Archive for the ‘brandbuilder’ Category

One particular question from last week’s Q&A session struck me as worthy of its own blog post. It was this:

You’re very active in social media, speaking engagements/traveling, etc. How do you go about scheduling your day/s — balancing work and family life? – Kristof

What about your scheduling and what are the most interesting activities of your day to day life? – Robin Clerk

You ask, I answer.

Just… whatever you do, don’t share this video with anyone. These are trade secrets I am only sharing with you, so shhhhh…

If the embedded video doesn’t play for you, you can watch it here.

One final tip: If your teenage son asks you for a video camera for Christmas, think twice before obliging him. You might just create… a monster.

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This week, instead of writing dissertations about brand management, social media operationalization, leadership or smart business, why don’t we open things up to your questions? Here’s how we’ll do it:

1. Think of something clever to ask.

2. Post your question in the comments section or shoot a video and link to it in the comments. (Do not send me questions via email. You can double down and send them to me via Facebook or Twitter, but if you do, link to them here. Let’s keep them all in one place.)

3. Starting Tuesday, I will start answering your questions right here on the blog.

Let’s give it a shot and see how things go. If this works well, we’ll make it a regular feature on the blog.

I look forward to your questions. 🙂

PS: If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

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Okay, let’s start answering your questions.

In no particular order:

Q1. Neicole Crepeau

Social media is another marketing “channel” but different. Of course, we want an integrated approach. I’m curious, when adding social media marketing to your marketing mix, what traditional tools and best practices would you apply to your social media strategy planning? And what new tools or techniques would you suggest using?


If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

Q2: Andra Watkins

I wonder why your dog isn’t on the cover of your book.

Ok, seriously.

It seems to me like Twitter is dying. How long do you think it has? What do you think will replace it?

I ask this question because you and I ‘met’ there. It used to be the place for me to be able to go and make connections with people I wanted to know, something Facebook and Linked In don’t lend themselves to as easily.

Congratulations on your book and on all of your success Olivier.


If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

Q3. Yvonne

I am very new to social media in terms of using them to “Build your Brand”. I have created a FB page for the company and am reading posts on Twitter and LinkedIn on a daily basis. My question is, how do I use social media to become an international luxury brand…we are currently a locally “Branded” company…or is social media the wrong route to build a luxury brand?

I appreciate you taking the time to share your feedback!! I always enjoy your posts!! Yvonne


If the video doesn’t play for you, go watch it here.

More videos are on the way.

*          *          *

Q4: Dino Dogan

How do large organizations like Disney and Coke reconcile their brand’s image with their reality. As in, polished and pretty on the outside but socially unsustainable and even irresponsible on the inside.

And Im asking this from the perspective of leaders. I assume you’ve had dealings with leaders of many large organizations who want to present one image to the public whilst not matching that image internally.

I imagine having a polished image while being far from polished must take a tremendous personal tool on these people. The incongruence of it must wear on them. Or are they completely oblivious?

Moreover, Im more interested in your observations of people in these positions. The observations you’ve made to yourself without sharing them out loud.

Im asking you to share them out loud 


Q5: Cristian

Nice idea Olivier. I have a few questions I’d like to hear your thoughts on if I may.

1. What do you feel are some of the reasons that led to Pepsi dropping to the #3 spot in the cola wars recently. Do you feel “Pepsi Refresh” had something to do with the tumble, or do you feel it had more to do with other factors in their strategy and overall marketing vision for the brand?

2. How important do you feel social intelligence is when ideating social media strategies, marketing, and overall thought leadership?

3. What did you want to “grow up to be” when you were a kid? Does you current career path somehow connect with it?


Q6: Rob Frappier

Hi Olivier! Great idea for a blog series.

My question relates to “reputation scoring.” In the past, Reputation.com CEO Michael Fertik has written about the development of personal digital scores “that use our online information to rate our health, employability, financial index, romantic connection and so on.”

We’ve explored the privacy ramifications of this development, but I’m interested in your perspective on the social commerce aspects of a unified digital reputation score. Will companies like Klout find long-term success by quantifying social media influence?


Q7: Alastair Banks

Hey OB,

Hope you’re well. I would be interested in your thoughts on various types of monitoring software. Are they worth investing in and if so do you have favourites.

Look forward to seeing you for Likeminds again this year and hopefully getting my copy of the book signed


Q8: Chef Chuck

Hello Olivier, My name is Chef Chuck working on a brand name, Chef Chuck’s Cucina food line out of Italy. We have five companies wanting to use my name Chef Chuck’s Cucina as a testimonial, with me on the label. Very new and exciting for me can you give me a few pointers on how to spread the word wide and far, that these products are coming to America ?


Q9: Waqas Ali

Hi Olivier,

Want to know what’s on your regular reading for brand-building and web2.0 stuff? Other than sites like Mashable and TechCrunch.

Secondly, why you haven’t selected Tweet & Facebook Like button on your blog? Is there any specific reason?


Q10:  Jeannie Walters

Bonjour, Olivier!
I would love to know your assessment of the best way to “audit” social media success. I’ve seen it done many ways, and lots of times it seems success is ill-defined. How can you really evaluate if social media is working within a defined time/format?

Bonus question: have you read all those books behind you in the video?

Hope to see you in Chicago soon!


Q11:  Rick Rice


I’d be interested in your thoughts on the importance of the employee audience for marketing / branding campaigns and what you would measure for ROI on that part of a program.

A: 11

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GenJuice just released its list of Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors, and… through either a) divine intervention, b) a computer glitch, c) a case of mistaken identity or d) a perfectly aimed envelope containing about 300 Pesos, I somehow managed to find myself in 81st place, squeezed between President Obama and American Apparel CEO Dov Charney.

My initial reaction, as you can well imagine:

  1. Wow.
  2. What the hell is going on over at GenJuice? Have those kids lost their minds over there? Did the computer go crazy? What the…

… But as it turns out, the process was completely scientific (as in completely human) and 100% legit. How did GenJuice come up with the list? By asking their audience. So there you go. Don’t blame dimpled chads and glitchy polling booths for this one. From the brains at GenJuice:

Who do you look up to? What movers and shakers take your aspirations to new heights because of everything they achieved? GenJuice spoke with young adults around the world to find out the people they most admire.

