Brenda's Blog

We’re celebrating! Find out why…

This past Saturday, April 1st, 2017 was a big day for us here at BDA. Not just because it’s April Fools’ Day (although we do have a lot of fun with that) but because 15 years ago on that date, our company, Brand Development Associates (BDA) International, was born!

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In this blog, I share more about this very personal brand-building journey.

And, to add to the 15-year anniversary excitement, I was also humbled to learn that I have been recognized as one of the Top 25 Global Coaching Gurus and one of the Top 20 Global Branding Gurus for 2017! And, to honor these exciting milestones, we are offering great prizes to 15 lucky winners – you’ll want to check out the details below!

Looking Back to Look Forward – Our Entrepreneurship Story

It feels like April 1, 2002 was only yesterday. I sat in my new office – well, at that time, it was actually a converted small bedroom in our home – and thought with such excitement, “I did it! I started my own business!” After almost two decades of working in big companies, I felt an incredible sense of freedom to go out on my own.

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But it didn’t take long before fear seeped in, with questions like, “I’ve given up the comfort of a high-paying corporate job with all the perks. I’m starting from scratch with nothing! What have I done?”

In fact, I jokingly say I chose April Fools’ Day to start the business because if it didn’t work out, I could always go running back to the corporate world and say, “Just kidding!”

In all seriousness, though, I was determined to make it work. I had some savings, but I knew I had to spend funds wisely if my business was going to survive. I had to get smart – fast – about how to do that.

Faced with this dilemma, I took a deep breath and gathered up all the tips, tools, and techniques I had learned during those many years of big-brand management. I began applying them diligently to building my own brand – but this time, in ways that didn’t cost much. I kept my eye on the target – on the brand I wanted to build – and that brand became the North Star to guide every day-to-day decision I made. In other words, I focused on what I did have, rather than what I didn’t have.

In the process, slowly but surely, I uncovered hundreds of ways to build my brand using the same methods I had employed with household name brands, but without the need for the deep pockets I had in the corporate world. Then, I was able to take what I learned and teach other business owners how to do the same. I started out showing them how to master corporate and product branding, and my focus eventually evolved into leadership branding – how to help individuals, executives, and leaders build brands for themselves.

Looking back 15 years later, I can honestly say this journey has been the most amazing ride, and I’m grateful for every minute of the experience. Five years into the company, Daniel Jackman joined our team, and that’s when the magic really kicked in!  The business grew and grew to the point where, today, it’s been enormously rewarding to serve as a professional speaker, corporate trainer, and senior executive coach to dozens of the most recognized companies in the world.

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Currently, BDA International has had the honor of working with clients across six continents and 70 industries, and people often ask us how we achieved that. In fact, such a large number of clients and other individuals ask about how to become a successful entrepreneur that I decided to write a short book in which I share the top 15 lessons I’ve learned from 15 years of running my own business. Watch for the release date – it will be out in a few months!

Do YOU Have What it Takes, Too?

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you two of my favorite articles about what it takes to make it as an entrepreneur. It’s an active, engaging topic, as more and more people decide to take the plunge and start a business. What are the characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, and … if it’s appropriate for you, do YOU have them?

10 Traits All Successful Entrepreneurs Share

8 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal the Best Business Advice They Ever Got

Don’t think this topic applies to you? Think again: Even if you work “inside” a company, are you an “intra”preneur, using your entrepreneurial skills within the organization to get faster, better, and more innovative results? Those skills will help you both inside or outside the corporate world.

Thank You!

As we celebrate our 15-year milestone, I want to say thank you to all of our fantastic clients – both corporate and individual – and all of our blog readers who have followed us all these years and been so supportive. If it weren’t for you, this company would be nothing, and we are incredibly grateful to you every single day. Thank you for the incredible support you have offered our company over the years!

Self-Leadership: Important for Entrepreneurs and “Intra”Preneurs, Too!

During my years of coaching senior executives, I came to understand that self-leadership is the most important – and most overlooked – driver of overall success. It’s a key part of being a successful entrepreneur – and a successful “intra”preneur, too. Self-leadership allows you to lead yourself to reach both “doing” goals – (Executive Presence, speaking up, effectively addressing conflict, etc.) and “being” goals (strengthening confidence, staying calm when facing tough situations, making difficult decisions, etc.)

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As a coach, I was able to pinpoint the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors, which became the basis of my latest book: Leading YOU™: The power of SELF-LEADERSHIP to build your executive brand and drive career success. As always, I’ve filled the book with lots of practical ways to correct these behaviors in your world, along with real-life executive coaching case studies that illustrate how these tools and techniques can help you become a markedly better leader.

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This book picks up where Would YOU Want to Work For YOU™? left off, providing what I believe is the missing link for most executives and entrepreneurs across the globe.

I’m excited to share that the book is receiving positive feedback and impacting leaders around the world! Here are just a few of the comments that people have shared with me after reading the book:

“I recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone who is a leader – or aspires to be. As I look at myself and others in my profession, I can see that author Brenda Bence is right: Self-leadership is the missing piece for most of us. Brenda has been invaluable to me at critical points in my career, helping me bridge my current role with my aspirations. A decade later, I continue to view my work with Brenda as a true breakthrough moment.”
Andrew Padovano – Managing Director, Citibank New York

“This book closes on the value of coaching to help you implement changes. I can personally attest to this. I was fortunate enough to enlist Brenda as my coach 6 years ago, and I estimate she has added well over US$150,000 to my compensation since that time.”
Marion McDonald – Chief Strategy Officer, Ogilvy PR, Asia Pacific

“Almost every leader focuses on leading others. [In this book], Brenda shows that self-leadership is just as important – maybe even more important – because it’s the foundation of all leadership.”
Dale A. Martin – CEO, Siemens Hungary

“Many practical tips in this easy read as Brenda uses many real-life scenarios as illustrations. It spoke to me in so many ways – I highly recommend this book!”
Angelia Kay – Regional Director, Garlock Asia Pacific

“Just what I was looking for! Brenda cuts right through the confusion on this topic and she provides a clear pathway for career development. I highly recommend Leading YOU™ to anyone looking to find the right balance and direction in their career.”
— Reid Velo – Consultant, Trust Edge Leadership Institute, Minneapolis

See You in Thailand!

