Escaping the bear trap.

The news is full of the decision by David Miliband, Labour politician and brother of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, to leave UK politics for a job as CEO of International Rescue in New York.

Now for those of you who don’t know the back story to this, David was the favourite contender to take over the leadership of the Labour party when Gordon Brown resigned, until his brother Ed decided to stand and won with the support of the Unions. David took a back-seat to give Ed ‘space’ but the press have loved to feed on rumour and conspiracy theories about a come-back to the fore-front of politics.

He was in a bear-trap; unable to make the best use of his potential in the background, and yet potentially damaging to his party and brother if he stepped back into the limelight of Westminster.

In my forth-coming publication ‘The Little Book of Career Advice’, one of the pieces of advice deals with this situation perfectly: ‘When you’ve got your leg caught in a bear trap, you can stay put and starve or you can cut it off.’


In deciding to take a role outside of politics, David Miliband has ‘cut off his leg’ to escape the trap, surprising everyone and yet taking control of his own destiny. It will be scary, unfamiliar and challenging. However, a fresh start, on a global stage, for an ex-Foreign Minister, you can see that one day he may make a bigger impact on the world than he might have done as a British Prime Minister.

So if you are reading this and thinking it sounds familiar – the feeling of powerlessness and lack of control in your life – maybe you have your own bear trap. Do you have the courage to reach for the saw?

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com



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I am not a free person, I am a CEO…

‘The ultimate personal challenge of a CEO is to put everything into a job that demands every ounce of their energy without losing themselves in the process’. This is a quote from the Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, published by Harvard Business Press.

When you are leading a business, it is so easy to lose sight of yourself. You are expected to be the voice of the business, the personification of the culture of the organization and the one individual who should absolutely deliver against the brand values of the company. There should be very little room for being you.

So how do you deliver against all the expectations of being the CEO and still keep a firm grip on your own identity?  There are a number of steps you can take:

  • Do some work to understand your own personal brand.
  • Identify areas of tension between your brand and that of your business.
  • Identify where your brand and that of your business have similar strengths.
  • Do the same analysis with the culture of the business.
  • Define a strategy that allows you to deliver against the strengths, with ruthless consistency, whilst avoiding the areas of tension.

We all have a personal brand; it’s how we are perceived by others, the thoughts and emotions we leave with people when we walk out of a room. However, most people go through life without clearly understanding what their brand is. Getting clarity about how you are perceived, and more importantly, how you would like to be perceived is crucial first step in managing the tensions between your corporate self and your private self.

When working with clients on their personal brand, I spend time talking to others about how the client is perceived, and compare it against a self-assessment done by the client.  You can do this simply enough yourself, just by asking people you trust to be honest with you. Then in the context of your role, you should decide what is the one thought and one emotion that you want to leave behind with every encounter you have. Brand is built through consistency of experience by an audience and personal brands are no different. Then it is a matter of deciding the story, behaviours, communication styles, identity and key messages that will all combine to enable you to consistently leave behind the perception you desire.

Now you have an understanding of your own brand, it’s then time to do some brand-matching. If you compare your personal brand against that of your business, are there obvious tensions and obvious similarities? For example, some companies will call out risk-taking as a brand value. If you are risk averse, then you can see immediately where tension might start to arise. On the other hand, you and your company may both see values such integrity or innovation as important; this common ground is where you will feel most comfortable.

Now that you have an understanding how your brand and that of the company align, then you have the basis of a strategy. At this point you have to accept that the company’s brand takes preference. If it is being managed correctly, there will be a long-term brand strategy which will long out-live your tenure in the role. Therefore, you have to be careful to align yourself to the company brand and not fall into the arrogance trap of expecting it to follow you. Focus on the strengths that both brands share, and minimize any values, behaviours or styles that you have which are at odds with the company brand. It sounds obvious, but I have witnessed the fall-out where this advice hasn’t been heeded.

You then need to look at the culture of the business. In most businesses, the culture takes its lead from the brand as the every day way that employees should operate to deliver a consistent experience of the company to its customers. Carry out the same matching exercise, comparing your personal style and behaviour with the expectations of the culture. As CEO, are you an exemplary role model for the culture? Or maybe you think its something that everyone else has to do? Ask yourself some tough questions, and be honest with yourself about the answers.

In your role as CEO – your personal brand, the company brand and the culture of the business sit at three corners of a triangle. Employees will be looking at all three to deliver a sense of direction and purpose, with a clarity and simplicity that is easy to follow.  I have seen companies spend millions on brand agencies and cultural change programs, when actually what was really needed was some work with the senior management of the company to get them aligned properly with the brand and culture of the business.

