Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Prospective Sponsors Will Notice Your Brand…..It Speaks Louder Than Words

So you want to get a sponsor in your organization…….somebody with influence who is ready to go to bat for you in furthering your career.  How can a brand help you accomplish this?
Think about the power of brands.  It can be a food, car, hotel, or clothing brand.  What makes a brand powerful?  What makes you go back again and again to a brand?  I’m guessing it probably isn’t just their logo or outward trappings that lure you back.

Just having a brand with frills doesn’t guarantee success; it’s what is behind the brand that really counts.  And that is true for personal brands as well.  Here are two examples of what I’m talking about. 
When I lived in Seattle there was a marvelous small restaurant on the Olympic Peninsula that served the most incredible seafood meals.  Whenever I was there a line of people, rain or shine, were always waiting to get a table at the place.  This little restaurant didn’t have a fancy logo or, for that matter, fancy anything….except fabulous food and super friendly service.  Forty-four years later I still remember that wonderful place and its name…..The 3 Crabs Restaurant!

On the other hand, I’ve been to restaurants all over the world that initially enticed me in by a fancy logo or an attractive storefront, but didn’t have anything else to back them up.  I can’t remember their names now nor would I ever visit them again.  Like these examples, personal branding is all about putting your best impression forward AND sustaining that impression over time. 
How do you develop a professional brand?  Authenticity is key!   Keep in mind the words of Abraham Lincoln:  You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time.”  If your brand is not authentic, people won’t be fooled and neither will a prospective sponsor!

Knowing who you are, what you contribute, and where you are going make up your brand’s core.  You should not be surprised if this sounds familiar.  Branding is interwoven with how you see and conduct yourself.  It’s your vision, purpose, and strengths, daily actions, writing, speaking, interactions with others and your appearance and “soft skills.”
Perceptions about you by others play a big part in the type of possibilities and advancements that come your way.  If you know and follow your vision and purpose, use and live your strengths, and set and take action on your goals then the likelihood of building and sustaining your brand is almost guaranteed as is the prospect of gaining a sponsor.

Brands are not useful, though, unless they are communicated to and known by others.  A product can have all the best elements of a brand, but until the brand is recognized it can’t live up to its potential.  An important element of professional branding is visibility.  You not only need to develop your brand and nurture it, you must also publicize it to make a sustained imprint in furthering your career.
Make developing your brand a priority.  Then own it, be proud of it and publicize it every day through daily actions that speak louder than words.  You will be surprised how much easier your career can advance and how much more interest a prospective sponsor will have in supporting you.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Are You Prepared to Say to a Prospective Career Sponsor?

This is the second in a series of posts that explores the steps that you can take to secure a sponsor.  In my first blog on this topic I suggested five actions for obtaining a sponsor:
  1. Know who you are and what you want
  2. Develop your brand
  3. Network with senior executives
  4. Volunteer for cross-functional projects
  5. Approach and secure a sponsor

This blog tackles the first action:  Know who you are and what you want.

Studies show that sponsors clear the path for career advancement, but the inability for women to connect with senior management in securing sponsorship is one of the biggest barriers to their career advancement.  A sponsor is a senior manager in the organization who actively advocates for your career advancement and is in a position of influence to help push it forward.  

Before others can advocate on your behalf to help advance your career they need to know your passions, strengths and values, and your vision of your career path.  You must be clear on your career goals and know who you are and what you stand for before others can help you.  If others don’t know what you want and the value you bring, they can’t help you move your career forward. The following happened recently and illustrates the importance of these points.
I was talking during a break between the educational sessions at a recent professional meeting with several attendees.  During our conversation the topic of career progression came up.  One of the attendees offered that she was working on a second Master’s degree.  I asked her what type of position she saw herself obtaining after her studies concluded.  Her response was, “I’m not sure, there are so many opportunities.”  Since this was a vague response, I probed her some more and asked her to narrow down the opportunities.  She replied with an equally vague response:  “Something in compliance.”
At this point, I turned to another attendee, who was also completing a Master’s, and asked the same question. In contrast to the previous response, this person provided not only a specific goal, but also gave a picture of his passion:  “I see financial management as being critical in healthcare.  I’m going to take my current background and education and in five years be the CFO of a smaller healthcare organization. My ultimate goal is to be the CFO of a large healthcare system.”
Wow!  You can see the difference between the two answers.  The first one lacks clarity and sense of purpose.  In the second one, however, the energy, confidence, and determination just jump off the page.  The response not only includes a specific goal, but also offers a picture of this person’s passion.  My immediate reaction was to engage in further conversation and offer him ideas on how he could reach his five-year goal.