“Please let me know when you’ll be speaking at a public event!”  This is a phrase I hear often because I normally only present at private corporate meetings, conventions, and conferences.

However, next month, I will be speaking at a regional coaching conference in Bangkok, Thailand on May 26 – and it’s open to the public!  At that conference, I will be presenting material from my upcoming book, The Choice, where I reveal a simple yet powerful choice that every leader has before them – whether focused on leading self or leading others.

I would be delighted if you would come join me!  Click on the visual below to find out more.  I hope to see you there!

Self-Leadership Challenge #6: The “Secret Sauce” of Powerful Executive Presence

What is Executive Presence? I have found a lot of confusion among executive coaching clients about the true meaning of this “buzz phrase.” The way I like to define it is: “a set of attitudes, behaviors, and skills which—when combined—send the right signals, influence others, and ultimately drive results.”

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If you’re a senior leader, you no doubt already have some degree of Executive Presence. It’s how you’ve reached your current level in the first place. The most admired people have Executive Presence in abundance—people like Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson, to name a few. You know when you’ve met someone with powerful Presence. You feel drawn to that person and you want to connect with him or her.

“But can you learn Executive Presence?” clients ask?  Yes. And doing so improves your self-leadership, strengthens your executive leadership brand, and helps you advance in your career. Want proof about how important it is? According to a study of 236 senior executives, who make decisions about promotions within their organizations, Executive Presence accounts for more than one-quarter of what they look for in someone who is aiming to reach the next level.[1]

Many similar studies exist, all pointing to one outcome: Executive Presence is fundamental for those who want to reach increasingly higher levels in any organization. And it takes strong self-leadership to stay aware of and demonstrate the specific attitudes, behaviors, and skills required to embody powerful Presence.

So, what can you do to develop powerful Executive Presence? What’s the “secret sauce”?

The Most Important Ingredient of the “Secret Sauce”

I believe that underlying every aspect of Executive Presence is one core element: confidence—the absolute certainty that you can do what it takes to succeed in any situation. When you have confidence, you believe in yourself, so that—even if you’re undertaking something new—you know you’ll be able to figure it out when you get there.

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Yet, many accomplished leaders lack the confidence they need to cultivate strong Executive Presence. One indication of that: I’ve met a large number of leaders who suffer from the “Impostor Syndrome.” That’s a term which describes high-achieving people who don’t really trust their successes. They are constantly afraid of being exposed as a fraud, no matter how much they’ve accomplished. “I just got lucky,” they might say. As much as they want a higher level of responsibility or a specific promotion, deep down they question whether they are good enough to get it.

Then, there are other leaders like my client, George, who allowed a setback to damage his confidence. He had 29 years of experience in the corporate world. For 27 of those years, he was a dynamic go-getter, moving up the ladder and achieving great success every step of the way—not just in his professional life, but in his personal life as well. For the last two years, though, things hadn’t gone so well for him.

He had taken over a division that was new to him, and it wasn’t performing well under his leadership. When we met, I could sense George’s energy. He was like a balloon that had been deflated.

“George, for how many years did you have tremendous success?” I asked him.

“Twenty-seven years,” he responded.

“And for how long have things been a bit rocky?”

“These past two years,” George replied.

“So, you’ve had 27 years of positive, ongoing successes, and only two years—24 months—of less-than-positive outcomes. Is that correct?”

I could see the realization of this sinking in. “You’re right—I have to keep that in perspective,” George said. “I can’t let these past 24 months cloud a career and a life that has gone so well. It’s only a small portion of the whole.”

George is an example of how quickly confidence can fade if we’re not careful to nurture it. And once confidence fades, Executive Presence takes a hit.

Keep Your Confidence Level Steady

If you take an inventory of your successes and how they came about, you’ll most likely recognize that it was definitely not “all luck.” Your talents, skills, and hard work are why you’ve achieved success.

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Here’s an exercise to help you look honestly at what you have done and the skills you’ve developed, while acknowledging what you believe you genuinely lack. Make two columns on a legal pad or on your computer, and on the left-side column, list your most valuable attributes. Don’t stop adding to the list until you’ve run out of qualities and skills (and don’t be humble!)

Then, in the right column, list the areas where you still need work. Be objective about what you could do better. Once done, sit back and review the two lists. If you’re like most of my clients, I suspect you’ll be surprised at the outcome, because we often underestimate what we can do versus what we think we cannot do. (I assigned George this exercise, and this one task alone gave him more momentum than he’d had in a long while.)

It’s critical to look at yourself the way others do, but it’s difficult to see yourself through an objective lens. That’s why it’s so important to getting meaningful feedback—and why I devoted an entire chapter to that topic in my book, Leading YOU: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.

The single most powerful and productive exercise I give my clients is the task of keeping a “Confidence Journal.” It’s simple: As you go through your day, and you have an experience that either increases or decreases your confidence level, write down what happened and why. Whether you are being challenged by a peer, find yourself on the receiving end of a compliment from the CEO, needing to fire someone, or struggling to influence outcomes, make sure to remain objective, and ask yourself: “What’s happening to my confidence right now?” Go inside and figure out how the experience is impacting you. What’s the context? Who’s involved, and what’s triggering the “boost” or the “bust”? What’s really causing those ups and downs?

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Jot every incident down, and give your confidence level a score based on how you feel: 1 = Not feeling confident at all, 10 = Feeling fully confident. Don’t judge yourself as you write—just be objective. Detach emotionally for a moment, and become an impartial reporter of what’s happening inside you, noting what triggered your shift in confidence.