Having done all of that, you will understand your brand, know the perception you want to result from every encounter you have and how to align with the brand of your business. Now you need to put in place a plan to be ruthlessly consistent in the way you stay aligned in your role as the CEO. Think of your CEO ‘brand persona’ as a uniform that you wear when on duty. Wear it with pride, but at the end of the day take it off and be yourself again once you are at home or in your private life. It’s unlikely you will be a CEO for ever, so enjoy it while it lasts, but don’t lose sight of the real you in the process.

This article first appeared in The Executive Network newsletter. 

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com


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New format for LinkedIn profiles – 4 ways to optimise your profile.

LinkedIn is gradually rolling out a new format for your LinkedIn profile. It’s cleaner, bolder and makes it easier to read. They gave me a chance to move early, so I took it and you can see my profile in the new format here: 

However, as your profile gets switched to their smart new style, you should take the opportunity to ensure your profile is up-to-date and creating a great impression. Here are four things you should check:

  1. Photo. It’s obvious, but a picture says a thousand words. Don’t use that arm’s length self-taken photo or the one where you have obviously cropped out the person standing next to you. A professional photo is the only way here. I wrote about this in a previous blog entry
  2. Headline. Don’t let LinkedIn tell you what your headline should be; they default it to your current job. You can choose whatever headline you like. Read more about this here:
  3. Logos. The logos of the companies you worked for now appear automatically against your current and past positions. However, they only appear if the company page is up-to-date and someone has uploaded the logo. If you work for a big company, then it should already be there. If it is your own business, then you have to go into the company page and upload the logo yourself. It’s easy to do and makes an impact on your profile
  4. Content. While you are doing all this, take a little time to review the content you have on your profile. It may be sometime since you updated it and you could have new things to say.
LinkedIn is a great business tool, but as with most tools, you need to use it correctly to get the best effect!

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com

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Would you choose arrogance as one of your brand values?

The news in the UK this week is full of the story of Andrew Mitchell (no relative!), one of our Members of Parliament and newly appointed Chief Whip in the Government. The role of the Chief Whip is to ‘whip’ the members of the party to do the bidding of the party leader, and therefore the holder of this office is likely to be a formidable personality.

Mr. Mitchell would have remained in relative obscurity if he hadn’t had an altercation over gates and bicycles with the police guarding the entrance to Downing Street. Allegedly swearing and calling the police ‘plebs’, Mr. Mitchell has managed to gain, in one momentary loss of control, the perception of being a rude, arrogant and overbearing individual.

If you are starting to rise to prominence, there comes a moment when it’s time to really think about the perception you want to leave with people in all situations. What values, behaviours and styles of communication do you need to deliver with ruthless consistency regardless of how bad your day has been?

My guess is that Andrew Mitchell has never given this much thought. I guess that, because no one in their right mind would choose arrogance as a brand value.

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com

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Opening your mouth to change…..

“It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman despise him’ said Professor Higgins in that wonderful musical My Fair Lady.   He was, of course, referring to accent. But the truth is, the moment you open your mouth to say something, you define yourself to your audience, leaving them to draw their own conclusions about who you are and what you stand for.

I went to a public meeting last night, with the representatives of a national transport infrastructure organisation, who were talking to the good people of the village I live in about an upgrade to their infrastructure that will have an impact locally. The details of the meeting are immaterial; what I found so fascinating was observing the proceedings.

The people from the organisation were on the whole open, honest and direct about what was happening.  Given the nature of the beast, when they talked about Statutory Obligations and ‘because it’s the law’, one started to get the sense that this project was something that was going to happen, however indignant, emotional, loquacious, belligerent or downright rude the audience got.

And through the course of the meeting, we witnessed all of these behaviours. The retired gentleman, with hair several shades darker than you would expect, so caught up in his own importance that he didn’t listen to the presentation and asked questions that had just been answered if only he’d paid attention. The lady, who must have asked 50 different questions, of such detail and precision that you imagine her entire waking life must be spent making herself an expert in this subject. The mother who complained loudly ‘I have small children’, appearing to suggest that letting them play in the road was a wise thing to do. The rural gentleman, with a face betraying a liking for something stronger than lemonade, who I think would have been happy to resolve the whole thing ‘outside’.

This was balanced by the women leading the presentation, who had the look of someone who had been to far too many of these types of meetings, who wanted to be anywhere else other here and who when she said “we will finish at 9pm’, left no doubt that we would in fact, finish at 9.

So what has all this got to do with personal branding? Well, with emotions running high, people seemed to forget their usual polite and reasonable demeanours, and revert to a more basic behaviour type. The moment they opened their mouths, they redefined themselves. This happens when you are under stress, and in a work environment, can lead to you quickly undoing your efforts to build a reputation and strong personal brand.

So when you are in a stressful situation, remember the words of Abraham Lincoln: ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt”.


