Leadership: Personal Branding Lessons From a 3 Year Old

Guest post by Todd Nielsen of A Slice of Leadership

Recently I was in our family room playing with our 3-year-old. One of his favorite things to play with is his Thomas trains. He has a few trains from the Thomas & Friends series, as well as many of the play-sets. We had all his play-sets hooked together with twisting tracks. He had lined up about 7 or 8 trains and hooked them together. Then he unhooked Thomas from the rest of the trains and said to me, “You Be All Those, & I’ll Be Me.” For a week his words pierced me and those words rang over and over in my head.  While “me” meant Thomas, and “All Those” meant the rest of the trains, the lesson of leadership and personal branding was quite powerful.

I’ll Be Me

Recently I have been uniquely interested in personal branding as it relates to my leadership in the IT & Telecommunications industries. I have followed Kimberly Bordonaro and I am trying to get all my “ducks” in a row, so that I can separate myself from the crowd of other leaders and companies in the world. I don’t want to be known as just a leader, nor just a leader in the IT industry, nor a leader in the Telecommunications industry; I want to be Todd Nielsen. I want my name and my brand to symbolize leadership in those industries, to symbolize innovation and execution. I want people to look at me, and say, I wish we had a Todd Nielsen here.

Maybe this all sounds a little arrogant to some people, but I don’t want to be one of the crowd. The shame for me though was that I did not start my personal branding earlier. Luckily I did things along the way that helped, but the simple things I have learned from Kimberly have helped to focus and define what I want to accomplish.  Here are a few things I have done over the years and recently to help define my brand. I could have done better at some of these, but it is all a process.

4 Personal Branding Tips in Leadership

  1. Reject Status Quo: Status quo in my mind, means you just want to be like everyone else, not ruffling feathers, going along with the crowd, pleasing everyone. Success rarely comes from following the crowd. By accepting things as they are, you just are telling the world that you are boring and nothing is really special about you. I wrote about this in an article: Don’t Be A Status Quo Leader. This is not to mean you have to be rude, or annoying, just that you need to embrace excellence and always seek to improve everything, even yourself.
  2. Innovate: Everyone talks about innovation but few live it. In the IT & Telecom industries there are hundreds of associations with thousands of companies that follow after each other and try to learn what everyone else is doing. I am not against learning what others are doing, but it sickens me to hear people hide their lack of innovation behind the words, “I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.” Successful people and companies, don’t just sit around and talk to their competitors and copy what they are doing, they get to work and actually do stuff. If you want to be an innovative leader, and separate yourself from the crowd, you are going to have to take chances and actually do some hard, innovative work.
  3. Never Stop Learning: This ties so well with the first two, because smart leaders who separate themselves from the crowd are always learning. They consume books, blog articles, and anything else that will help them innovate and reject the status quo. They borrow ideas from other industries. There is so much knowledge out there, yet few take the time to consume that knowledge.
  4. Goal Oriented: In leadership and personal branding you must have goals. I would never be where I am today without goals, and I know I will never get to where I want to go, without goals that are pushing me every single day. I follow a strict goal plan I developed that I call The Ultimate Personal Success Plan. But shortly after doing that, for 2012, Kimberly taught me that I also need to have a personal brand vision statement, and values, and a plan around my personal brand. I see personal branding and leadership intertwined so closely now that I can’t separate the two. Without goals for my success plan and my personal branding plan, I will just be “all those.”

The lessons that children teach us will never end. I am grateful for this reminder from my little guy that I am Todd Nielsen, and that I don’t want to just be like everyone else, I want to be me. What kind of leader do you want to be?

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