Depending upon how many incidences you have, after a week or two of keeping track, pick up your confidence journal, and look for trends. What do you see, objectively? For example, it might be that your confidence level drops when you address very senior leadership, but you feel fully confident when addressing and leading direct reports.

Or maybe you wrote: “When I’m dealing with peers over whom I have no direct authority, my confidence level drops.”

Or: “When I’m involved in a conversation in my area of expertise, my confidence is high, but when I’m called upon to discuss areas outside my division, my confidence is reduced.”

Some clients keep the journal for two or three weeks, while others like to keep it going for two months or longer. It’s up to you. Once you understand the triggers that are causing confidence highs and lows, you’ll then be better able to preempt the triggers so that you can avoid confidence dips.

If you strengthen your Executive Presence in this way, you’ll be much less likely to allow a setback to diminish your belief in yourself. Keep in mind all of your achievements, and use them to keep you moving forward, even when faced with a challenging situation.

Assess the state of your current Executive Presence by taking my  Executive Presence Quiz.

[1] Hewlett, Sylvia Ann; Leader-Chivée, Lauren; Sherbin, Laura; Gordon, Joanne; Dieudonné, Fabiola; “Executive Presence,” TalentinInnovation.org, http://www.talentinnovation.org/assets/ExecutivePresence-KeyFindings-CTI.pdf.

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success,” includes many more tips and tools to help strengthen your Executive Presence for greater self-leadership success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #5: How to Self-Promote Without Bragging

I once coached a leader named Margaret, a Human Resources executive who, along with her team, was responsible for 125 leaders within her large organization—no small feat. However, as a result of a company merger, Margaret and her team suddenly found themselves responsible for almost double that—245 leaders—and were informed that due to cost-cutting measures, they would have no additional staffing. So, overnight, Margaret and her team were faced with almost double the work and no added help.

Margaret came to me feeling anxious, wondering, “Can we do it? Is it possible?”

She and her team created a vision, devised a strategic plan, worked weekends and late nights, and ultimately did an exemplary job of managing their larger mandate. In fact, within one year, they were working like a well-oiled machine, effectively managing all of the 245 leaders without incident.

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When Margaret’s annual performance review came, her boss praised her wholeheartedly. He congratulated her on a job well done and let her know just how much the company appreciated what she was able to accomplish.

How did Margaret respond? She shook her head modestly, and said, “Oh, it’s OK. It was nothing….”

When Margaret met with me and shared the outcome of her performance appraisal, she must have seen an expression of surprise on my face, given the tremendous effort she and her team had put in during the last year.

She shook her head. “I know, I know. I can’t believe I said that!”

After debriefing the situation, Margaret shared that she hadn’t taken the compliment well because she was uncomfortable in that moment and didn’t want to appear boastful.

Promoting ourselves and talking about our accomplishments in an unboastful way can be uncomfortable for many leaders. It is absolutely true that nobody likes to listen to the braggart who goes on and on about all the great things he or she has done. But there’s a difference between bragging from a place of insecurity that makes you need attention, and simply bringing attention to your achievements—with a combination of humility and pride.

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Margaret and I talked about how she would have liked to respond to that compliment, and we even prepared a statement that she memorized in case the opportunity arose again. About a month later, Margaret’s boss’s boss came to see her to also express his appreciation for her hard work. This time, she was prepared. When the compliment came, Margaret responded, “Honestly, it took everyone on the team working long hours and even weekends, but I’m really pleased with what we did, and I’m so glad you appreciate it.”

By answering in this way, Margaret gave credit to everyone on the team, demonstrating that she is an excellent leader. But it also allowed for some self-promotion without putting the emphasis only on herself. Then, she brought it back to “I’m really pleased with what we did, and I’m so glad you appreciate it.” As a result, she was able to show awareness of her own accomplishments without resorting to bragging.

Self-Promotion is Self-Leadership

Are you like Margaret? Have you avoided self-promotion out of the fear that you’ll be seen as a braggart or as someone who doesn’t have humility? I know that being humble is a foundational characteristic in many cultures, and I wholly respect that. But if you avoid promoting yourself on the job, your hard work may go unnoticed. I tell my clients, “Please only learn to be a good self-promoter if you want a successful career and higher compensation!”

Despite the benefits of self-promotion, most senior leaders still avoid sharing their “wins.” Some of them think, “It’s not that big of a deal. I’ll wait until I achieve something bigger, and then I’ll talk about it.”

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Others ask me, “Shouldn’t talking about my accomplishments be my boss’s responsibility?” Well, yes, probably. But let’s get real. Put yourself in a modern-day superior’s shoes. Financial pressures are creating increasingly flatter organizations, which means bosses have a larger number of direct reports than ever before. Also, the need for companies to go beyond domestic borders to continue their growth trajectory means not only do bosses have more direct reports, but those direct reports may be located all over the world. So, be empathetic to the fact that top executives’ jobs have gotten more and more difficult over the years, and their ability to focus on and promote upwards each individual who works for them has become stretched very thin.

You can now hopefully see how today—more than any other time in the history of modern capitalism—self-promotion has become a vital part of self-leadership. As such, by letting your boss know on a regular basis what you’re doing, you are actually making his or her job easier! The boss will be grateful because—trust me—when it’s time for your yearly performance management review, he/she will be better able to endorse you to upper level management. You will not only be helping your superiors, but also demonstrating strong self-leadership and solid Executive Presence in the process.

Another point to consider: By keeping track of your accomplishments along the way, you will be better prepared for your next performance review without the need to invest hours in reflection and writing time. You’ll be glad you can avoid that feeling of, “Did I miss anything?” that often accompanies your own self-assessment in annual performance reviews.

