As a parent, I often look for opportunities to convey to my kids some of the things I’ve learned from my own life experiences. Sometimes the perfect moment arises in the natural of the flow of a conversation, and I’m able to capitalize on a chance to illustrate and instruct in a way that is meaningful and helpful.
One of these moments happened took place recently after a baseball practice, when I was driving home with four of my five young sons. The subject of quality came up as we discussed how practice went and as we chatted about which kids seem like they’ve been getting the reps they should to make this particular 6-8 year old baseball team the best in their local machine pitch baseball league.
My oldest three boys (ages 10, 8, and 6) tell me they are intent on winning, determined to produce results that make them stand out from the crowd. But there are times when I have not seen that commitment manifest in how they choose to spend their time and the level of accountability they take for their responsibilities.
I used this conversation to discuss how a person builds his own reputation, his personal brand, if you will, in context of quality. It was a great conversation, one that fathers look forward to having. It was the type of conversation that marks milestones along the path of a parent/child relationship.
My oldest son, who struggles with allergies and asthma especially in the spring, has had some setbacks on his own baseball team, including feeling bad about not coming through as a hitter when his team needed him at the end of a tournament game recently. Regarding the development of his own brand, I asked him, “When it’s crunch time, in a tense situation when the game is up for grabs, who do your teammates hope is at the plate to bat? Are people from your team excited or disappointed when they realize that the outcome is ultimately dependent upon your performance in this specific situation?”
Looking at it another way, we talked about what it means to be the person who is called upon to carry the weight of the team when it counts. I asked him, “Do you want to be that person, or would you rather defer to someone else?” We talked about how having a personal brand that is associated with quality also means being willing and even eager to take the critical shots, to come through in the clutch, and to get the job done especially in situations when it really matters.
As we discussed what it means to build quality into your own personal brand, I brought up the fact that we’re (me with my boys) in the beginning stages of building our own family-run sporting goods brand, Robbins Athletics. I asked my boys, “Over the coming years, what do we want people to think when they see our ‘R’ logo?” If the company is going to be successful, a thriving enterprise from which thousands of people ranging from young kids and competitive adults purchase batting gloves, basketballs, sports uniforms, and whatever else we decide to carry, it’s imperative that we build quality into the brand.
The quality of a sporting goods brand or any other company brand ultimately comes down to the collective personal brands and commitments to quality of those who build the brand. My boys agreed with me on that point. I used the conversation to get commitments from them about being more disciplined about doing their chores, practicing their musical instruments, doing their studies diligently, and keeping on top of other commitments.
We’ll see how it goes.
I’ve thought a lot about what it means to have people recognize that the person you are and the work you do is quality, including your personal character. Here are some critical elements I’ve observed of building a personal brand associated with quality.
Doing What You Say You’ll Do
Most people tend to be better at making commitments than they are at keeping those commitments. It is natural for people to, in any particular moment where assignments can be handed out, commit to doing something that involves much more than they anticipate. I find myself having to combat this tendency all the time. We all want to be helpful, or at least to appear helpful. But when the full weight of what we commit to falls upon our backs, we tend to dismiss its importance, push it off, and make excuses about why we didn’t do what we committed to.
The habit of saying one thing and doing another reduces a person’s quality. It makes them look flaky. Whether it be setting appointments and not keeping them (especially when couple with not notifying those whose schedules are affected) or putting in a mediocre effort that is much less than what was expected by someone who ends up disappointed, when you say you’re going to do something (especially something that has significance), you’d better dang well make sure you do that thing completely if you want your personal brand to be one of quality.
I’ve had several people ask me to partner with them or be part of an organization who have stood me up for appointments or who have come back to a follow-up meeting empty handed or underprepared. It usually takes me not more than one time (maybe twice) to have that experience before I write off whatever deal they want to offer. I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything working with people who consistently don’t follow through on their commitments.
On the other hand, even when someone is less skilled or not educated, if they demonstrate a willingness to commit and keep their commitments, I’m much more inclined to partner with that person.
Not Making Excuses
This is closely related to doing what you say you’ll do. However, there is another level of depth involved when it has become apparent that you didn’t do something you pledged to do.