It was not lost on me that there was a gender difference in the responses. While the above example is a snapshot in time, it conforms to findings of research studies that show, on average, that women are less clear about career goals and have lower confidence, ambition, and career expectations.  Lack of career clarity has been cited as a significant barrier in holding women back.  So beefing up career clarity is especially important for women.
So how do you develop career clarity?  Here are some questions that can help you clarify your career vision:

  • What are your strengths? (To identify your strengths, take the VIA 24 Character Strengths survey from Penn State available for free at  Study your top five strengths.  Usually you are at your best and most fulfilled when you are using these strengths.
  • Think about a time that you were at your personal best.  What strengths did you use that helped you perform well?  Are these in the top 10 of your VIA strengths?
  • What do you like to do?  What is your passion?  Write these down.  Assess how these mesh with your top strengths.
  • What would you like to achieve in life (your vision or legacy)?  Write this down.
  • Given your vision, strengths, and passion, define your career path.  Where do you want to   be in 15 years?  Write this down.
  • What must you do in the next year, in 3 years, in 5 years and in 10 years to get where you want to be in 15 years?  Write out a plan for each of these time periods to get you where you want to be.
  • When a prospective sponsor asks you what your career future looks like what are you now prepared to say?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sponsors clear the path for career advancement. But how do you get one?

Networking plays a critical role in career advancement.  An important part of the network portfolio is having a sponsor within your work organization. In simple terms, a sponsor is a senior manager in the organization who actively advocates for your career advancement and is in a position of influence to help push it forward.  But according to studies from Rock Health, (, McKinsey (, Wall Street Journal (, and others, a top barrier to career advancement for women is the lack of this type of sponsor.  So how can women secure a sponsor at work? 
Many companies are trying to turn this phenomenon around by instituting formal mentor and sponsorship programs.  If you are fortunate to work for this type of company, be proactive and join the program. 

If your company does not have a sponsorship program, the following is an overview of some preparatory actions you can take.  In the following weeks, I’ll step you through each of these, giving you more specifics, ideas, and examples of how these actions can be executed.
1.       Know who you are and what you want. Clarify your career goals before seeking a sponsor and hone your elevator speech. Know your passion and strengths and be prepared to share these as well as your previous successes and career ambitions with others.  If people don’t know what you want and the value you bring, they can’t help you move your career forward. 

2.       Develop your brand.  A brand signifies how you want others to think about you.  It includes your values, attitude, physical appearance, affective behavior, emotional intelligence, your knowledge and the value you project.

3.       Network with senior executives.  Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself at meetings to prospective sponsors, or volunteer for projects, committees, and initiatives that will give you visibility and that the prospective sponsor champions. A word of caution:  you must perform.  That means your work on projects and other initiatives must be outstanding. Senior managers are NOT going to advocate for someone they don’t know and who cannot produce and execute.

4.       Volunteer for cross-functional projects and initiatives and then perform well.  This will give you heighten visibility throughout the organization and showcase your brand and performance. 

5.       When you believe that you have established yourself through these steps, you can approach a prospective sponsor.  (It may be the case that you won’t have to approach a sponsor; the sponsor will approach you after seeing your value).  Make an appointment with the prospective sponsor.  In the meeting be clear that you are looking for a sponsor relationship.  Be direct about the value you bring and where you want your career to go. Let the prospective sponsor know that you are open for opportunities that can advance your career.      