How to Self-Promote Without Bragging

Promoting yourself without bragging takes a bit of finesse while you’re first learning the art. With that in mind, here are some specific steps you can take:

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  1. Send regular emails to your boss—not about yourself, but about the good work of one or more of your team members. Give those deserving people a spotlight; that will show your superior that you’re a terrific leader without taking credit yourself. And, by the way, sending this email about others’ accomplishments is an excellent way to demonstrate your own self-leadership, too.
  2. Shortly before your performance review, make a list of accomplishments you want to highlight to your boss. This is your chance to let him or her know your strengths. If it helps you feel more comfortable, spend a little time phrasing your remarks so that they don’t sound boastful, using proven facts to support your claims. For instance: “The revenues of the Alberta project exceeded expectations, and the strategy the team and I put in place reduced costs by 12 percent.”
  3. Don’t miss a chance to let someone else praise your good work “upward.” If a client, customer, or colleague sends an email expressing gratitude or saying they were impressed with your work or the work of your team, forward it to the boss with a message saying how grateful you are that this person took valuable time out of their day to send positive feedback.
  4. Always try to applaud another person before you mention your part in a project’s success. For example, “Shania worked evenings to finalize this plan, and her efforts really helped me seal this deal. I appreciate having such solid team support.” Notice that you use the words “I” and “me” without taking all the credit for yourself.

If you continue to feel uncomfortable when mentioning your own accomplishments, spend time planning the words you will use, as if you were selling a new client on your company’s products or services. Practice the phrases at home or with a friend or a peer you trust until you reach a point where sharing your accomplishments feels more natural. Then, you’ll be promoting yourself without the need to brag at all.

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #4: Why Great Self-Leaders Know Arguing is a Good Thing

My executive coaching client, Sonya, was head of the Operations function in her organization when her boss was struck with a severe illness that forced him to suddenly quit his job. As a result, Sonya was catapulted overnight to the role of General Manager. She went from being peers with her fellow function heads to becoming their boss. And some of them weren’t exactly happy about that.

To make the situation more challenging, Sonya had been raised in an Asian culture where harmony is a critical value and a key to success in work and life. On the other hand, the function heads now reporting to her came from mixed backgrounds, but quite a few from Western cultures. Harmony wasn’t as important for them, so her leadership meetings were a struggle from the start, with considerable conflict and all sorts of games being played.

Because of Sonya’s desire to maintain a pleasant environment and make sure people were happy, her efforts at placating everyone didn’t resolve issues. In fact, some of her team members didn’t take her seriously, and the tensions between them persisted. She came to me in a state of desperation, needing help to find a solution.

I had a hunch that Sonya might benefit from exploring her mindset around conflict. So, the first thing we did was use what I call the “What You Think is What You Get Triangle,” starting from the bottom and working our way up.

First, I asked Sonya to tell me her main thought about conflict. Her answer was steeped in her experience and the way she was raised, “Conflicts are bad, so I avoid them as much as possible.”

Next, I asked her how that thought made her feel about arguments when they did happen. Sonya said, “Nervous. When someone disagrees with me or starts an argument with me, my mind gets garbled, and I don’t think clearly.”

Moving up the triangle, I asked, “So, when you feel nervous, how does that make you behave? What are the actions you take or the reactions you have as a result of that feeling?”

“I gloss over it when someone objects to something I say or do. I just turn away from dissent, or I agree with that person, even if I don’t really agree,” she answered.

Lastly, I asked her what the outcomes were of simply ignoring disagreements. “I don’t resolve issues,” she said, “and the leadership team ends up not being aligned.”

Through doing this exercise, Sonya began to realize that it was her own thinking and the resulting behaviors she exhibited—not the actions of her colleagues—that were actually keeping conflict alive.

We tend to think of conflict as problems with “other” people, and we look for ways to change their behavior. But managing conflict is largely an “inside job,” a matter of self-leadership. Sure, your negotiating skills and everything else you’ve learned about working with others will come into play, but your self-leadership skills will set both a tone and an example. The better you manage yourself, the better each conflict that arises will be managed overall.

When I asked Sonya to reflect on the overall impact of her behavior on her individual brand as a leader, she admitted it probably made her appear ineffective and that conflict management was an area she could definitely work on as a way to strengthen her self-leadership.

The Advantages of Arguing

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Regardless of the culture we come from, let’s face it: Few of us actually enjoy arguments. They can be unpleasant and give us anxiety because, if they escalate, we might damage a relationship or create bad feelings that linger. Once people feel hurt or insulted, it isn’t always easy to regain their trust or respect.

But great self-leaders know that conflict isn’t always a bad thing. The truth is, arguments are a natural and unavoidable part of work life. Leaders who avoid them do so at their peril. Indeed, as long as we don’t let arguments get out of hand and turn into useless shouting matches, they actually have a number of advantages. Here are just a few:

Arguments allow…

  • people to participate in discussions;
  • new ideas and perspectives to surface;
  • improvement, forward movement, and positive change rather than stagnation; and
  • a clearing of the air so that issues don’t fester.

A modern-day example of how arguments can bring about positive outcomes is the relationship between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. They had a famous, history-making argument that led them to launch two separate companies. Without that argument, we might not have the products we use every day from Microsoft and Apple.

If you tend to avoid arguments (and many of us do), try the “What You Think is What You Get Triangle.” Start at the bottom of the Triangle, and work upward, asking yourself what you honestly think about arguments, how that specific thought makes you feel, how that feeling in turn influences your behaviors, and what the outcomes are of those behaviors. In short, reflect on how those behaviors impact your brand as a leader. Then, you’ll see how that single, foundational thought that you have around conflict ultimately impacts the results you get.

Once done, redo your triangle, thinking a productive thought about arguments, how that thought would make you feel, how that feeling would make you behave, and the results that you would get from that new behavior. It’s a powerful shift.

Here’s how that second triangle turned out for Sonya: In order to alter her results, we went back to the beginning and considered how the outcome would change if she modified the way she thought about conflict, keeping in mind that what you think is what you get.

This time, when I asked Sonya to come up with a constructive thought about conflict to replace her prior negative thought, she said, “Conflict is actually good. It leads to positive and productive outcomes.”

