliveness and even joy while they’re doing it, too).

You’ve got a story as well, and it really should be the foundation for your brand personality and messaging.  You can start the process by “story typing” your enterprise, which involves exploring what kind of protagonist you or your organization is most like—and articulating a purpose or promise its story arc suggests.  Is that kind of process really good business?  You bet it is, and here are some of the many reasons why:

  • Story-based branding is built on the motivational drivers that have inspired and engaged human beings since the beginning of time.  You can use other techniques to inform your audiences, promote your services, and even connect with them on a personal level.  Nothing motivates better than evoking a narrative that suggests how everything is going to turn out, though (and casting yourself as the protagonist who can resolve whatever conflict might get in the way).
  • A great storyline helps you leverage both your strengths and your values.  The protagonists in great stories rely on a combination of strengths (what they’re good at) and values (what they care about) to accomplish their missions.  There’s no story without both.  Strengths are critical, but they’re actually not nearly as memorable as values.  At the end of the day, you’re most likely to be defined by the value system that others associate with you.  It makes great business sense to be deliberate about how you want to be perceived instead of letting other people draw their own conclusions about what you stand for.
  • An authentic storyline is your most powerful trust-building tool.  Truth-based communications build credibility and draw others in through genuine attraction to something that has a true pull for them.  That sets up an entirely different dynamic than basing your brand on what you think your audience wants to hear, and establishes a trust-focused relationship from the outset.  Conviction and passion just ring true, and that’s what story-based branding is all about.

So let your sense of self breathe life into your brand—and let your brand become an authentic expression that creates more success and fulfillment in your world.

This post was adapted from an earlier version that appeared on http://www.caprsa.com/news/.

Cindy Atlee wrote her first (and last!) novel at the age of 13. After a brief foray into journalism (interviewing Jimmy Buffet in a bowling counts as journalism, right?), she became a brand strategist, coach and facilitator—eventually serving as SVP, Branding & Organizational Culture, at the global public relations firm Porter Novelli.  She’s now founding partner at The Storybranding Group, where she helps clients define and give voice to what’s best, most distinctive and appealing about them.

This is the third blog post in my three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building.   Read part one:  How the Most Watched TED Talk of All Time Got it Wrong.  Read part two:  Why You Must Tell the World What You’re For. 

I worked for a while with a client who literally brimmed over with passion, enthusiasm and excitement—for something different almost every time we met. Now don’t get me wrong, this client had a lot going for him. He had a well developed, positive sense of identity that shaped his Who.  He was frequently on fire about his purpose and very eloquent about his Why.  But he never seemed to translate it into action. This client was definitely What-challenged.

Business people jumping on springboard as progress conceptOur work together was about changing that, and the breakthrough for him happened when it came to meaningfully articulating the What of his career path and business direction.

In my last two posts, I’ve talked about the first two components of a great story: Who and Why. There’s no story without a protagonist (who) embarked on a purposeful quest (why). There’s also no closure without a happy ending (well, maybe a cautionary tale, but no one wants to be the subject or object of that!). A happy ending is all about What—what kind of action the protagonist took to resolve the conflict, what kind of outcome ensued and maybe even a hint of what might happen next.

Knowing who you are and having a purpose is the foundation for any kind of authentic individual or group identity and meaning—and that won’t take you or your group very far if you don’t articulate what you’ll do in response to this insight.  In some ways, this can be tougher than defining your Who and Why.  Nailing your What requires real conviction and a commitment to staying a course (at least for a while).  It also means that people with a preference for the conceptual (those of us who love the Why, like my client and also like me!) must learn how to embrace a concrete direction to activate what matters most to us.

The Three Faces of What—and How They Shape Success and Fulfillment

It turns out that most of us have a preference for either Why or What, and those are two sides of a coin that must both be managed and leveraged for meaningful individual or group development.  Too much emphasis on Why can lead to inaction and endless meandering.  Too much focus on What can produce ennui and burnout (an epidemic in many organizations these days).  Being intentional about both sets the stage for a more cohesive kind of fulfillment and success that doesn’t drop each of them into mutually exclusive buckets.