Today’s young adults have access to so many research and communication tools and resources thanks to technology, but one thing remains certain: mentorship is an irreplaceable asset for personal and professional growth. This is precisely why GenJuice spoke with young adults and compiled our first Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors. You will find pioneers in policy, technology, entertainment, media, and more.

The result was GenJuice’s list of a 100 most desirable mentors, and through some strange twist of circumstance, my name came up. To get us started, let’s take a quick look at my favorite co-listers in the top 20:

Not a bad start, but it gets better:

… and hotter:

(Update: Congrats to Natalie for now being ‘Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman!’ Well deserved.)

… and now things start to get really interesting:

Unfortunately, the editors of GenJuice stopped posting profile photos outside of the Top 20, but let me list a few more names I plucked out from the back of the plane just now:

21 Chris Anderson (Curator of TED)

23 Steve Jobs (from, you know… Apple)

33 Nelson Mandela (not to be confused with Morgan Freeman, and vis-versa)

40 Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park)

53 Colin Powell (Former Secretary of State)

58 Jack Dorsey (Twitter)

65 Bill Clinton (you know… THE Bill Clinton)

67 Sanjay Gupta (CNN)

80 President Barack Obama

81 Me (owner of Chico the chihuahua)

85 Bono (U2)

94 Brian Solis (who kindly wrote my foreword)

96 Annie Leibovitz (who inspired me to be a photographer)

98 MC Hammer (who inspired me to wear parachute pants)

100 J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author)

Wait a second… I’m on a list alongside Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Bono?!?!? (Not to mention the delicious Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman.)

Best day ever. Thanks, GenJuice!

PS: I think my consulting fees just went up at least $0.03 per day.


… Oh by the way, did I mention I have a book coming out just in time for my spring European tour? You can pre-order it now and everything. I know, crazy:


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And here its is. The Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization book cover. Looks like the entire series by Que (Pearson) is changing the look of its business books to this format, which I actually like. The cover is clean and to the point, which makes it easy for its readers to find on a shelf. As fun as pretty conceptual covers may be, the goal here is to get this book in the hands of as many businesspeople as possible. So… no Chico and no orange this time around. Don’t worry though, there will be more.

By the way, #SMROI part of a series of books that focus on many different facets of marketing, communications, business management and social media know-how, so look for other covers just like this one in the business books section of your Barnes & Noble bookstores soon.

A few more little details of note –

A kind word from Chris Brogan:

And a pretty fly contribution from Brian Solis:

Won’t be long now. March will be here soon enough. 🙂

In the meantime, feel free to pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes & Noble today:

And yes, this is just the first of many little sneak peeks. Stay tuned.


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I am very proud, a little surprised, and frankly a bit humbled: The BrandBuilder blog made Social Media Examiner’s 2011’s Top 10 list of social media blogs. Proud because I don’t often make Top 10 lists, and I think this is the second time I have made this one. Surprised because this blog isn’t devoted entirely to social media topics, and the competition was fierce: 300 Nominees, many of which attract a lot more readers and attention. Humbled, because some of the other nominees and finalists are pretty solid professionals. (I’d better start upping my game a bit.)

The other 9 to share the badge:

Brian Solis: Brian is one of the web’s leading social media evangelists and his blog is required reading for businesses. He’s interviewed Katie Couric, for crying outloud! Who does that? Katie interviews you, not the other way around. (Unless you’re Brian.) His latest book Engage is kind of a must-have for anyone working in the social business space. One of the smartest and nicest guys in the business too.

TopRank: This popular blog, the brainchild of Lee Odden, provides exceptional social media advice and should be one of your daily destinations.

Convince & Convert: Jay Baer’s Convince & Convert provides outstanding content for businesses seeking to embrace social media. Jay is a second-timer as well. The discussions on his blog are usually pretty rich in insights and opinions, which is always nice.

Six Pixels of Separation: Mitch Joel offers consistent and thought-provoking content delivered with personality.

Social Media Explorer: This blog, from Jason Falls, provides excellent perspective on the current state of social media and should be a regular stop for serious social media marketers. This is the second year Jason has made our list..

Spin Sucks: Gini Dietrich’s blog takes a look at social media from a PR perspective, and does so with intelligence, insight and refreshing common sense.

Danny Brown: Danny Brown writes the truth. His blog is one of my favorite reads in the internet.

The Anti-Social Media: For something completely unique, check out Jay Dolan’s satirical blog on the state of social media.

BrandSavant: This unique blog from Tom Webster combines a great intellect with with common sense, giving it an edge.

I want to thank the Academy… Wait, no. Wrong speech. It’s only Monday.

Now that I’ve had my 15 seconds of shameless self-congratulatory back-patting, let me suggest that you try to find the next batch of voices that will influence your business thinking and perspective on social media and social business. The 10 of us aren’t really the best of the web. There are others who write amazing stuff and do amazing work, and you should strive to discover them.

Let me give you four more blogs you might want to check out (I don’t want to overwhelm you by making the list too long):

Geoff Livingston’s blog

Maddie Grant’s blog (Social Fish)

Gradon Tripp’s blog

Valeria Maltoni’s blog

Happy reading, and thanks for dropping by.







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A few years ago, fellow Corante alumn Lois Kelly asked a question on her Foghound blog:

“If James Lipton, host of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” BRAVO television program, were to interview a marketing or business person , here’s how he’d probably adapt his famous 10 questions that he asks at the end of the show. How would you answer them?”

It occurs to me that although this blog has been around since around 2005, I still don’t know all of you all that well. In the interest of getting to know each other better, I thought the first business day of 2011 might be a good time to dust off Lois’ idea and use Mr. Lipton’s format to get us started. I will go first, for good measure:

What is your favorite marketing/business word?


What is your least favorite marketing/business word?

It’s a tossup between “no” and “utilize.”

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally about marketing/business?

Turning people on to ideas, products or causes you know they will absolutely love.

What turns you off about marketing/business?

How often people’s lack of professional integrity, absence of empathy and dishonesty tend to be rewarded.

What’s your favorite curse word when you see really bad marketing?

What the f..ck?!

What sound or noise do marketers/business people make that you love?

That electrically-charged moment of silence when the light bulb blinks on inside their heads.

What sound or noise do marketers/business people make that you hate?

The sound of bullshit.

What profession other than marketing should marketers attempt – to become better at marketing?

That’s a tough one. Product design. Customer service. Combat Photography. Just about anything that teaches someone to understand people and connect with the world.