“OK,” I said. “Now, how would that thought make you feel when you are in a situation involving conflict?”

She reflected for a moment before speaking. “I would feel appreciative of the person arguing, and I would respect the value they added to the conversation.”

We continued on to reveal that this feeling, in turn, would cause Sonya to behave differently from before. She would acknowledge the person’s point of view instead of trying to avoid it. She would seek to understand before judging.

The ultimate result? The dissenting person would feel acknowledged, the meeting would carry on, and everyone would benefit from new ideas being shared.

Through this exercise, by simply changing the way Sonya thought about conflict—which in turn would shift her feelings and behaviors about conflict—she could immediately get better results. In other words, by practicing good self-leadership whenever tensions arose, Sonya would strengthen her leadership brand.

Make a commitment to yourself that the next time a conflict or argument arises in the workplace, you’ll think differently about that conflict in order to get better outcomes. It’s what great self-leaders do.

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #3: The Most Important Question to Ask Yourself as a Self-Leader

These are interesting times for leaders. Technology is changing the game every day, there is increasing competition for good jobs, and the international economic climate is as fickle as the weather in London. If you are like most of the executives I coach it’s hard to find the time to sit down and contemplate where your career is going. But how can you be a good self-leader if you don’t know exactly where you are leading yourself to?

As Laurence Peter, author of The Peter Principle, wrote: “If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”

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That’s why the most important question to ask yourself as a self-leader is: “What do I really want long-term in my career?”

You’re no longer at a level where you can leave your fate to “the powers that be” at headquarters or even to your immediate boss. If you wait for something outside of your control to change, you could end up waiting a very long time. So, in reality, there is nobody better than you to look at the big picture and set the direction for the next move in your career.

Take my coaching client, Scott, as an example. A very successful lawyer in a large multinational firm, Scott hadn’t taken the time to look at his career in a “big picture” way. Don’t get me wrong— he was progressing up the ladder, and quite nicely at that—but not in a strategic way. He was simply moving along from job to job. He had no long-term perspective because he had gotten too caught up in each position’s specific set of responsibilities and was only focusing on how to move forward to the next one. He had never thought about how each job could actually position him for much longer-term success.

Scott said to me (and I hear this a lot), “The truth is, Brenda, I’ve just been lucky all my career. The companies and opportunities have simply come to me; I didn’t need to plan or strategize.”

If this sounds familiar to you, I may know why. Early in your career, it isn’t unusual for the next opportunity to just land in your lap. You produce, you deliver, and doing so results in more jobs and more opportunities appearing on the horizon.

But as you move up the ladder to increasingly senior positions, the sheer number of jobs at that level diminishes. It becomes important to shift from being reactive—simply choosing from among the various positions that are presented to you—to being proactive. When you are proactive, you ask yourself the important questions that can change the trajectory of your professional life for the better: Is my current position likely to lead me where I want to go? In order to reach my long-term goal, what makes the most strategic sense for my career – short-term, medium-term, and long-term?

A Career with a View

It’s one thing to say that you want to look at your career from a strategic vantage point, but how do you actually do that?

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To do this for Scott, he and I worked through what I call the “End-Point Exercise.” You can try it, too:

  1. First, draw a horizontal timeline with this year’s date at the farthest-left end of the line. Then, reflect: At what age will you retire and/or quit working full-time? Be transparent with yourself. How many years do you honestly have remaining in your career? 10? 15? 20?
  2. Write that retirement year at the furthest-right end on your timeline.
  3. Then, ask yourself:
    • What does “success” look like at that final stage?
    • What do I want to be doing by then?
    • What is my ideal final post in my career?
  4. Spend some time visioning what your life will look like at that point. Don’t limit your vision to your work life; think also about where you want to be with your family/personal life, community, spiritual life, philanthropy—all aspects of what is important to you.

This first step is key. You must be crystal clear in your mind about your “end game.” Don’t move forward with any other steps until you’re absolutely certain that you have clarity about where you are headed.

To help you with this, I encourage you to create a vision for yourself. It can be a written narrative or a pictorial vision (with photos or magazine visuals that you pull together)—or it can be a combination of both. Be specific. You may want to talk about or develop your vision with your spouse or your significant other to assure that you have the same end game in mind.

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Once you are crystal clear on the desired outcome, here’s how to make this vision come to life: Envision that it is the last day of your work life. You’ve fast-forwarded to the year you’ve written at the farthest-right end of the timeline you drew.

Try it now! In your mind, imagine you are at your retirement party, and a big banquet has been organized in your honor. You are seated at the head table. All of your past and current coworkers are there to celebrate your life and career—your direct reports, peers, bosses, suppliers, and industry colleagues. Each of those individuals is standing up, one by one, and paying tribute to you. What will they say about you in general? About what you did? About the specific contributions you made? About the kind of person you are? What would you like to hear them say as you sit there, listening to speech after speech?

Then, ask yourself this fundamental question: What will I need to do, and how will I need to be, to get to that point and deserve those accolades?

It helps to take a 360-degree approach to this exercise and look at the situation holistically:

  • What character traits will you need to hone and polish?
  • What specific skill sets will be key to your success?
  • How much money will you need or want to have by then?
  • What kinds of networks and connections will you require?

Create a list for yourself, and keep adding until you’ve written down all of the skills, attributes, and actions that you will need to get you to where you want to be.

Once that is clear, come back to the reality of today, and ask yourself: How would you rate yourself in each of those individual areas now? If the “end game” is a 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being high), how would you score yourself today in each specific area?

This assessment allows you to get crystal clear about (a) how well you are honestly doing now, and (b) where you will need to place the most focus between now and then. Which of your skills and talents need strengthening in order to achieve your goals by the end date? Get specific.