This requires some truly thoughtful attention to the multi-faceted nature of What, though, and some exploration of how its three facets (promise, mission and vision) should be aligned if you want to define and live an authentic and meaningful story.  Remember that What is not just a big promise or a laundry list of tasks, and it doesn’t play out in isolation from who you are and why you you’re motivated to promise or do anything in the first place.  So consider the following:

Face #1:  Promise.  Your promise articulates your value and what it really means. Key question:  What can you always be counted on to deliver that matters to anyone else?  We all needs others to hire, partner, collaborate or engage with us in some way, so it’s critically important that we’re seen and appreciated for the actual value we can provide.   That’s why the happy ending to a storyline is so important—it represents a powerful promise that you can always be counted on to keep, one that matters to you and to others as well if you’ve developed it with care.   A promise statement specifically defines the impact you’ll make that can draw others to you.

Remember also that promise is a timely, situational external expression (making it possible to bring purpose to life in a way that adds value for others).  It may change based on the situation and the kind of impact that’s needed in the moment—but it should always align with who you are and what you’re purpose-built to deliver.

Face #2:  Mission.  Your mission gives concrete shape to the inspired action you’re uniquely prepared to take. Key question:  What are the specific things you should do to deliver on your promise? There are lots of different ways to define mission, but mine is based on the tasks you’ll take on to deliver your purpose and promise.  Your mission should either very specifically shape the products and services that you or your organization offers—or define the inspired steps you are uniquely prepared to take in providing them.  Mission propels you forward through tangible action.  And, it’s also where the rubber meets the road for folks like my client in terms of implementing your dreams.

 The concreteness of mission is especially important for people who love to explore, imagine, envision and ponder (again, people like my client and me!).  With a fully fleshed out storyline, it becomes much easier to narrow down the range of many possibilities that look so good to us.

Face #3:  Vision.  Your vision describes an inspiring future that you’ll want to move toward. Key question:  What could the world look like when your purpose is fulfilled and your promise is energetically activated?  Some people think of purpose and vision as one and the same, but I don’t.  For me, purpose exists in the here and now, guiding how you show up in the present moment and what engages you most in life.  Vision exists in the future, always pulling you toward something bigger.  Often, vision can feel like a cause or a movement that your purpose could fuel into realization.

The conceptual nature of vision is especially important for people who tend to be task oriented and action driven because it gives them a raison d’etre beyond simply getting the next thing done.  By developing a storyline, people like this can find greater fulfillment and discover what really matters most to them in the long run.

So, what does all this look like for you?  Feel free to share a promise, mission or vision statement in the comments or send me a tweet @storybrander.

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help professionals, teams and organizations understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy helps individual and organizational clients cast themselves in a compelling, enduring story that authentically conveys their unique value.  Find out more about her next career development program here:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/becoming-known-well-5-weeks-to-an-authentic-personal-brand-career-path-tickets-33428813481

This is the second blog post in my three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building. 

Last month, I had the amazing privilege of working with 1,500 educator-leaders at the National Education Association’s annual leadership summit.  These are educators who do even more than serve students in their classrooms and their communities—as if that wasn’t enough!  Every one of them has also taken on a local, state and/or national role as an activist and mobilizer for students and their inalienable rights to a great public education.  They’re as dedicated a group as I’ve ever seen.advocacy word written on wood block. Wooden alphabet on a blue background.

The work with NEA was designed to help attendees get in touch with a deeply authentic sense of self, and to claim a voice that leveraged what was most special, unique and different about each of them.  It was the first time I’d ever tried such a large-group story typing process.  And yes, it was daunting to think about how we could shape an experience that would engage 1,500 people.