David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com

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Banker rhymes with person obsessed with self-gratification?

Each decade, there seems to be a profession that scrapes the bottom of the reputation barrel. Once upon a time it was Estate Agents that held this dubious honour, before Members of Parliament then took up the mantle of public mistrust and disgust.

This decade’s villains are bankers – that general catch-all phrase for anyone working in the financial services sector. The combination of mega bonuses, bank bail-outs, mis-selling scandals and apparent overall responsibility for the current global financial turmoil makes admitting you are a banker as socially acceptable as turning up at a party having just stepped in a dog’s doings. Quicker than you can say ‘Bob Diamond’, you will find yourself in a corner with all the other bankers, whilst everyone else goes off to find someone more interesting to talk to.

Common sense tells you that not everyone involved in the financial sector is obsessed with self enrichment. So what if you are a thoroughly decent individual, who through no fault of your own other than a career decision taken years ago at university, find yourself having to lie about what you do rather than admit to ‘working in banking’.

Well – here’s three things that you could do to improve your lot:

1) Know yourself. Take a long hard look in the mirror. Do you fit the modern stereotype of a banker, that of money obsessed, anything for a profit, ruthless and uncaring? If you have read this far, then probably not. Work out what you really value, what particularly matters to you, and what principles you have. Are you truly happy with your life or are you starting to think that maybe the endless pursuit of money isn’t the be-all and end-all?

2) Re-invent yourself. Invent a ‘new’ you, based on the values and principles you decide on in stage 1. Think about how you define yourself – are you just your job title, or are you something that has a broader sense and more meaning? Your challenge will be to separate yourself from the masses in the banking industry, and give your audience something that will challenge their pre-conception of a ‘banker’.

3) Make a difference. Someone, someday, will have to do something about changing the perception of the banking industry. It will take people of principle, with strong leadership and clear vision to show the industry the way back from the doldrums. Maybe you are one of the people who will make a stand. Or maybe, by going through this process, you will realise that really making a difference to the world won’t be done by sitting behind a trading desk and you look beyond the world of banking to find something that will give your life true meaning.

Whatever you end up doing, the option of doing nothing, of letting your personal reputation be dragged through the mud by association with the most mistrusted and disliked professions of the decade, is not a course of action I would recommend.

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com


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Kodak – remembering the brand experience.

It was sad to see the news this morning that Kodak have filed for bankruptcy protection in the US – not a surprise for those of us who watch that industry, but sad all the same.

You may not know that I’m also a photographer ( if you are interested). My relationship with Kodak goes right back to my earliest memories of photography, when I was given a camera for my birthday aged 9 or 10. I’ve been thinking about what it was that gave Kodak such strength back in the days of silver halide film. Certainly, we trusted our images to Kodak film, confident that the pictures we were trying to capture would be delivered safely to the print.

Film really mattered back then. Every shot counted because you only had 24 or 36 shots per film, and it wasn’t cheap (in pocket money terms). As a photographer, you had to really think about exposure, composition and depth of field before pressing the shutter release. Today, with digital, you can rattle off countless images and rescue even the most awkward pictures using photoshop. You never think about the memory chip in the camera, but film used to be central to the photographic experience.

And it was an experience. I remember the experience of buying film – deciding how many exposures I could afford and what ASA rating to buy. Opening that cardboard box to reveal the black plastic pot with a grey lid. Even the lid made a particular noise as you popped it off, and got that first familiar smell of new film wafting into your nostrils. There was the ritual of opening the camera, dropping in the film reel, attaching the end of the film to the camera and then closing the camera up, before winding on the film until the counter said ’1′.

Film was central to the routine and ritual of photography and Kodak shared that moment with countless millions of photographers worldwide, making the experience of Kodak ‘ruthlessly consistent’ and building an unshakeable brand position in that market. Unshakeable, of course, until the dawn of the age of digital photography.

I don’t want to dwell on the reasons for Kodak’s decline; others will do that elsewhere. Today, I just want to pause and remember a brand that played a huge part in the development of one of my passions in life.


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New Years Resolutions and a Pope called Greg

It’s that time of year again – the time when we all resolve to be better people, stop doing things that cause us harm and do more of the things that are good for us. It all seems like such a good idea at 11pm on 31st December, with the wine and beer flowing, to look forward to the new year and try to re-invent the ‘old us’.

Eight days on – how many of you have kept to your resolutions, or even remember what they were? Don’t feel too bad about it though. The reason you were making them is a result of something a Pope called Gregory did on 24th February 1582. On that day he signed a Papal Bull that introduced a new calendar system, now known as the Gregorian Calendar.

This decreed that the year should be divided into 12 months, and start on January 1st. Of course, this was needed to regulate a largely rural, agricultural society around the seasons. Any of the 365 days of the year could have been chosen as the first day of the year – and now 530 years later, we are giving ourselves an ‘annual reset’ for about a week before going back to our normal patterns of behaviour.