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As I walked Scott through the End-Point Exercise, he realized that he had aspirations to be a General Counsel in a large multinational corporation. That would involve carefully plotting his career to include new skills—both in the legal field and with people-leadership—that he hadn’t previously considered. He also would need to network across other areas of the larger organization where he worked—within divisions where he hadn’t made connections in the past. This prompted Scott to set up a series of lunches and coffees with various high-level leaders from other areas of the organization. It was a great example of being proactive and taking self-leadership in career planning to a whole new level.

This is how you develop a concrete plan to plot your career strategically and make sure you’re on track to end up where you want to be!

Do you want to strengthen your self-leadership skills? Check out my latest book, Leading YOU™: The Power of Self-Leadership to Build Your Executive Brand and Drive Career Success, where I share dozens of tips, tools, and techniques to help you rise to the top in your career.

Self-Leadership Challenge #2: The Two Biggest Time-Wasters that Great Self-Leaders Avoid

As an executive coach, I’ve reviewed the time logs of hundreds of senior managers and executives. In those logs, where leaders track their movements at 15-minute increments for two full weeks, the two biggest and most consistent time-wasters that great self-leaders avoid have jumped out from the page: (1) attending meetings and (2) writing/responding to emails. Does this sound familiar to you, too? Let’s explore each of these, one at a time.

#1 Time-Waster: Meetings that Hijack Your Time. A survey conducted among 2,000 British employees highlighted that the average UK worker will attend 6,239 meetings during his/her career. Is that just a “British thing?” Not according to the time logs of my clients, who hail from over 60 nationalities and 70 industries.

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The number of meetings held daily at any given company is staggering. And since senior leaders seem to be invited to the bulk of those meetings—and often feel obliged to attend—the victim mentality frequently kicks in when I discuss this topic. “But I have to go to that meeting. I don’t have a choice,” I hear leaders say. This, in spite of the fact that a whopping 60% of the people in that same British survey said they find meetings “pretty pointless.”

If attending meetings is one of your biggest time-robbers, too, never fear. There is something you can do about it.

As a coach, I’m often asked to shadow execs in their workplace, usually in meetings. I sit there quietly observing so that I can provide feedback later about what I saw and heard. As I look around those meeting rooms, I sometimes pause to consider the amount of total salary that’s being spent by the organization to have all of those individuals in the same room at the same time. Can you imagine?

If this is true for you, or if you find yourself in a meeting that doesn’t truly require your presence, pause and reflect: You may actually be doing a disservice to your organization by attending that meeting. Think about it: Every minute you spend during work hours is a company asset. Just like you wouldn’t misuse a company car or waste office equipment or materials, so you shouldn’t waste your limited time in meetings that don’t honestly need your talents and attention. Your duty is to use your time—the company’s asset—in the most effective way possible.

How Do Great Self-Leaders Use Their Time Wisely? They Choose Their Meetings Wisely

The key is to get real about which meetings you honestly do and do not need to attend. That means saying “yes” only to meeting invitations where your presence is absolutely required and you can add value. How can you tell if a meeting is necessary or if it’s going to be a time-waster?

First, ask for an agenda in advance that clearly states the purpose/objective of the meeting. Once you get the agenda, here are some tips to determine if your attendance is truly required, as well as ways to say “no,” how to handle difficult meetings, and how to effectively plan your own meetings.

  • Will it truly benefit the company if you attend? If so, how?
  • Will it benefit you as a leader if you attend? Perhaps the meeting is to cover a topic you know little about, but you’d like to improve your understanding. Or perhaps it’s a meeting that will be attended by much higher senior-level leaders, and you want to observe how they conduct themselves.
  • Would attending the meeting be a possible means for you to strengthen important relationships, either with a particular person or with a specific group of people?
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  • Is it truly necessary for you to be there, or could you ask someone else to attend in your place? For example, could this meeting be a good learning and development opportunity for one of your direct reports?
  • Do you need to attend the entire meeting or, after review of the agenda, is there only a portion of the meeting that’s truly relevant to you? This is a consistent problem shared by many of my clients. They sit through an entire 3-hour meeting even though they were only needed for, say, 30 minutes.
  • Could you attend the meeting via video or by phone? Just be careful: It’s easy to get distracted with other tasks, such as emails, when you aren’t physically present at a meeting.
  • Let’s say you’ve reviewed the agenda and have determined that it really isn’t necessary for you to attend, neither for the company nor for you personally. How do you get out of attending the meeting gracefully and still preserve positive relationships with the organizers? Sometimes, you simply have to say “no” with calm confidence. Let the meeting planner know that you appreciate being invited but that you feel your attendance isn’t necessary. Then, either offer to read a summary of the meeting and follow up with any comments you might have, or have someone else attend in your place.
  • What if you are in a meeting that’s running overtime? Opt to excuse yourself by saying something like, “I have to stick to schedule and leave, but thank you in advance for sending me the meeting summary—I appreciate that.”
  • For meetings you do decide to attend, schedule a 10-15 minute buffer before and after. Use the time before the meeting to ask yourself: What is the objective of this meeting? Why am I attending? What do I personally want to achieve by attending? What does success look like for me at the end of the meeting? Then, after the meeting, ask yourself: What were the one, two, or three key takeaways from that meeting? What are the implications for my team or function? What are the next steps I’ve committed to, if any, and who needs to be aware of them?

#2 Time-Waster: Emails—The Constant Interruption. Since our phones and computers typically make a sound or vibrate every time we get an email, it can be tempting to interrupt what we’re doing to take a look. But unless you’re waiting for specific important inbox material, this is a major distraction and time-waster. Each time you interrupt your concentration, you have to take a few seconds or even minutes to regain the same level of focus on what you were doing before.

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The idea that we can “multi-task” is a myth. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that our brains are simply not capable of doing two things at once. All we can truly do is what is called “rapid refocus”—quickly shift from one focal point to another—and doing so not only wastes time, but tires the brain, too. The outcome? We are more likely to make more mistakes and be burnt out at the end of the day.

