Your Leadership Origin Story

comic-superhero-standing-silhouette_23-2147501843I love superheroes. Because, face it, they can do super-human things like leap tall buildings with a single bound, run faster than a speeding bullet, bend metal, sense danger from miles away, shoot laser beams from their eyes, fly, and the list goes on.

That’s just awesome!

But sometimes what’s even cooler than their superhuman skills is how they became superheroes in the first place.

My favorite part of the superhero story is the origin because it tells us who the hero was before he or she was super. It explains what inspired an ordinary person to become something extra-ordinary.

The superhero origin story makes me think about the real-life leaders and heroes who surround and inspire us to do extra-ordinary things every single day. These are our parents, teachers, coaches, firefighters, police officers, soldiers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, scientists, pastors, athletes, government leaders, civil rights activists, and many others.

Ever wonder what first inspired them to step up and say “follow me?” If we did, imagine what we could learn from their origin stories.

And what about your own story? Have you ever thought back on that first time when you chose to lead? Why you did it? What inspired you? We all have a story. What’s yours?

For me, my story is pretty simple. But it reminds me of the basic lessons of leadership that I was taught at a young age. Also, it makes me smile because the first time I stepped up to lead was simply motivated by my selfish desire to have a little fun. And, boy, did I.

It was the sixth grade and I was taking a class on Texas History. My teacher assigned us a project to tell a story about the Battle of the Alamo. She said “be creative.” That was it. Those two words made up her singular instructions.

At that point in my childhood I had already decided I would be a movie director when I grew up. So, my teacher had just handed me a reason to make my very first movie. I was inspired.

The Alamo
Battle of the Alamo

First thing I did was hire my dad and his video camera for the weekend. Second, I scouted locations all around the neighborhood that I thought could authentically pass for “1836 Texas.” Then, with camera crew and locations at the ready, I cast my closest friends and together we scraped up every costume and prop we could find in our parents’ closets. Turns out I owned a coonskin cap, so it was decided I would play the part of Davy Crockett.

We spent the next weekend reenacting the famous Battle of the Alamo with the camera always rolling. We improvised the script as we went along, made the sounds of gunfire and cannons with our mouths, edited in the camera with the rewind and fast-forward buttons, and had an all around blast. When it was over we gathered on the carpet around my living room television set and watched our masterpiece unfold as we ate pizza and rolled on the floor laughing.

I look back on that experience fondly. Now, peering through adult eyes I can admit the final product was just terrible. But at the time we thought it was amazing. We were proud of what we created and the teacher appreciated it enough that I actually got an “A.”

A few months later we even did a follow-up film on the Texas Rangers with a cast double the size and a final product that was even worse than the first. Like a proper sequel, it was bigger and badder. But again, we loved it. We rallied around a common purpose and felt a passion for the work.

I never became a movie director, but that’s okay. My path took me in a different direction, but what I learned from that first leadership experience was how to set a vision, get others excited to join my project, and execute on an idea. It shaped me into the person that would continue to seek opportunities to lead and learn throughout the rest of my school years and now my career.

That’s my origin story. What’s yours?

[images: http://www.freepik.com; http://www.sonofthesouth.net]

The One Career Skill You Need NOW

Brand-micsA few years back the company I worked for made a difficult hiring decision. They chose not to hire a qualified candidate for a hard-to-fill position because of something they found on the internet. I don’t know the details of what they found, but I do know that it was something this candidate had personally posted and it was concerning enough that it resulted in a rescinded job offer.

That was over ten years ago. During a time when the world of personal expression on the World Wide Web was new and mostly unexplored. When researching job candidates online was mostly unheard of.

Cut to today, a time when not having an online presence in some form or fashion – be it through Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, and the list goes on – is atypical. And a time when prospective employers “Google” candidates on a regular basis to learn things about them that the standard resume and cover letter won’t reveal.

I know this because I’ve done it. And I know colleagues who have done it. Also, it is a two-way street. I know candidates who looked me up before submitting their cover letter and resume to me. In one particular case that tactic backfired because their cover letter said way too much about me and not enough about them. A little stalker-ish really. [Sidebar: please don’t do that…]

The reality is that today we’re living life online. Information is readily available to anyone with a computer and a search field, and companies are taking full advantage of it in their talent acquisition practices. Here we are – smack in the middle of the Information Age. But sadly many of us forget or are oblivious to this fact and the growing reality that what we do in the virtual world bleeds into our physical world…and our careers.

Your CareerFor example, a colleague recently relayed a concern about a friend’s daughter who had just turned 21 and celebrated her birthday as many newly minted 21-year-olds do: she drank and drank and posted photos of her drinking, as well as the results thereof, online.

This particular 21-year-old wants to be a school teacher. My colleague is concerned, and I don’t blame him, that a prospective employer will run across these photos and think twice about hiring her. And should that 21-year old be surprised?

Now, I’m not suggesting that we should live perfect lives and not do the normal things that humans do. Certainly not. But what I am suggesting is that we accept the reality that when the time comes to enter (or transition within) the workforce everything we post online affects our career prospects as well as our career longevity.

So, what do we do about it? What’s the solution? Simple. Manage your online presence.

Social Media Self-Management is the new Career Skill that you need right now. Here are three easy questions to ask that’ll put you on the path to success:

  1. Is my email address professional or a little too personal?
    • I’ll admit it, my first email address was BigAl92678@aol.com. Do you see all the things that are wrong with this? I’ve also been the recipient of resumes from addresses like hotlips@yahoo.com. Good one.
    • Want something professional? Try [firstname][lastname]@[freeaccount.com].
    • Same goes for any username through which you plan to communicate with an employer. Take a look at your Twitter handle, and more.
  2. Do my status updates mean something or am I a vaguebooker?
    • Vaguebooking is, sadly, a popular form of online expression. As defined by UrbanDictionary.com it means “an intentionally vague Facebook status update, that prompts friends to ask what’s going on, or is possibly a cry for help.”  For example: “wondering if it is all worth it” or “thinking that was a bad idea.”
    • The posts that add the most value are those that send a clear message, are informational, and keep it positive. Speaking of which, you should also avoid “hatebooking.” No one likes a hater.
    • vaguebookingThese ideas also apply to blogging, comments, and any other virtual place where you can leave your digital opinions.
  3. Are my photos pleasing or off-putting?
    • This one is easy. Keep your photos PG, or at the very least PG-13.
    • You don’t have to be buttoned-up and stuffy; in fact keeping it light and fun is good. We “professional types” also like to have fun…but those of us who are concerned with our professional images understand balance and moderation. No need for extremes.
    • Same goes for videos.

Today we live life out loud and online. That’s the new normal. But because someday we want someone to hire us, we need to be smart about how we do it. In the end, I’m just saying please pay attention. For your own good. Think twice before posting something you’ll later regret or that may make the difference between an offer letter and a rejection letter.

In closing, I know a student who once made a difficult, but very wise decision. He deleted his long-standing and popular Facebook account and started up a new one. Why? Because he looked at his account through the lens of a prospective employer and recognized that even he wouldn’t hire him. He knew he needed a restart. That was a wise Social Media Self-Management move. Companies have Social Media Strategies. Why shouldn’t you?

Did I miss any good tips? Leave your ideas below.

[Images: business2community.com; laboracademy.org; someecards.com]