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Anything is Possible

When I received the American Health Information Management Association’s Distinguished Member Award last October, I shared with the audience a seminal event that essentially changed my life.  The event was so powerful and resonated with so many in the audience that I want to share it in my blog, knowing that it can possibly give you courage to shoot for the impossible.  Below is a transcript of that speech:
I am here to tell you that I am testimony that anything is possible…..Anything is possible when you ask the help of others and believe in yourself! Over 40 years ago a seminal event occurred that helped me set the course believing that anything is possible.
In 1964 in early Fall, just about the same time of year as it is now, I was preparing for my Junior year in high school.  When my course schedule arrived in the mail (no Internet then), I was surprised to see that I had not been enrolled in Algebra II.  At first I was concerned, because a third year of high school math was an essential criterion for being accepted to the college of my choice.  However, I quickly dismissed the worry, deciding that this was an oversight or data entry error.  I would be able to get this corrected, I decided, in my home room on the first day of classes.
The first day of classes arrived and I approached my home room teacher about the issue.  She confirmed that there was no mistake; the head of the math department had decided that I should not be enrolled in Algebra II.  I harangued my home room teacher sufficiently enough that she finally caved and suggested I attend the Algebra II first class session and take the matter up with the teacher, who was also math department head. 
As I sat through the first class of Algebra II, my hopes were high that I could successfully iron out this problem.  After class finished I approached the teacher.  I explained the situation and asked if my exclusion in the course had been an oversight.  She looked straight at me and said, “No, Merida, this was no oversight.  You are too stupid to do Algebra II!”   WOW!  I still distinctly remember what I thought at that moment: “She’s wrong! She is dead wrong.”
Although my confidence was shaken and while I didn’t get into the university of my choice because I didn’t have necessary math prerequisite, I never lost sight my North Star. I kept a belief in myself that I not only could, but that I would fulfill my purpose. 
And today I thank that teacher!  I thank that teacher because she gave me a reason to prove myself. 
Over the years my belief in myself was like a magnet for opening opportunities & attracting people who wanted to get on my band wagon, help me along my way and be part of my journey….and that extends to today.  And to all of those people I am deeply grateful, you are part of my being, and you live with me every single day. 
So my friends and colleagues, I would like to leave you with three challenges.
The first challenge is to believe in yourself.  Never, ever let anyone else define who you are.  You are creative, you are resourceful, you have valuable strengths to offer………never lose sight of your North Star because believing in yourself is the foundation of leadership.
The second Challenge is to never underestimate the willingness of others to help you out.  Life is a team activity.  When you ask someone to help you, you give them a gift……you acknowledge their importance and help reconfirm a belief in them.  So I challenge you to ask others to help you fulfill your potential because asking for help is a hallmark of leadership.
And the final and third challenge is to never let a day go by without asking the question “How can I help you?”  Never let an opportunity go by to showcase your expertise and leadership by asking “How can I help YOU,” because this enriches your life and is a hallmark authentic leadership. 
So go forward.  Be the leader you are meant to be in making healthcare a better place by advancing quality health information because....anything is possible when you believe in yourself and ask for and give help to others.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Committing to Goals and Keeping Them

This is the seventh and last in a series of posts on the story behind the making of my new book, 52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads
Ok, we can all admit to it!  We’ve made goals countless times but more frequently than not have never met them.  I bet for most of us, goals we made five, ten, or maybe even twenty years ago are still out there in the stratosphere floating around.

I was first introduced to the idea of simple or single daily actions in a 12-week goal-setting workshop I took. (Blue Sky Visioning with Ben Dean and Anne Durand).  What a wonderful idea, I thought!  Small steps accumulated over time turn into big accomplishments.  Since that workshop, I have used this technique countless times in helping people move forward in achieving their goals and because of its success I wanted to incorporate the technique as singular process in the 52 Week Game Changer.

Having a personal vision is essential for leadership, but a vision is usually big, powerful and amorphous.  Getting your arms around how to turn vision to reality can be overpowering.  In fact many women I know become paralyzed with inaction not knowing where to start. That’s where simple daily actions can come to the rescue.
Simple daily actions are actions that you can control.  They are consistent, meaningful, and purposeful and taken together, they are so powerful that change the game……that’s why game changers will spend 26 weeks learning how to set simple daily actions and make them work. 

Be a Game Changer
Celebration time!  52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads is out!  Purchase directly at or

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Being Inspired and Motivated by a Personal Vision

This is the sixth in a series of posts on the story behind the making of my new book, 52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads

 I often say in my workshops, “If you don’t know where you are going, all roads lead to nowhere,” which is a take-off on the Lewis Carroll quote, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” 
In my experience people without a vision for their future find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel fulfilled.  When working with women on their career planning, three of the first questions I always ask are:  What is your vision?  What is your purpose? What is your passion?