Here are two tips to prevent emails from distracting you and robbing you of so much time:

  • Dedicate focused time for reading, writing, and responding to emails. Give yourself specific guidelines for email management, and stick to it. For example, let your staff know that you’ll be working on email without interruption from, say, 8:30-9:15 every morning and from 3:00-4:00 every afternoon. If you plan for this focus and make it an ongoing habit, you’ll be amazed by how much you can accomplish.
  • Get voice-activated software, and dictate your emails by voice instead of typing them. I use software called Dragon Naturally Speaking, but there is other voice-activated software to choose from, too. Be sure to program it to understand your accent and your specific enunciation patterns. Once you do, you may become addicted to it like me, especially if you aren’t a particularly speedy typist. I’ve seen this type of software save hours per week for many of my coaching clients as well.

How much time do you think you can save by following these two key tips?

Want to learn more? My book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, includes several more valuable time and meeting management techniques for self-leadership success.

Self-Leadership Challenge #1: What Does it Mean to Be a Great “Self-Leader”?

Often, when we hear the word “leader,” we think of an individual who leads others. But people-leadership is only one part of an executive’s journey. Yes, people-leadership skills are absolutely critical to success … but on their own, they are not enough to help you reach your full potential. Before you can effectively lead subordinates, you must first effectively lead yourself.

Self-leadership is the missing piece for so many executives—
a key area of leadership that often gets neglected.

In other words, you cannot successfully manage others until you’re adept at managing your own mindset, actions, and reactions.

How do I know this is true? It has become clear to me in my career as an executive coach, during which I have worked with hundreds of leaders from more than 60 nationalities and a wide variety of industries. Before that, I was an executive myself in multinational corporations, building brands across dozens of countries on four continents.

My first lesson about self-leadership occurred years ago during an unexpected encounter with John Pepper, then-Chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble (P&G). It was a hot August night in Cincinnati, Ohio, the home of P&G’s world headquarters. I had just flown in the day before from China, where I was living and working for P&G as an expat, to attend a global meeting for the company’s marketing leaders. Once the all-day event was over, I holed myself up in a corner of the darkened 9th floor—my old stomping grounds when I worked there—in order to catch up on emails.

Glancing at my watch, I realized it was almost 9:30 p.m., so I packed up my things to head back to the hotel. Making my way through a half-lit hallway, I reached the elevator bank and pushed the “down” button. As I glanced up, I realized the elevator was descending from the 11th floor.

Back then, the 11th floor of P&G’s world headquarters was called “Mahogany Row” due to the beautiful mahogany desks that graced the space. Those desks belonged to the highest-level leaders in the multibillion-dollar corporation—P&G’s C-Suite Executives: the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CMO, the CIO, the C-I-E-I-O (you get my drift).

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Standing there watching the elevator numbers counting down from 11 … to 10 … to 9, a thought flashed through my mind: “I wonder if anybody from the 11th floor will be sharing the car with me.”

As if on cue, the elevator doors opened, and sure enough, there stood John Pepper. As I stepped inside, it suddenly hit me: I was going to have nine floors—count ‘em, nine—of one-on-one time with the company’s #1 executive.

Because I had presented to John many times, I knew he was aware that I was managing key company brands in Greater China, an important strategic location for the company. I also knew that after 30 hours of long-haul travel and attending an all-day meeting, the pistons of my brain-engine weren’t exactly hitting on all cylinders. That’s when I heard inside my head the wise voice of one of my favorite mentors, saying, “Brenda, always be prepared with a question for upper management in case you run into them. Because if you don’t ask them a question, they will ask you one.”

So, to avoid being faced with a brain-challenging inquiry in my exhausted state, I turned and said, “Good evening, John. It’s nice to see you. Do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Not at all,” he answered. “Feel free.”

“There’s something I’ve been wondering about,” I said. “I understand what it takes to progress from Assistant Brand Manager to Brand Manager. And I’m clear about what’s required to move from Brand Manager to Associate Marketing Manager and from there to Marketing Manager. I’m even clear on what it takes to advance from Marketing Manager to Marketing Director and from Marketing Director to Vice President. But above those levels, what is required to get promoted from, say, Executive Vice President to Senior Executive Vice President? In other words, at the most senior levels of the company, why do some leaders keep moving up the ladder and others don’t?”

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I’ve never forgotten what Mr. Pepper shared with me late that August evening. “Those who do not make it to the highest levels of the organization are the executives who stop being ‘coachable.’ They believe they no longer need to accept feedback. They don’t try to keep learning or growing, and they don’t believe they need to stretch themselves anymore. They sit back, earn the big paycheck, and take in all the perks that come with a grand title. They believe they’ve ‘made it.’ Those are the leaders who don’t last long because being coachable is fundamental to leadership success.”

Mr. Pepper’s powerful advice has influenced me ever since. Since then, I have tried to emulate great self-leaders by initiating a daily habit of asking myself, “How coachable am I today?” And I have suggested that my executive coaching clients do the same.

Break the “CCODE”

I believe great self-leaders also follow what I call the “CCODE,” an acronym that is a recipe for self-leadership success. The ingredients are as follows

  • C is first for Courage. The first step in your evolution as a capable self-leader is taking a good, hard look at yourselfyour work habits, your fears, your personal style, your relationships, where you thrive, and where you fall short. A true, no-holds-barred self-assessment takes guts. Confronting yourself and realizing that you have flaws that are holding you back can be painful. It takes courage to open your eyes, look in that mirror, and make changes that will have a powerful impact on your career.
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  • C also stands for Commitment. Self-leadership isn’t a goal to which you can aspire “a bit.” It’s like being a “little” ethical; you either are, or you aren’t. Once you commit to being coachableonce you say you want to examine yourself and make whatever changes are necessary to be an effective self-leaderthen you must devote yourself to the process, embrace it, and keep it at the top of your priority list. It deserves your time,  focus, and attention.
  • O means you are Open to new ideas, new mindsets, and new ways of looking at your life, your work style, and your relationships. You’re also open to changing the way you work. As I mentioned earlier, self-leaders are willing to at least listen to new ideas.
  • D is for Discipline. This means putting systems in place and organizing yourself in a way that supports your progress. It involves arranging your schedule to find time for the changes you want to make. Disciplined self-leaders also make regular self-assessments a part of their routine so that they are continually checking progress and making adjustments.
  • E is for the Energy you must devote to this important mission. Don’t underestimate the amount of energy you’ll need to make changes to yourself. It amounts to conscientious self-care, and that’s not something senior executives are always good at. It’s too easy to blow off daily objectives like getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy foods, and fitting in regular exercise. But you cannot achieve your goals if your body and mind are tired. That’s why this might be the most important CCODE component because, without healthy energy, the other objectives will be out of your reach.