What profession should marketers never try?


If marketing heaven exists, what would God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

“Ah. You again. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

Your turn: Either answer in the comments section or post your Q/A on your blog. (Don’t forget to link back so I will see your answers.)  Looking forward to learning a little more about you. If you tweet a link to your replies, fell free to use the #TBBQA tag.



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Not an actual photo of my desk

Ah, 2010. Judging by the time capsule, it was a busy 12 months.

I was given the opportunity to present at a number of pretty fly conferences all over the world. I got to spend my first real European vacation (or vacation of any kind) in over a decade, reconnected with two of my dearest childhood friends and much of my family in France. I met some of the best people and organizations on the planet. I enjoyed a cappuccino in San Remo, Nutella crêpes in Paris, a flat white in Sydney, and tapas in Dubai. I sunburned in Monaco and ate pambagnats in Cannes with the fam and 5 lbs worth of chihuahuas. I had my picture printed onto elevator doors. I got to wear a gladiator costume for a photo shoot. I was interviewed for UAE television. I was turned into a velociraptor. I even learned – perhaps with some delay – that the BrandBuilder blog was listed in Ad Age’s Power 150. Out of the blue, my favorite author sent me his latest book with a very kind personal note. In an unrelated incident, an anonymous stranger mailed me underwear. A handful of people blessed me with the gift of chocolate-hazelnut spread. I got to spend an afternoon in the offices of my favorite magazine: Fast Company, in New York. Pearson – the publishing house that owns Penguin – offered to pay me to write a book on social media program development and ROI, effectively beginning the process of moving much of what we discuss here on a daily basis into bookstores. The first book – already available for pre-order – is scheduled to hit the shelves in March, and I have just begun working on the follow-up.

Of course, it wasn’t all croissants and puppies. My beloved golden retriever – Sasha – passed away. My parents had a bit of a scuffle with cancer. Many of my friends, some of the smartest, most talented people I have ever known, are still looking for a job worthy of their gifts. All the preparation and skill in the world don’t change the harsh reality that great clients are hard to come by. My schedule forced me to postpone most of 2010’s Red Chair social media training sessions to 2011. Several opportunities to further the integration of social media into the business world passed me by. I am still not working with some of the brands I want to work with, both in the US and internationally. There is still a lot of work to be done in the space, both in terms of fixing the broken programs developed by snake oil gurus and building social media programs outright, and those of us on the side of doing it right are still vastly outnumbered by a small army of self-serving hacks. My work here is far from done. 2011 should prove interesting. But overall…

… 2010. ’twas a good year.

Thanks to all of you for making it so.


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I wanted to write an epic post about my experiences in Dubai last week (and I may yet), but instead let me just say this, because it’s on my mind:

It’s a big world out there. Those of you trying to be the next Seth Godin, the next Tony Robbins, the next Peter Drucker, you’re wasting your time. They’re all great people. They know their stuff. And they are very good at being Seth Godin, Tony Robbins and Peter Drucker, but you’re chasing the wrong dream. You’re wasting your time. And you’re acting like a complete jackass trying to be something (and someone) you are not.

Let me explain. I spent last week listening to two three types of people:

The first had problems they needed to solve – How do I get more customers? How do I keep my customers from abandoning me? How do I grow my program? How do I bring more investment into my country? How do I secure 5% more market share? How do I change perceptions? How do I accelerate adoption of my technology?

The second had ideas, some of which might very well solve some of the problems brought up by the first category. These were smart, intuitive, compassionate, clever little entrepreneurs with warm smiles and dependable handshakes. People who watch and listen more than they speak. People who solve rather than sell. People who care more about results for their clients and customers than their own fame or status. I like those guys. We get along. We find in each other a common trait, and every meeting feels a lot like running into an old friend.

And then there was the third type. The salesmen. The people selling crap nobody needs. The guys who talk more than they listen. The guys who haven’t had an original thought in over a decade but still think their limited view of the world is more relevant than that of a 20-something tapped into his demographic. The guys who can step off a jumbo jet, spend less than 24 hours in a foreign country – most of which they spent hiding in their hotel rooms – and tell everyone there how to fix all their problems. The guys who think that because they wrote a book twenty years ago, they are now infallible one-man think tanks. The guys who start believing their own PR, or their own “press,” as they say. Here’s a reality you need to come to terms with: If you started off selling bullshit, your bullshit doesn’t magically turn into gold a few books and a couple of decades later.

Be careful what you decide to sell today, boys and girls, because you might still be selling it twenty years from now. And what you sell ends up defining you a lot more than you realize.

Don’t put all your eggs in the celebrity consultant basket. That gig isn’t what you think.  Don’t go there unless you want to reach the end of your “career” as a punch-line. There’s far less money in it than you think, and no dignity whatsoever. What’s worse is this: Instead of being the guy who spent his career solving problems for the first category of person I mentioned here today, instead of creating legitimate value, you end up spending the best years of what could have been a fruitful career selling something that people don’t need: Your “personal brand.” Put a lid on that little ego trip right now, before it swallows you whole.

What you should focus on is this: Being the second kind of person mentioned above. The kind that listens more and speaks less. The kind that cares about doing a great job. The kind with an eye for positive change. The kind that doesn’t spend every waking moment trying to sell themselves to conferences, to publishers, to CNN, to whomever might be dumb enough not to see through the shameless self-promotion. It doesn’t mean you won’t speak at conferences and won’t be published. It doesn’t mean you won’t get to travel to cool places every few months if that’s what you want to do. What it means is that if you focus on being that second type of person, if you focus on improving the lives (and businesses of others) instead of focusing on improving your brand, status and personal myth of success, you might actually get it all. Everything you’ve ever wanted. And as a bonus, you won’t spend the next twenty years being a parasite.

The world needs you to stop focusing so much on yourself and to turn that brilliant little mind of yours outward instead of inward. Every company in the world is struggling right now. Companies in every country, from the US to Senegal, and from Australia to the Emirates are looking for help, for solutions, for insights. The last thing they need from you or anyone else is more bullshit. There’s already more than enough of that for everyone to choke on ten times over. They need real help. They need that second category of person: Problem-solvers. Dependable helpers. True partners. Be that. That’s where the value is, not in selling your “personal brand,” your trademarked 10-rules or 20-step program, certification or cookie-cutter ROI calculator. The value of that is zero. Zip. Stop it.