People who make excuses typically don’t understand the importance of accountability. It’s like they’ve given up their power to make choices and affect outcomes, opting instead to be victims. Overcoming the tendency to make excuses can be done by suppressing the vain pride that leads people to say, “It wasn’t my fault!” and choosing to look for ways to be assertive about making sure things within your stewardship are handled, even if any one of those technically might not be your responsibility.
For my oldest son, it’s hard not to make the excuse that allergies and asthma significantly affect his ability to concentrate in the spring. That condition materially affects the way his body takes on roles that include hitting a baseball in a game, getting his math done, and making the most out of his cello lessons and practice time.
My wife and I fully understand the impact of springtime allergies on our son. We are working on natural and medical cures for his ailments. I’m the one who actually passed on those genetics, and I deal with the same issues myself. While I empathize for my son’s limitations, I also don’t want him to always have in the back of his head this thought, “I have an excuse!” Instead, I’d much rather that he be assertive about the situation and figure out as best he can how to overcome it.
As much as real, legitimate excuses exist, they can easily become catalysts for mediocrity if not dealt with properly.
Striving for Excellence (In Your Thing)
Striving for excellence can be time consuming and requires lots of attention to detail. I’ve found that it’s impossible for everyone to be excellent at everything that they’re interested in. For instance, I enjoy singing, but I’d never consider myself an excellent singer. I’ve simply not put in the time and don’t have plans soon to put in the time to become an excellent singer.
But almost everyone can become excellent at something, especially if it’s the thing that is their life mission, their expertise, or their set of highly regarded priorities.
For me, I value being a good husband and dad. That’s my top priority. Because of that, I constantly look for ways to improve how I interact with my wife and kids. I work daily to overcome my natural tendency to be critical and judgmental. I make sure to spend a large quantity of quality time with my wife and kids, often at great sacrifice, including giving up things like watching and playing sports as well as sleep.
When I encounter things (job opportunities, other relationships, hobbies) that I feel would take me away from being a good husband and father, I shun them. I’m striving to become an excellent family man.
A major element of being an excellent husband and father is the responsibility to provide financially for my family. Recognition of that duty has led me to pursue being excellent at making income through entrepreneurship and business ownership, more specifically online marketing, an industry I have discovered to be very rewarding financially and in other ways.
Because of the time I’ve put into learning about business, trying out things, and persistently getting better at the various aspects of my career in ecommerce, online lead generation, and online business generally, most people who know me consider me to be an excellent internet marketer and business owner. I believe that I have established a significant amount of quality in my own personal brand as a businessman.
Because of that, I have more opportunities than time would allow me to take on, including job offers, partnership proposals, and mentorship requests. Whenever one of these opportunities comes up, although I have to turn most of them down, I am grateful that I am seen by contemporaries as excellent enough at what I’d do that they’d want to be associated with me in that regard.
Overload and Burnout Looks a Lot Like Incompetence
A pattern that I’ve seen with people who are naturally skilled and talented is that, if they don’t assertively control their workload, they jeopardize the quality of their personal brand. Having on your plate more than you can possibly keep up with tends to cause even the brightest people to come across as incompetent, lacking in character, and low quality.
This issue is one that I constantly deal with, especially as I’ve added more businesses, more consulting, more commitments to more people to my professional life, and as my family has grown to include six children (seven soon) who each are entitled to time and attention from their dad.
It’s a shame that with each new child born to a set of parents, we don’t get an additional block of at least two hours in a day. That apparent oversight is something I’m planning to take up with God when the time comes.
The objective of spending more time with kids helping them develop personally, also creating a lasting relationship with each of them, means less time for other things, even career things. If I sit down to read for a half hour with my 2- and 4-year-olds, that half hour has to come from somewhere else. The economic principle of time scarcity is constantly nagging at me.
If I commit too much to too many people, it makes for frustrating scenarios for all of them.
My wife and daughter have been reading a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. Naturally, I haven’t had time to read along with them, but they pass on their notes to me regularly. I’m learning that, in direct opposition to my natural desire to help everyone in the entire world, I need to learn how to say no or to minimize my commitment to things that don’t help me make my highest possible contribution. If I can’t learn the “Way of the Essentialist”, I’m in danger of lowering the quality of everything I do.