I shouldn’t have worried.  This was exactly the right group for the work, and I think that’s because they have a fierce draw to the Why of their storyline—there’s a quest, a purpose, a reason for being that drives them.  We just needed to help them understand the nature of their Who (a strong individualized sense of best self) and how it aligned with their Why (the fuel that energizes and motivates them) so that a personal narrative could start taking recognizable shape.  Their conviction and passion took over from there.

Advocacy is at the Heart of Your Why

You couldn’t find better folks than the ones who are part of the NEA. There’s no question that their organization’s very heart beats to the drum of advocacy.  I had a little epiphany as I worked with them, too, and this is it:  We all need to be advocates.  I don’t think there are any exceptions.

  • Any organization that wants to build an inspired workforce, fiercely loyal customer base or highly engaged stakeholder group of any kind needs to start thinking of themselves as advocates for something
  • So does any leader who wants to build a productive, committed team
  • So does any professional who wants to make a meaningful, successful, enduring contribution with their work

Advocacy is at the very heart of purpose.  It articulates what you’re for (and isn’t that a relief in a world where we seem to spend all of our time talking about what we’re against?).  It motivates you to keep on going despite the challenges.  It builds common ground.  It defines your quest and shapes a storyline that draws other people in.  And here’s the great news:  every one of us can be a powerful advocate, and you don’t have to be saving the world to show up that way. You just need to answer one powerful question:

  • What are you deeply, meaningfully, intensely, vociferously, no-holds-barred for in the world?

The answer could be laughter or self expression or tolerance or chocolate (okay, the right kind of chocolate actually can save the world, can’t it)?

Story type can help you answer that question, because knowing who you are offers profound clues about your passion and conviction—and those are the key shapers of advocacy, purpose and Why.  It’s the Jester who lives for laughter and joy; the Creator who’s compelled to stand up for everyone’s right to tell their own story; the Everyperson who holds diversity most dearly and fiercely.  Once you’re clear on Who you are as the protagonist of an individual or collective story, an inevitable narrative arc begins to develop that takes you directly to insights about your quest, your purpose, your advocacy and your Why.  So if you want a great brand, team, culture or leadership identity, remember the following:

  • Why provides the motivating, energizing fuel that can inspire you or anyone inside your organization to get out of bed in the morning and keep moving throughout the day. A purposeless career, team or organizational life often ends up feeling devoid of meaning or a sense of aliveness.  A purposeful career, team or organizational life provides motivational drivers that keep people committed and contributory.
  • Why helps you inspire and involve others as well. Sharing a powerful purpose actually invite others to define their own best selves or higher callings—and can help them align with something aspirational about you or your organization that forges loyalty and builds deeper engagement.
  • Why helps shape a voice or brand that others relate to on a visceral, emotional level. That’s where relationships are forged and sustained, and where lasting value is created and built.

So once you’ve established your Who—and cast yourself in a meaningful, enduring role that captures your best self—move on to your Why.  Ask yourself what your protagonist most wants to advocate for and take in that energy and motivation.  Then, get moving on your quest!

In my next post, I’ll talk about the happy ending to your story—the promise you’re willing to make, and the outcome you’re committed to delivering for others.

 

This is the first blog post in a three-part series on the who/why/what of branding, professional/leadership development and team/culture building. 

Let me start with full disclosure.  Simon Sinek’s Start with Why treatise is one of the top 10 most watched Ted Talks of all time.  And I think Simon Sinek is great.  I refer my clients to his Ted Talk all the time.  Essentially, Sinek says that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”  Why is all about your purpose and your reason for being, according to Sinek, which he thinks is way more interesting than what it is you actually do.  He also says if you know your Why, you’ll figure out the What and then the How.