Instead, try this on for size: Get off the “I want to be a social media rock star” train and start helping. I swear your career prospects will improve FAST. Not only that, but you will rediscover how good it feels to be part of something bigger and greater than “me, Inc.”, to see your efforts improve the lives of other people, not just your own. True success comes to those on this path, not on the other. Starting as soon as you can wrap your head around this idea, focus on solving real problems. If they involve social media, great. If they don’t, so what? It’s a big world out there. Social media and the US fishbowl are only a very small little sliver of it.

Think bigger. The world needs you to.


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I am racking up the sky miles again this week with my very last international trip of 2011: A quick little stop in Dubai, to speak at the Total Marketing Brand Summit. No worries, only three quick days of work, and I fly right back.

And yes, 13+ hour intercontinental flights rock my world.

On the flip side, I love working at 35,000 feet, so this will help me get caught up on my editing and writing.

I’ll try to tweet and say hello from the Middle East, but just in case I run into some wi-fi or broadband issues there, see you guys when I get back.


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copyright 2009 - Olivier Blanchard

I know: I have been uncharacteristically silent these last few days, but don’t worry, everything is fine. Angry social media rock stars didn’t break into my house in the middle of the night to beat me up. (Some  may have been too busy tearing up the Blog World Expo in Vegas anyway.) Truth is that I am completely swamped, trying to finish up the super top secret book project before my otherwise wonderful editor develops an ulcer or sends a couple of goons to “help things along.”

Here’s where things stand: You know how some musicians lock themselves up in a studio for weeks to work on an album? For the last week, I have spent the better part of 16 hours per day chained to my desk, in quasi-darkness, fueled by cans of Java Monster, sardines, granola and stinky French cheese, slaving to edit a hefty portion of the chapters I have already submitted to my publisher. Needless to say: Not a rock star. You know how I know this?

1. In spite of the electric and acoustic guitars lining one of my walls, my office is not technically a recording studio.

2. Chico is not a certified sound engineer.

3. I see no band, groupies, whiskey or cigarettes of any kind.

4. I am not actually… you know… making music.

But let me say this: Writing and editing might not seem like a lot of work, but my brain’s coolant has to be replaced every six hours. That’s how hard my little neurons are having to work. Balancing chapter continuity in my head while I jump from one to another in random order and struggle to unstitch every sentence before reattaching it just right is a lot like playing ten simultaneous chess games while debating the superiority of French football with an Italian without ever raising your voice, I kid you not. Oh, and my beard is growing so fast because of all this nonsense that I look a lot like this (minus the cool blue-blockers, the designer hoodie, and that brightness thing the rest of you know as ‘sunlight’):

All of this to say that I may not have time to write a lot of elaborate blog posts this week. So if seem a little absent, don’t worry, I’m here, just not here.

Also on the schedule this week though: Emerging from the batcave to unleash some fierce knowledge at  Kennesaw State University’s Social Media Integration conference in Atlanta, GA (Oct 22 and 23). Also presenting: Pepsi’s Shiv Singh, Hubspot’s Rick Burns, Whole Foods Market’s Marla Erwin, and more. I will be conducting a boot-camp on Friday and an R.O.I. tutorial on Saturday, perhaps even in full beard. I haven’t decided yet. (I can’t remember if the Unabomber was ever caught by Georgia State Police, so I may not opt to take my chances walking around looking like that.)

I hope to see some of you there.

Cheers for now.

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Brandon Walters interviewed me kind of on the fly last week about the upcoming Social Story conference (Greenville, SC – September 24). The interview was obviously completely unscripted (at least for me). I haven’t watched it yet, but here it is anyway. (Click here if the video doesn’t launch for you.)

We shot a lot more, so hopefully, other little tidbits and outtakes will pop up at some point.

To sign up for the conference (seating is very limited), click here.



PS: Please note the absence of a moustache on my upper lip. Will this strike the final blow to #stachegate? Stay tuned.

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No blog post today as I am in Washington DC for this summer’s final #Buzz2010 event. Here is the link: http://www.buzz2010.org/

The event takes place on the morning of the 18th, so if you read this before then, it probably isn’t too late to register. My predecessors this year were Groundswell author Charlene Li, nationally syndicated columnist Alexandra Levit, American Red Cross Social Media manager Wendy Harman, and Mark Story – adjunct professor of public relations at the University of Maryland and director of New Media at the S.E.C.

In other words, the smart kids went first.

I will speaking about… you know it: Social Media R.O.I., but this time with a twist. We’re taking the R.O.I. bit into the realm of non-profits, which should be interesting.

If there’s still time on the clock, find out the details here, and feel free to register.

See you in DC.

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I have a love-hate relationship with books.

I can go months without reading anything. All it takes is a couple of bad books in a row, and I’m off the long format sauce. But since the summer started, I’ve been on a roll. I wrote recently about my summer reading list… which started – ironically enough – with some books about Genghis Khan, then a series about Julius Caesar by the same author (Conn Iggulden). I kind of got into the Roman theme and continued with some stuff from Simon Scarrow (not exactly literature, but entertaining), William Napier (whose “Atilla: the Gathering of the Storm” is phenomenal) and Ben Kane (also solid stuff in “The Forgotten Legion.”)

I discovered Steven Pressfield pretty much by accident.

Here’s what happened: First, I bought myself a Nook. (An e-reader, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. Kind of like the Amazon Kindle, but prettier and cooler.) As soon as I did that, I kind of gave up “real” books, favoring instead their electronic versions. Next on my reading list was Ben Kane’s follow-up to “The forgotten Legion,” but it wasn’t available electronically yet. It seemed that I had read every book about Ancient Rome there was. Except one. I found it by accident in Cannes, while visiting my parents this June. I was looking for a book for the French Father’s Day, and walking through the FNAC’s translated books section (I looked for Iggulden, Kane or Napier but came up empty-handed) came upon “Tides of War,” which seemed pretty cool. I made a mental note. The author was Steven Pressfield, the guy who wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance.

The second thing that happened, as I mentioned above, is that I ran out of books to read on my Nook. Kane’s latest wasn’t available yet. I had read all of Scarrow’s. Napier’s third Atilla isn’t due until the fall. I looked up Pressfield, aiming to buy Tides of War, but settled on Gates of Fire instead. I had seen it in a book store and was intrigued by his take on the Spartans’ stand at Thermopylae. Good choice. I was hooked from page one. I had no idea what the book really was. I expected an adventure novel… It was a hell of a lot more. Boys should read this book in high school. It should replace at least one Shakespeare title in college. It should also be required reading in business management schools and officer training programs, along with “The Virtues of War.”