Now Gregory was just updating the old Julian calendar that wasn’t working so well. From a brand management perspective, maybe it would have been better if Greg had been a little bit more radical and scrapped the system based on months and years all together. A simple day numbering system would be much better – starting at one and clicking on each day. Today would be day 193,537.  New Year’s Day this year would have been day 193,528; nothing remarkable about it and therefore no need to make resolutions we don’t keep – simple!

Brand is something that requires a long-term view. In the world of business, decisions that are driven by quarterly targets and annual results, on a calendar that was designed for life 530 years ago, often have the same impact on brand strategy as New Year’s resolutions have on us.

So if you are developing your personal brand – turn your back on Gregory and adopt  a calendar where every day, and not just New Year’s day, is an opportunity to check that your brand is delivering with clarity, purpose and a sense of direction.


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Being different by being the same

Why is it that everyone wants their brand to be different? Nearly every conversation I have about brands will eventually come round to this point: ‘we need to be different to the others’ or ‘we don’t want to be too same-y’.

But what if being the same is actually something to aim for, and by being the same, you actually become seen as different?

I was having a discussion recently with someone whose family name is their business. We were talking about the values that under-pinned the family brand, and he said ‘Of course, my father and I are different in many ways’, but then as an after-thought added ‘but if you ask my wife, she’d tell you we are actually the same in many others’.

This got me thinking about differences and being the same. In this case, the values that underpin their family brand won’t be found in the differences between father and son, but in the core values that they share.  The things that make them the same will be the foundation on which their brand is built.

I can hear you asking – but how does this make them different as a brand when they are trying to attract customers?

Well, firstly, you need consider the question of whether customers are actually looking for something different. The strongest relationship you will have with a brand is when you feel that the brand shares your values, when you feel you’re on the same trajectory as the brand. In other words you value the same-ness of the brand.

Secondly, it is the habit of weak brands to shout loudly about why they are different. Strong brands differentiate themselves from their competition by being bold and clear about the values they stand for, and attracting customers who feel the same.

So next time you do a brand review – why not start by looking for sameness, and let that be your difference.

David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com

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Your career – who gives a damn?

There comes a point in life where you have a sudden realisation, something that should have been obvious to you from the start. This realisation stops you in your tracks, and nothing will be the same from that moment on. I’m talking, of course, about the moment you realise that no-one gives a damn about your career, other than you.

OK, so I may be being a little harsh here. As you go through your working life, you will come across people who do care about what you are doing and where you are going; or at least they give a good impression of caring. If you are lucky, there will be people around you to guide and inspire you, motivated to offer you help without ulterior motive or desire for reward. If you are not so lucky, those giving you advice may have something other than your best interests at heart.

So why does it take so long to reach the point where you realise you have to grab your career by the scruff of the neck and take total control yourself. I did some research earlier this year, asking employees and students to rank in order of importance what they thought would be influencing their future careers.

Employees Students (school and university)
Most important Decisions and changes you make yourself Decisions and changes you make yourself
Unexpected factors (redundancy / personal situation) A structured career with an established career path.
Changes or opportunities your employer suggests Changes or opportunities your employer suggests
Least important A structured career with an established career path. Unexpected factors (redundancy / personal situation)

Both groups ranked their own decisions as being most important. But then employees will tell you it will be the unexpected and NOT a structured career path that drives their future. Students are totally the opposite. It seems our education system is setting a false expectation with students, making them believe that they will have a nice structured career to follow, when the reality is actually that ‘shit happens’.

So if you are starting to come to the realisation that you need to ‘own’ your own career, then here are a few tips to help you:

1) Don’t wait to be asked. Set your own pace, take decisions and actions to make things happen.

2) Find yourself a good mentor. This should be someone you trust to give you completely impartial advice. If they are trained in coaching skills, helping you find the answers for yourself, then even better. Avoid advice from anyone who may have a vested interest in your future!

3) Work out where you want to go in the future. Then work backwards from that point to identify the skills, experience and knowledge you need to acquire in order to get there.

4) Define yourself clearly. Avoid defining yourself as your current role and job title, this will limit your thinking. See more about this on this previous post. Beware the LinkedIn Trap

5) Set a measure of success. Work out what your personal measure of success is. Use this measure to indicate when it is time to change or move on.

6) Take risks. Being prepared to take intelligent risks is one of the key factors in owning your own career. See this blog post for more on risk-taking. Taking risks – do you?

Owning your future and assuming total responsibility for your career are central to having a strong personal brand. ‘Shit’ will still happen, but if you know where you are going and are in control, you will have a better chance of turning adversity into opportunity.


David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com

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