I recently took my three sons to a local “fun center,” you know the drill: go-carts, laser tag, bumper boats, and 5,500 tickets earned to buy a $6.00 toy.
Because of their age and height, we only qualified for the “starter” go-carts (even with a last-minute whisper to the youngest to walk on his toes as he passed the yard stick).
So I situated the boys in their go-carts, found an adult version where my knees weren’t touching my chin, and strapped in.
The attendant was (please pre-forgive me for this) a totally stereotypical “fun center” summer employee. A late teen boy. Shaggy hair, slouched shoulders, and less confidence and vocal range than a newborn fawn. After several inaudible exchanges with him (all of which seemed to contradict themselves), I was ready to become “dad of the year,” when I saw him walk my way. He approached my cart and looked at me thus-far uncharacteristically straight in my eye and said, “Can I ask you a question? Why do you all dress the same?”
If you’d offered me $1 million in cash to guess why he was walking toward me or what he was going to ask me, I would not have won.
What you may know about me is that basically since their birth, I have taken great pleasure in dressing our three sons. Typically all the same or in more recent years, very closely alike (which is all I can get away with as the oldest is now 11 and—can you believe it—has his own opinions).
Maybe it seems strange to you—build a bridge and get over it. We all have our parenting hang-ups.
I am focused on raising gentlemen who dress well, speak well, groom themselves well, and display great manners to those around them. I am unrelenting on eye-contact, a firm handshake, no ums, uhs or “I was like,” “she was like,” or a shrug of the shoulders when asked a question by an adult. Instead I insist on strong, confident answers to adult questions and responses that show genuine interest in the other person. They are learning how to iron their clothes and floss their teeth as well as the importance of monthly haircuts and clean fingernails. The list is longer, but I’ll stop for fear you’re Googling “Utah Child Protection Services” ….
What’s the point?
We all have a brand. A reputation. People associate us with a brand that we either deliberately or accidently cultivate.
Your brand can be that you’re tardy all the time. Or punctual. That you’re culturally literate or overly opinionated. That you make non-stop declarative statements or that you like harmony so you never express an opinion on anything controversial. Your brand can be collaborative, generous, creative, or positive. Or that you’re an energy-depleter, negative, or overly pessimistic.
How you dress, the words you use, your temperament, patience, impulsivity, or resiliency all create a brand for you. Like it or not, you have a brand.
To quote my childhood hero and tennis great Andre Agassi, “Image is everything.”
Or is it?
Dr. Stephen R. Covey spoke about both the Character Ethic and the Personality Ethic. Visualize the oft-used image of an iceberg. The Personality Ethic (what you wear, the car you drive, etc.) is what you see above the water (about 10% of who you are), and the Character Ethic (your personal trustworthiness) is what you don’t see below the water (about 90% of who you are).
Your shoes may be shined and your manicure perfect, but if you don’t deliver on your commitments and gossip about others, that quickly becomes the brand that’s remembered.
Like all things in life, the key is balance.
What were we wearing at the fun park, you ask? Well, let’s just say we’re the few “preps” in Utah, where jeans and cowboy boots are more common than seersucker shorts and purple polos (collars popped, of course!). And yes, their shirts are tucked in, and oh, the horror—they’re wearing a belt.
Clean fingernails? Can’t say any of us would have passed that test after a few hours of fun last night!
Principles of effective leadership have not changed, but when some team members are co-located, some work from home, and even more follow a hybrid model, leaders must apply those principles differently.
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