Anyway. Needless to say, I was an instant fan. I devoured “Gates” and “Virtues.” I savored “The Afghan Campaign.” I am currently sucking the marrow out of “Last of The Amazons.” I still have several of his books to go: Tides of War, Killing Rommel, The Legend of Bagger Vance… but Mr. Steven Pressfield didn’t quite give me a chance to get to his non-fiction book on my own: “The War of Art.” I received it this morning, with a card and couple of friendly notes to boot.

I have absolutely no idea how Steven Pressfield knew that I was a fan. I mean, yes, I’ve mentioned him a few times this summer and recommended “Gates” and “Virtues.” I did. But who doesn’t? You can’t read these books and not be moved by them. You naturally want to share them with people. More importantly, I have no idea how Steven Pressfield knew that I even exist, or that it would matter to me a whole lot that he sent me this gift.

By the way, there is no business lesson hidden in this post. For once, I have no agenda. I just wanted to share this with you. You read my stuff. I read his. We’re all connected by passion, words and ideas. More than anything, I thought it was just cool as hell.

And perfect timing, as I am well into writing my first book, working on the skeletons of two more, and planning a half dozen after those. This, “The War of Art,” could make a difference in these endeavors. It’s almost uncanny that it arrived now and in this manner.

I sense the hand of the gods in this. Zeus himself may be behind it. 😀

All this to say that Steven Pressfield pretty much rocks. Not only is he a brilliant writer, he’s a class act as well. If you haven’t read any of his stuff yet, do. You won’t regret it.

His books

His blog

Thanks, Steven.

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In case you missed the Blanchardacus piece in the August issue of E’lite, click here.

Some background on this article  and –  more importantly – on its unusual concept for a photo shoot. Here’s how it happened.

About a year ago, some UK tech bloggers and other digitally-savvy professionals were contacted about a bold little photo project. The idea was to raise funds for Take Heart India, a charity focused on IT education projects for blind and disabled students in India. The method: A nude calendar. Kinduv. It was well done.

Check out the piece about it in The Guardian here.

Check out some of the images here.

Back in the US, some of us thought it was a fun idea. Not that I would drop trou for just any project – or ever – but hey, for a good cause, with the right talent behind the lens, and if enough of us did it, why not? Anyway, this was a topic of discussion among several of us, and it basically didn’t get very far. (As far as I know, such a calendar has yet to be produced.)

Somewhere along these discussions, someone asked me what kind of “setting” would suit me for such a shoot. (Surprisingly, no one thought to ask me what month I wanted to be, which to me seemed like a much better question.) I didn’t really know. I know this may come as a surprise, but I don’t really give nude tech calendar photoshoot themes a whole lot of thought. The scooter thing had already been done. So had the pensive couch pose. I was out of ideas. Me as Tarzan swinging from a vine made up of network cables? A little insane, especially since it would involve a chimp and a leopard loincloth, but okay, maybe. Another idea was – because I am an avid cyclist and triathlete – to shoot an homage to this Lance Armstrong photo shoot for Vanity Fair. That could be cool. The point being that once we started having fun with the notion, ideas proved to be anything but in short supply.

Fast forward to the spring of 2010. One of the people who had been involved with the calendar conversations was E’lite Magazine’s very own Cd Vann. She asked if I would be open to doing a quick little profile feature on me for the magazine, and I promptly accepted. All we needed to iron out next was the topic of the piece, and how to shoot some photos for it. Getting good photos wasn’t the issue. I wanted to do something a little different.

Now, at this point, it might be good for me to back-track a little bit and give you some context beyond our conversations about the calendar. Two things happened in early 2010 that led to the idea behind both the focus of the piece and the concept of the shoot – aside from our conversations about the US version of the aforementioned calendar.

The first was this: At the time, I seemed to have acquired a reputation for not shying away from a heated debate both on my blog and on the twitternets. Not that I was a brawler or anything nor a hothead, but the occasional blog post did chaff certain sensibilities when it came to… well, purveyors of Social Media snake oil.

Okay, fine. To borrow Scott Monty’s own words, I sometimes “poked” at people until I got a reaction. My piece on ISMA chaffed (especially at the since defunct ISMA). My criticism of horrendous R.O.I. calculators and other bogus equations didn’t exactly jive with the “live and let live” attitude many among the Social Media Elite seemed to favor. The truth is that I didn’t really care if I ruffled a handful of feathers, as long as the feathers were in need of ruffling. I felt an obligation not only to myself but to the public at large to not only cast a light on very bad practices, but also explain what was wrong with them. Not everyone likes that. Comments on the blog triggered some heated debates, which continued on Twitter.

No blood was shed and I did my best to always remain cordial, but people with thin skin and little ground to stand on left these discussions bruised, sometimes a little battered. “Don’t mess with @thebrandbuilder” showed up once or twice in my feed. I don’t think that makes me combative. That isn’t the right word. But okay, yes, I liked the open forum. I liked the public debate. I enjoyed the sport of it, and not just because of the moral ground angle. I won’t deny that.

Now, about the same time, Starz (yes, the premium movie channel) launched a new series based on Spartacus, the legendary Thracian slave who rose up against Rome in the first Century BC and nearly brought the Republic to its knees. Spartacus was of course made famous by Kirk Douglas in the golden age of Cinemascope (Thank you Stanley Kubrick). This version of Spartacus’ life (essentially a prequel to the movie) was much more of an overcharged special-effects cliché-fest with visuals ripped right out of Zach Snyder’s big screen adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 (which told the story of the Spartans’ heroic stand at Thermopylae). Anyway. I started watching the show more out of boredom than anything, then out of curiosity, then habit… and then it actually got good. I became a fan and made no secret of it.

Sometime in the spring, someone started calling me Blanchardacus. Ian G. Lang, one of my friends on Twitter, amused by the idea, even created some pretty fly graphics with photoshop and some of Starz’ own promo graphics. Aside from being funny, it gave life to the idea that something could be done around the silliness of “Blanchardacus.”