Studies on leaders show that successful leaders have a life’s vision and sense of purpose, but frequently we do not take the time to think about what we want for our legacy or the purpose of our lives.  The bottom line is:  If you want to be a leader you have to lead yourself first.  And you can’t   And you can’t lead yourself unless you know where you are headed.
Personal vision and purpose are standards and benchmarks that guide you throughout your life.  They help make it easier to arrive at decisions, solve problems, work with others, and face challenges because you have a yardstick by which to measure each of these.  Once you have a vision and purpose, career choices are made simpler; determining a course of action is made more clear; prioritizing your activities is more straightforward; having self-confidence and standing up for yourself feels comfortable; and leading others becomes natural. 

Vision and purpose are unifying themes throughout the 52 week game changing journey…..and when you’re finished you’ll never “leave home”without the two.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Honoring the Individuality and Values of Every Woman Who Turns Its Pages

This is the fifth in a series of posts on how my new book, 52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads, went from vision to reality.

I believe that everyone has the potential for leadership.  I also believe that the roots of leadership are found at our very core—our personal strengths and values.  Leadership is rooted in who you are, not in trying to be someone else. Unfortunately, many of us do not think about, much less honor, our strengths and values to the extent that we should. 

Through coursework for leadership coaching and through the coaching experience itself (both as the coach and the coachee), my belief has only intensified that honoring personal strengths and values is as necessary for leadership success as water is for sustaining aquatic life.   If we do not know who we are how can others know and follow us?  If we do not honor our strengths and values, practicing and exhibiting them, how can we expect to model the way for others?  If we are not constant in the use of our strengths and values, how can we expect others to trust us?

The definition of confidence is a belief in one’s own abilities.  Studies have repeatedly shown that an important part of leadership is self-confidence and the belief that you can succeed. Those who lack self-confidence often avoid risk and are more cautious in career choices. Knowing your strengths and knowing how to leverage these is a critical underpinning of self-confidence.

Because knowing, honoring and levering your strengths is essential for leadership, six weeks in the initial part of changing the game is devoted to helping you know and honor what you bring to the table, finding your voice to speak for yourself, standing up for your convictions and believing that you have the ability to “Change the Game.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

Being companion, confidant, cheerleader, supporter, and sponsor

The following is the fourth in the series of how my book, 52 Week Game Changer: How She LEADS, went from vision to reality.
I was steadfast that my new-to-be book’s structure must serve the functions of companion, confidant, cheerleader, supporter and a sponsor to every woman who walked the game changing journey.

That’s why there are elements and exercises in the 52 Week Game Changer that serve all these roles.  Each week there is a companion, confidant, cheerleader, supporter or sponsor there for you.  In the beginning of the journey you learn how living gratitude and celebrating your successes frames your perspective for success.  Throughout the 52 week journey, Gratitude and Success journal are your companions, confidants, and cheerleaders. 

Vision and purpose are your supporters and the simple daily actions you perform over 26  weeks are the sponsors that motivate and drive you forward in fulfilling your leadership potential.

Knowing that journeys and game changing can be difficult, I strategically placed “Way Stations” along the way so that journeyers could clarify where they are and where they are going, and be given the opportunity to adjustments.

I decided that 52 Week Game Changer should have two parts.  Part 1 would be a series of brief (very brief) chapters describing one element of the framework.  The purpose of the book is not to be an academic work (there are enough of these already).  The book’s thrust is “Changing the Game” and therefore is devoted to action.  The introductory chapters are brief, but substantive enough to help game changers understand the framework.  Part 1 of the book is a mere 15 pages.

Part 2 of the book is where the action happens.  It is the heart of the process, containing 136 pages devoted to changing the game.  It is in Part 2 that game changers will find their companions, confidants, cheerleaders, supporters and sponsors.  It is here where the game begins to change by celebrating who you are, identifying what you want to accomplish, defining the steps you want to take and taking action to change the game!

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Title: I Knew It the Instant I Saw It

The following is the third in the series of how my book, 52 Week Game Changer: How She LEADS, went from vision to reality.
Game changer!  I was browsing through the Internet. I don’t even remember what it was that I was looking for.  But all of a sudden, there it was in bold letters as a title on some webpage.  “Game changer.”   I ran into the next room saying to my husband Russell and my dog Bruno, “That’s it!  Game changer.”  Both looked at me quizzically, not understanding the significance of the moment, but none-the-less cheered me on with “You Go, Girl!”  I knew the moment I saw those words, that they reflected the spirit of my new-to-be book.  The book would be a game changer for helping women to believe in themselves, honor their individuality, and valuing their strengths. It would be a game changer serving as a companion, confidant, cheerleader, supporter, and sponsor to women as they cultivated their leadership potential.
I knew that “Game Changer” was only part of the title.  It wouldn’t be an overnight game change.  Changing the game meant cultivating, growing, and feeling comfortable in leadership over time.  Discovering, acknowledging, and honoring personal strengths and values would be the book’s core.  Finding and then being inspired by a personal vision and motivated by purpose, developing confidence, and finding a voice would require reflection and exercise.  Committing to goals, setting accountabilities and keeping them, would mean taking simple steps on what would be a game changing journey, not a singular event. 