Those are some of the key basic attributes that make for a great self-leader. In my new book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, I reveal the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors that I regularly see in my executive coaching practice, and I provide dozens of tips and techniques you can immediately apply to correct or improve these behaviors.

In what ways do YOU want to improve in order to be a great self-leader?

 

The New Year / New YOU™ Self-Leadership “Stillness” Challenge

Happy New Year! I hope that 2017 has started wonderfully for you.

Are you a New Year’s resolution kind of person? I personally like the idea of setting new intentions when a new year begins. But this year, I decided to take it up a notch –  to forego a traditional new year’s resolution, and challenge myself instead with something related to the topic of my latest book.  I call it my personal “self-leadership challenge,” and it’s a good, meaty one, I can tell you!  I would love you to join me as a way to strengthen your brand this year.

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Titled Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success, the book focuses on the critical topic of self-leadership – one of the most important yet often overlooked skills necessary to be an effective leader. In the book, I share the 15 most damaging self-leadership behaviors I regularly see in my coaching practice and offer dozens of tips and techniques to correct them.

One of the first 15 behaviors I write about in Leading YOU™ is mind management. It’s covered early on in the first few chapters for a good reason – strong mind management is the foundation of self-leadership. All the remaining 14 behaviors stem from that.

Now, to be honest, I’ve practiced mind management for years, which has helped me focus my thoughts, shift quickly from negative to positive energy, and much more. But this year, I wanted to take mind management a step further: I decided to practice total stillness of mind and body.

What does that mean exactly? Well, “body stillness” is pretty obvious. I mean, we don’t move our bodies at night while we sleep, right? But I wanted to integrate that same level of body stillness into the hustle and bustle of my typical days. I felt reasonably confident I could do that.

But, mind stillness” (not meditation)? Well, that’s a different ballgame altogether!

If you’ve ever tried meditating, you might have focused on your breathing, stated a mantra, chanted, counted your breaths, or focused on the air moving in and out of your nostrils, for example. That’s all good, but those activities continue to keep the mind “busy.”

No, I wanted to challenge myself to have “zero” activity in my mind – absolutely no thoughts at all. No ideas passing through, no counting breaths, not even experiencing any feelings – nothing. Just 100%, pure mind and body stillness. Could I do it?….

What are the benefits – to you and YOU™?

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Let’s admit it: We’ve become addicted to busy-ness. I’ve seen it in myself and in my coaching clients. Most of us rarely have a moment of stillness (at least not while we’re awake).  Whenever my husband and I go out to dinner, I look around and regularly see couples and families sitting together, everyone on his or her individual smart phone or iPad. Instead of experiencing any degree of stillness, we seem to be addicted to always keeping our minds busy. But all that does is increase our stress levels, close us off from creative thinking, and make us mentally tired.  That’s one of the reasons why I set this goal for 2017.

So, how does this relate to successful self-leadership and branding yourself a leader? A host of studies have found that …

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  • Besides improving focus, regularly experiencing stillness can decrease anxiety, encourage calmness, and help regulate emotions in order to handle stress better.
  • With stillness, the mind can “clear the slate” and come back to address challenges from a truly fresh perspective with renewed creativity and ideas.
  • This, in turn, helps manage reactions to situations on the job, staying calmer when issues and conflicts arise.
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And all of that helps build a stronger brand for yourself as a leader at work.  Because doing so impacts the way you act, react, look, sound, and think. And that is how you communicate your brand, impacting how others perceive, think, and feel about “YOU™.”

Ready, set, go!…

So, I set my sights on a goal for 2017: To spend 17 minutes a day in complete, continuous mind and body stillness. I’m not talking about 1-2 minutes a few times here and there, throughout the day. No, I mean 17 minutes in a row with no mind or body activity whatsoever.

How is it going so far? Well, I said I was going to challenge myself, and it has indeed been a challenge!

On January 1 – Day One of my experiment – I was in Thailand, sitting on a balcony that overlooked palm trees. I closed my eyes to begin my first 17 minutes of stillness. Suddenly, all the noises around me seemed to amplify as if blaring through speakers…. Birds of every conceivable type were squawking loudly. Cars and trucks were revving and honking on the distant roads. I heard water rushing, trees swaying in the wind, and the whir of the ceiling fan overhead. All of that proved to be massively distracting from my goal of total mind stillness. I was clearly off to a rough start…

So, my Day Two strategy included … EARPLUGS! Thanks to that, I was able to achieve a bit of time – albeit very short – of true, concentrated, complete stillness. Each day since, it’s been a mix: I’ve had some good sessions, some not-so-good sessions. But despite the ups and downs, I have stuck with it, daily.

At this point – a little over three weeks into this year’s goal – I estimate the maximum true, total mind stillness I’ve been able to achieve is about 4-5 minutes at a time, but I’m still working toward that continuous, 17-minute stretch. I am determined!

What about YOU? Are you up for the “New Year / New YOU™ Self-Leadership ‘Stillness’ Challenge”? No matter how long you manage total quiet and stillness, you will experience big benefits, strengthen your self-leadership, and help to build your individual brand. How about giving it a try?