When Cd Vann and I started discussing the piece for E’lite Magazine, I jokingly told her we could take the Blanchardacus idea and run with it. Remembering our discussions about the calendar and having been a weekly participant in my online conversations, she didn’t hesitate. It wasn’t a joke after all. We could actually do this, so… we did. The shoot was produced in South Carolina while E’lite’s editors combined three separate interviews into one, much of it Scott Stratten‘s handiwork. (You may know him on Twitter as @unmarketing – his superhero name.)

These are some of the shots E’lite Magazine played with for the piece. Some of them made it, others not:

Note the strange tattoo on my sword arm in the above image.

This is not a real tattoo. It’s just… a little hello to my friend Tyler at the Paper Street Soap Company.

You can pick up the trail here, if you dare.

Oh yeah. We shot this in full costume, fifty meters from a main road. Tourists were taking pictures of us.

What I learned from this photo shoot:

1. I’m no Andy Whitfield (who plays Spartacus in the series and looks a hell of a lot tougher, dirtier and cooler than I do):

2. Spray-on abs: Next time, they’re happening.

3. It was a lot of fun.

Check out the August issue of E’lite Magazine and the Blanchardacus piece here.

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“I will tell His Majesty what a king is. A king does not abide within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A king does not dine while his men go hungry, nor sleep when they stand at watch upon the wall. A king does not command his men’s loyalty through fear nor purchase it with gold; he earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a king lifts first and sets down last. A king does not require service of those he leads but provides it to them. He serves them, not they him.”

– Xeones, speaking about Leonidas, king of Sparta, after the battle of Thermopylae – From “Gates of Fire,” by Steven Pressfield

All of the precepts of leadership are listed above. Embrace this ethos, and your organization will be on its way to doing great things. Reject it, and the road ahead will be strewn with disappointment and strife. Before we tackle this specific point, let’s take a step back and get our bearings.

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how and why organizations fail. We talked about myths of success and cultures of failure. We talked a bit about troubled leadership and “fisher kings,” who poison their organizations from the top down by infusing their culture with their own dysfunctions.

Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about what motivates people to excel, and in the absence of motivation or drive, what sets them up to fail.

I am so full of proverbs and sayings and clichés, right now, I don’t even know where to begin.

Alexander, Richard Branson and your boss: A tale of love and leadership

“There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.” – Navy SEAL saying

I just started reading the The Virtues of War, by Steven Pressfield. (Yes, the guy who wrote Gates of Fire, which I quoted at the beginning of this post.) It tells the story of Alexander the Great, from his childhood to the end of his campaigns, a man who conquered most of the known world before his thirty-third birthday. I am only forty pages into it, but already, it’s fascinating to consider that at only 16, he led 1/3 of his father’s army into battle, his squadron facing Greece’s fiercest warriors (who crushed even the Spartans), and won the day against men better equipped, better trained and just as valorous as Leonidas’ famous 300.

At 16, I couldn’t have led a street gang, much less generals and an army. So aside from being the son of a king, how did he do it? How did he get these men to trust him, to have faith in him, to surge into battle with him and fight until the day was won, instead of simply letting him ride along and take credit for his generals’ work?

One of the answers the book explores is the fact that – aside from being charismatic, clever as hell and already a master tactician before hitting puberty – his men loved him. From his generals to the rank and file, they just loved him. They respected him. Had faith in him. They followed him into battle because they trusted his genius, admired his courage, and felt elevated to be at his back.

Think about your favorite person in the world. Someone you admire above all. A politician, a military commander, an artist, a CEO, an agency principal… Whatever. Whomever. Think about the person you would kill to work for or serve under.

Apple’s Steve Jobs?

Virgin’s Richard Branson?

President Obama?

Ford’s Scott Monty?

Steven Spielberg?

Insert blank here.

Imagine your first day. How it would feel waking up that morning. How it would feel at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, when things suddenly quieted down for a few minutes and you had time to reflect on where you are, living the dream, actually BEING there. How it would feel that evening, sitting at home, thinking back on your day. The smile on your face. The excitement pulling at every fiber in your body.

Now imagine your hundredth day. Your 500th. Your 1000th, still working for the one person you admire the most in the world. Someone whose trust and respect you’ve earned by now. Someone who seeks your advice and opinion, who puts your ideas and insights forward. Someone who inspires you to be the best that you can be, and makes you feel like your work is important and valuable. Every day.

Imagine waking up every morning filled with a sense of purpose as warm to the soul as a sunny spring afternoon.

An organization filled with people who feel that way cannot fail. Morale, not technology, not tools, not training, wins the day. Morale is everything.

Morale creates the difference between good boat crews and bad boat crews during BUDs (a weeks-long grueling SEAL selection process), and as we now know, “there are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.”

Now imagine working for someone you dislike. Someone who doesn’t inspire you. Someone who wouldn’t miss you if you were laid off tomorrow. I am not even talking about being forced to work for a sociopath, here. Just someone who doesn’t really care about his or her staff all that much. Someone who would be hard-pressed to inspire loyalty from anyone under their authority.

Imagine your 1000th day working for this person. Imagine the quality of work you and the rest of the staff would be in the habit of producing.

If there’s a clue in this discussion, it is this: You are the same person regardless of your boss. Same personality. Same upbringing. Same skills and wants and needs. It could even be the exact same job in the same office at the same desk. The only thing that changes is the boat leader. Your boss. Your captain. Consider the difference in both motivation and effect between the leader who inspires you, and the one who does not. The one you could be loyal to, and the other.

Consider then, the importance of love in the equation, and furthermore, the importance of certain key human qualities – of human virtues – in leadership. I’m not kidding. Pause. Sit back. Take a few minutes.

Now consider the reasons why you selected your hypothetical dream boss at the beginning of this discussion. What qualities do you admire in them? What draws you to their legend? What makes you love them enough to name them as your ideal boss?

The virtues of leadership, mind you, don’t always include kindness.

The young officer and the veterans

I “earned” my lieutenant’s bars at 21, and on the first day of my very first command, standing before an assembly of curious petty officers, I swiftly arrived at the conclusion that didn’t know shit. This was my first practical management experience: Being the new acting XO for a company of Fusiliers Marins (French Navy Marines), whose rank and file all knew their jobs much better than I did.

Which wasn’t hard, since I was fresh out of OCS.