The title of my new-to-be book, flowed naturally:  52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads.

Order from and receive an immediate 15% Discount.  Coming to other major booksellers soon.

Next blog:  Revealing the Game!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

From Chaos to Inspiration

The following is the second in the series of how my book, 52 Week Game Changer:  How She Leads, went from vision to reality.
The heart of my book had been revealed, but to fulfill its purpose, the book needed structure, organization, and arrangement.   Over the next couple of weeks, ideas for the book’s content, like Ping-Pong balls, popped into my head endlessly, and at the oddest times. Sometimes the ideas magically appeared while I was strolling in my town’s historic square, or when I was walking the dog, or when I woke, tossing and turning at 3:00 AM in the morning.  I ceaselessly catalogued all of them in my mind.  I doodled sketches on notepads, and wrote ideas on post-its, the grocery list, and even on the phone message log.  I struggled constantly in trying to find the right balance among the infinite thread of ideas.  Chaos seemed to reign.  But one day inspiration hit like a fireball…..the clues had been there all the time, I just hadn’t noticed until now.
I have been a career advisor, mentor, and sponsor to hundreds (and perhaps even thousands) of women over my 40 year career.  I have worked with women; I have been in a professional field made up of over 90% women and I have seen women struggle to try to make it up the career ladder.  I’ve been there myself, for goodness sake! 

I’ve seen and experienced the structural and cultural barriers that hold women back, but I also know that for many of us the center of what drives us forward in fulfilling our potential is frequently also the same as what holds us back… is ourselves. 
This is the inspiration that hit me like a fireball and created form out of the endless rain of ideas.  The book’s structure would be framed around ourselves….the celebration of personal strengths and values, and the discovery and commitment to a personal vision, purpose, mission and goals.  Leveraging these —strengths, values, vision, purpose, mission and goals—is the essence upon which leadership rests and when activated will not be stopped. 

In the end, we cannot truly lead others until we are inspired and can lead ourselves.

Next installment of the series:  Discover how the title of my book almost fell into my lap!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Game Changer

After my presentation “If You Want to Sit at the Head of the Table, You Have to be Sitting There First,” at the national meeting of the American Health Information Management Association last October, several women from the audience asked me and if I had written a book about what I had discussed. I hadn’t written a book, and after repeated questions like this one throughout the convention, I knew what I would be doing in the weeks ahead! I’m happy to announce that the book, 52 Week Game Changer: How She Leads, is almost ready for unveiling!
Read the inside story about the making of the book and get a sneak preview of its contents in my four-week series that starts below. Checkout the book's trailer at:

Finding Soul
The inside story of writing this book tells as much about it as the actual contents. And it is this journey that I want to share over the next four weeks, hoping that the story inspires and forges a deeper relationship with those who will embrace the “game changing” life in fulfilling their leadership potential.
During the days following the convention, my mind seemed like a whirlpool trying to capture the book’s essence. What is the vision? What is the purpose? The ideas circled round and round unendingly.
From my experience in climbing the professional and academic ladder and from research findings about women and leadership, I felt instinctively that the book-to-be must be more than a collection of lists, lessons, or rules. I believe that leadership doesn’t happen overnight, in a day, a week, or a month. Rather it is cultivated and developed over time. Lists, lessons and rules may be helpful guides, but its cultivation, the process of nurturing and promoting personal growth, that is leadership’s foundation.
Over the next few weeks, I took snippets of time to ponder the “soul” of my book-to-be. If I were to launch writing a book on women’s leadership, I had to believe that its content would help women move forward. It had to inspire women to believe in themselves. It had to serve as a companion, confidant, cheerleader, supporter, and sponsor and above all else it had to honor the individuality and values of every woman who turned its pages.
In this vision I had found the soul of my book!
Next week, “From Chaos to Inspiration.”