I totally agree with Simon, except for one thing—he starts a question too late for me.  Instead of starting with their WManWithColorshy, I think people and groups who want to understand themselves and/or compel others need to start with their Who.  Articulating who you really are is the key to finding your passion, your conviction, your authenticity and your voice.  It’s also the foundation on which trust, relationship and engagement are built.  That’s because we understand ourselves and each other through the framework of narratives—and stories always unfold in a who, why and what sequence.  Here are the three components that shape any great storyline:

  • Who: A protagonist (the best self of an individual or team that creates the impetus for a narrative based on something deeply true about their identity)
  • Why: A quest (the protagonist’s purpose, which ultimately is challenged by a conflict that stops its fulfillment)
  • What: A happy ending (the protagonist’s promise, or the ultimate conflict resolution the protagonist can enable or produce).

Using Your Who to Build Motivation, Engagement and Trust

Every truly developed individual, team or organization needs to explore and articulate who they are, why they need to exist and what they’ll do or deliver as a result.  The answers to those questions can shape an identity that makes compelling sense of us to ourselves and others—and frame a guidance system for our beliefs and actions that keeps us true to that essential sense of self.  Consider these other reasons for starting with Who instead of Why:

  • Who is a two-dimensional question—it makes us look at the dynamic combination of strengths and values that forge a best self. The protagonists in great stories always succeed because their most authentic strengths and values work in tandem, not as isolated parts.  The combination of genuine strengths and values makes any protagonist more credible, more deeply empowered and ultimately more likely to be successful.  This step is also the foundation in developing an inspiring leadership or professional presence.
  • Who is the foundation for answering the Why and the What of our existence. It’s really tough to know why you’re here if you don’t know who you are and how you want to be.  Many people I talk to say they don’t know what their passion or purpose is—often, it’s because they’ve skipped an exploration of their own character and capacity as a first step.
  • Who makes it much easier to tell our own story to others. My organizational clients often tell me they don’t know how to tell their own story well.  Any great story begins with characters that everyone can understand and relate to—so casting ourselves or our organizations in a role and/or locating ourselves in a storyline that conveys who we really are is the first step in knowing and sharing our real story.  It’s also the foundation of a great brand.
  • Who fuels positive intrinsic motivation and engagement. Knowing who we are can breathe more vivid life into everything we do, motivating and empowering us in our work and in our worlds.  When organizations help their people do this—and leverage the contribution quotient that’s discovered—true employee engagement can be developed.  Great teams and cultures can be built on this kind of foundation.
  • Who builds authenticity and trust. Customers or other stakeholders are also more likely to engage with organizations when their authentic strengths and values are clear.  It’s critical to remember that no relationship moves forward without trust (including the one we have with ourselves).

So, what are the best ways to find and express your Who?  The following steps apply to professionals/leaders, teams or organizations:

Step #1:  Cast yourself in an authentic individual or organizational role.  You can start that process using the free Professional Strengths, Values and Story Survey, which measures how much you relate to 12 universally well-known characters in stories that have recurred throughout time.  Here’s the link:   http://www.storybranding.com/take-the-svss-survey/.

Step #2:  Articulate your story-based strengths and values.  Once you’ve started working with a character, you need to understand your own way of expressing and living its core attributes.  Make a list of the specific strengths you bring to the table because you’re like this, and the related values that matter most to you when it comes to professional success, fulfillment and contribution.

Step #3:  Create a defining identity statement.   To anchor your sense of self, you can create a statement that articulates the real nature of who you are.  Here’s a template to fill out:

At my/our best, we’re most like a (fill in the character) because: _____________________________.

If you don’t want to work with the SVSS to establish a character, here’s another line you can work with:

At my/our best, who we really are is:___________________________________________________.

In my next post, I’ll talk about building on Who to get at your Why.  Meanwhile, feel free to share who you are in the comments!

Cindy Atlee is a Creator type who loves to help clients understand and express who they really are in the world.  She’s the principal of The Storybranding Group and co-author of the Professional Strengths, Values & Story Survey (SVSS).  Cindy also trains coaches and consultants to work with the story typing framework; find out about her next training from March 29-31 here:  http://bit.do/March2017StoryTypeTraining