So here I was, my bags yet unpacked and still in my dress uniform, addressing a group of grizzled, rotten bastards who were there at least as much out of sordid curiosity as professional courtesy. To them, I was new meat. Nothing more. They stood there, sizing me up, wondering who among them would do the honors of explaining how things really worked. The “No offence, Lieutenant, but…”

I knew the score.

It occurred to me, as I was about to address this assembly of cutthroats, that nothing in my training had prepared me for this. Nothing. Crawling in the mud, sure. Shooting at paper targets, definitely. Driving attack boats at high speed, boarding ships in the dark, fast-roping out of helicopters, blowing up tank carcasses and storming fake towns, absolutely. But I had no idea how to get these guys to respect me, to trust me, to work for me for any other reason than that they had to. They weren’t going to make it easy for me. These men were mostly there because they were head cases. Discipline flunkies. All decorated veterans, brave men with more guts than sense, but too clever and independent and difficult to manage even for a corps like the FUSCOS. This was the assignment I had requested, out of misplaced bravado and contempt for some of my glory-chasing classmates, and the full reality of it now stood before me, smirking like two dozen hungry hyenas in on a private joke. I was, as they say, fuckered.

So here’s what I did. I sat down and invited them to sit too. I introduced myself, and asked them to introduce themselves as well. We went around the room, and then I told them something very close to this:

“J’ai tout a apprendre…” Oh, hang on. Let’s do this in English.

“I have everything to learn, and I came here specifically to learn it from you.” I pointed to my beautiful new épaulettes adorned with my brand new gold bars. Some scoffed. I nodded. “I’ve been an officer for less than a day. The reality of the thing is that I won’t truly be an officer until you’ve made me one.  All of you.” I paused and looked around the room. “I won’t be an officer until you, to a man, have made me your Lieutenant. I came here because you’re the biggest assholes in the Navy, and if I can’t get you lot to make me into a half way decent officer, then I’m beyond help.” I looked around the room to see their reactions.  “Any questions?”

They were stunned. Many of them laughed. I even saw in the eyes of a few of them a glimmer of what might have been acknowledgment and respect. I only won over a few of them that day, but that was more than I needed. It was a start.

Without getting too far into my little war stories, here’s what I learned during my time as a young officer: The men who loved me went the extra mile. They excelled because they wanted to. Those who didn’t went nowhere. This was a lesson well learned, and one we will revisit before we’re done here today.

Beyond this, the facts of my service as an officer were this: Reenlistments doubled. Aptitude scores skyrocketed. We began to be invited to train with elements of the Foreign Legion’s 4th Regiment, which was no small feat. I was reprimanded by my superiors both within the FUSCO and the larger base itself more often than I can recall for all sorts of shenanigans. I constantly broke the rules – or at least stretched them. My direct superior’s assessment was that I was too close to my men. The base commander’s general assessment was that I was a pain his ass… but that I had the virtue of being interesting. In spite of our difference of rank, we became good friends. Even with all this turmoil, I managed to find myself decorated in the summer of 1993, less than a year into my military service for what the Navy called “exceptional service,” though to this day, I have no idea what I did to deserve that medal except cause trouble.

Case in point: I had a petty officer under my command quietly removed from my unit. A guy with twenty years of service. A veteran of Lebanon and countless campaigns in Africa. A war hero, once. But (there’s always a “but”) he had a temper and abused his men. My men. Whatever kind of man he had been in the past had been replaced by something else altogether. I suppose peace can be hard on a man who lives only for war. Good warriors don’t always make good leaders. There is more to the business of soldiering than courage under fire and a propensity for violence. For months, I tried to steer him in a different direction. I failed. We had an altercation. He moved on. There’s a lesson in this too, one of humility and resignation, and we’ll also revisit this story before the end of this post.

But the story I want to tell you now, is how on a sunny summer day, because I hadn’t yet done enough to distinguish myself as complete screw-up, I told off a full-bird colonel, because  like my troubled petty officer, he was taking a dump on my men. And that, my friends, was not okay with me. The honor of being a pain in their rumps fell to me and me alone. (Don’t worry, there’s a lesson in this too. A big one.) Here’s what happened:

The barracks incident

The colonel wanted to move his reservists into our barracks and make my men sleep in tents. We were about to begin two weeks of maneuvers with a reserve unit from the Army, guys who in time of war would be called upon to put on a uniform, gather around the base to defend it, and then surrender at the first sign of the enemy.

Let me clarify a few things before I go on, so you don’t think I was being insolent for the sake of being difficult. My men could have slept in tents for a week without trouble, (they were all used to far worse) but it was the principle of the thing: The colonel didn’t understand how territorial men in a military unit can be. He came in on their turf (our turf) and treated very well trained men like rabble. What he did showed a dangerous and insulting absence of respect for men who were not even under his command. Although his rank far exceeded mine and his operational authority overlapped my own chain of command, his “insult” couldn’t go unanswered. I set him straight. It was as simple as that. But the consequences of this act, as witnessed by my men, proved to be of some importance.

Back to our story.

The reservists – there by law, mostly against their will – were a problem. They clearly didn’t want to be there, did not enjoy military life, and had a vicious disposition towards my men, other naval personnel on base, and especially women in uniform. My men were under strict orders from me to avoid any and all confrontations. To ignore insults and taunts, to back away from challenges, and to be as cordial to each and every reservist as if they were foreign dignitaries. It was difficult given that my men were proud and intolerant of disrespect, but this, they did. For me.

The reservists, actually, were more than just “a problem”. They were hooligans of the worst sort: Weak of mind and body, petty, rude and completely undisciplined. Those among them who might have been okay fell in pace with the agitators among them: The loud-mouthed jokers who know how to seize the attention of impressionable men looking to be included in a pack. It didn’t help that the Army officers in charge of managing them were afraid of inciting a mutiny by enforcing proper discipline. We treated the reservists like brothers, in spite of everything. We trained and drilled with them all day. We took them on night patrols to teach them the ropes. We slowly but surely started to make them into soldiers again. As much as we could anyway. By the end of the two weeks, we had started to form bonds with them. The animosity, the negativity, the lack of respect… All of it had been replaced with the seeds of camaraderie, professionalism and what the Greeks called dynamis: The will to fight, or the fighting spirit. We might have made warriors out of them yet. (A few months with us, and who knows?)

