In the midst of getting back from Bangkok, heading to Las Vegas and officially launching her new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, Dorie Clark took the time to guest post! As I mentioned in my review, this is a Must Read book for anyone at any stage in their career. Please pay it forward and buy a copy for yourself and one to give away!
As a leader, it’s painfully easy to be misinterpreted. Some people aren’t paying that close attention to you; they’ll take a few impressions and haphazardly fill in the blanks. Others may overanalyze or try to “read tea leaves” that may not even exist. If you want your message to get out intact – whether it’s about who you are as a leader, or the vision you have for your company – you need take a step too few executives bother to do: create your leadership narrative.
As I recount in my new book from Harvard Business Review Press, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, when Toby Johnson graduated from West Point, her first job out of college was the furthest thing possible from entry-level paper-pushing: she became an Apache helicopter pilot, the only woman in a class of 30 trainees. Her performance – over seven years in the Army, including a tour in Iraq - won raves. She was lauded by her supervisors and was even featured in an Army advertising campaign. But when she decided to leave the military to attend business school, she faced one big disadvantage compared to her classmates, many of whom entered with corporate experience: “The only big organization I’d ever worked for was the United States Army.”
So how do you compete for job offers with talented peers who have clear, compelling stories to tell about their time in the corporate world? After all, flying a helicopter may not seem directly relevant to corporate success. Toby knew the lessons were transferable, but she’d have to connect the dots for potential employers. Her mission was to create a narrative that both made sense and captivated them. “I used my military experience as an advantage,” she says.
She had to craft a story that made sense to skeptical hiring managers, stressing the management experience she’d gained in the military (at 24 years old, she was in charge of eight $30 million Apache helicopters, plus the 30 people who managed them) and the rapid learning made possible by her early leadership experience. Many of her peers, trying management out for the first time, wouldn’t yet have found their unique style – and could make some costly mistakes in the interim.
In other words, Toby took charge of her story and ensured that what was clear to her (she’s building on her management and leadership experience and taking it to a new arena) was also understandable to others (who might otherwise question what a helicopter pilot could bring to a corporation). Her strategy worked; today, she’s a fast-rising executive at a multinational consumer goods company.
Similarly, all executives need to think through fundamental narrative questions, for themselves and their companies: where did we start, where are we going, and how are the lessons we learned making a difference in that journey?
You don’t have to have a leadership narrative; plenty of executives and companies get by without one. But what they’re missing is the sense of meaning a narrative can bring. It shows how our past, present, and future connect – an arc that makes sense of everything we’ve experienced before. And perhaps the most inspiring and comforting message a leader can give is that our past hasn’t been for naught; the lessons we’ve learned can help us find the way forward.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of the newly released Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant and speaker who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the World Bank. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.
We are in an age of immense disruption: industries, societal codes, politics, demographics, you name it. If we are going to handle this continually changing the world, we have to adapt ourselves. All we can really control is how we react, and more importantly, pro-act to our world. While we should hold our principles and values dear, we need to reinvent the how, where, and why we live those out. Grateful to call her a friend, Dorie Clark’s new book, “Reinventing You” is an indispensible guide to just that – reinventing ourselves, continually, to adapt to and thrive in the 21st century. Many of you may familiar with Dorie’s view on the subject through her Forbes and Harvard Business Review blog posts.
Dorie’s book is a practical, applicable, actionable guide on how we can reinvent our role in the world, and hence our impact. One of the powerful aspects of the book is Dorie’s ability to go from very specific, tactical details on how to network and reach out to others (e.g., when to call, how to find out nicknames, etc.) to more the more strategic issues around why we need to reinvent ourselves in the first place. Dorie gives us very actionable advice on how to identify our starting point, why we are starting from there and then discovering possible destinations. She continues with a ‘how to’ plan that is so easy to follow and execute on our own.
Since reinventing ourselves can be daunting, Dorie uses a ‘lean startup’ approach to help us experiment and prototype (as she says, “test drive”) our path and develop the skills we might need. As someone who loves mentoring, and being mentored, her chapter dedicated to finding and learning from a mentor hit home. Reinventing You shows us how to find our value, communicate our value and continue enhancing our value to others.
Dorie’s book is a much-needed guide among the noise of books on career development, personal development and ‘how to’. This is a book of truth and practical advice, based on Dorie’s experiences and those of others she shares in the book. It is a book leaders and managers should share with their people and encourage and support them in pursuing. It is a book students in college should read as they think about what they may want to do. It is a book even those of us fully satisfied and complete in our current positions should read. It is a book you will read, mark, re-read and want to loan out to others, so buy a few copies to give away – because paying it forward is part of the book!