(There is a story within the story about the final exercise in which a small detachment of my men and I fought against these two companies of reservists and half of my Marines, in which I got in pretty serious trouble for kidnapping the base commander in the middle of the night and scaring his wife half to death. I won the exercise and received the biggest arse chewing of my career, but that is a tale for another day.)

A week before the exercise, half way through the reservists’ training, arrived a colonel who oversaw the deployment and command of every reserve unit in the Army’s Mediterranean theater. This was the man I would offend.

Half way through the afternoon of his arrival, I noticed my men moving all of their gear from our barracks and into the reservists’ field tents. Confused, I asked one of my squad leaders to tell me what was going on. He explained that he and the other petty-officers had been ordered by the colonel himself to swap bunks with the reservists. They were to take over the tents and surrender their barracks to the colonel’s pet monkeys. No one was particularly happy about it, but orders were orders. I told him to order the men to grab their gear and put it back where it belonged: In their barracks. There would be an inspection before shift change. He stared at me in silence, not daring to say anything. I knew what he was thinking. I repeated my order. He nodded and relayed the order to the rest of the men, who stopped and stared at him, then me. I called to one of my men, a K9 specialist who was on duty that day to fetch the colonel.

Moments later, the man emerged from the officers’ mess and greeted me with all the contempt he could muster: Me, a mere lieutenant. What could I possibly want? I saluted him and nodded towards the tents of the reservists, where my men were now busy removing their belongings and his were busy moving back in. I let him take in the sight, and asked him what he saw. He answered that he could see my men disobeying his orders. He was furious. I calmly watched my men and his, busy setting things right, and told him he was wrong.

“What you are seeing is my men obeying my orders,” I explained.

He turned beet red with rage.

I calmly explained that my men, unlike his, had a mission to perform, that our unit and the base itself were operational (one of only two naval bases in France, in fact, with such a high level of security and strategic priority), and that under no circumstances would their mission be jeopardized by his reservists because they were too soft to sleep in tents. I went on to remind him that, charged as I was with this mission, that because it superseded all else and we were not under his authority, with all due respect to his rank, my men, under my orders, would not sleep in his piece of crap army tents while his miscreants slept in comfortable beds they hadn’t yet earned.

Sensing that something was happening, my men edged towards us to try and hear what we were talking about, but a stern look in their direction made them keep their distance.

The colonel started yelling. He gave me very mean looks and flailed his arms about while he went on about ending my career and having me dragged before the President himself. I crossed my arms and listened until he was done. I then told him that if he wanted to discuss it further, he could take it up with the base commander whose authority I was actually under.

He did.

Within the hour, I was summoned. Phone calls had been made to Headquarters. Someone at the Ministry of Defense had even called from Paris to find out what was going on. You think old women spread gossip fast? You haven’t seen anything until you’ve been in the Navy. Our little tent and barracks incident was the talk of the fleet.

The dressing-down that followed was epic. The base commander, shadowed by his XO – the Marine Company commander, my boss – spent a good fifteen minutes yelling at me in his office. I stood there and took it, as was expected. Fifteen minutes was somewhat of a record for him. I started rooting for him after about ten or eleven. I am sure his clerks outside were keeping track of the time as I was, only grinning ear to ear from the safety of their offices.

Finally, he couldn’t keep a straight face anymore and broke into laughter. He told me he thought the colonel was a prick too. So did half the Navy. I wasn’t in trouble at all. He just wanted to see me sweat it out.

The colonel was gone by the time I returned to my men. Back to his headquarters he returned, no doubt bent on having my head delivered to him on a platter. (It remained, to his chagrin, very much attached.) The reservists were quiet. My men, smirking, saluted me with a little more zest than usual. I told them to cut it out. It didn’t help. The damage was done. To mark the occasion and ensure there wouldn’t be too much resentment over the incident, I took them all on a night march, Marines and reservists, explaining that this whole adventure had all been for naught since no one would be sleeping in barracks or a tent that night anyway. They didn’t seem to mind.

Things changed after that day. Not because I was a great officer (I was actually a pretty lackluster officer), not because I was a badass warrior (I was a wuss) or the best shot or the fastest runner or the most charismatic guy on base. I was none of these things. All I had done was stand up for them in a way that perhaps no one ever had, and that I had done so for something as insignificant as beds and a roof over their heads didn’t hurt.

Imagine your boss standing up for you the way I stood up for them. Imagine how you would feel about him the next day, when he smiled at you and asked you how you were doing. Imagine how much you would be willing to give when he next asked something of you.

Now imagine that to top it all off, your father, assuming you had even grown up knowing him, had never stood up for you either. (Most of my men were under the age of 20, and at least half came from broken homes.)

But this isn’t the lesson yet. This story isn’t about me. I am just the one telling it. There’s more.

The wisdom of old warriors, and the secret of leadership

A month and a half later, the commander of the naval special forces (COFUSMA), during a surprise inspection of our unit, took me aside and asked me how I had managed to turn the unit around. I told him I hadn’t done anything except train the men as ordered.

He grinned and told me I was full of shit.

His right hand man, a guy who without his uniform and his rows of decorations would have looked more like a Belgian antiques dealer than the badass super soldier he was, later invited me to walk with him. For once, I didn’t disobey a direct order, he noted. I was making progress. There may be hope for me yet. All of those commando old-timers were smartasses.

We chatted for a while. He asked me where I was from, what I wanted to do with my life, the countries I wanted to visit… It went on for a while. At one point, when he was satisfied that we were well beyond the need for small talk, he stopped and turned to me, and asked me the same question COFUSMA had asked me before: How had I managed to turn the unit around? A year before, it had been a dump for discipline cases. It had the lowest morale scores in the Navy. The least amount of reenlistments. Interventions and readiness scores were mediocre. Yet on this day, before COFUSMA and his staff, the unit had been tested and retested, and our scores exceeded those of the top Marine units in the country. Morale was higher than in any other unit he had visited so far that year. More of my men were returning to commando units than from any other Marine unit unit in the Navy. How had I managed to turn things around? A rookie. A 21-year-old kid with a cracker-jack bar on his shoulder, no command experience whatsoever and a knack for getting in trouble.

What I wanted to say – and what I still firmly believe – was “luck?”

He stared at me for a long time and smiled. As it turns out, he knew the answer to the question even if I didn’t. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “Every other guy who comes here to do this job, for as long as I can remember, he goes to Lorient, he gets his bars, he comes here, he leaves, another one comes and takes his place. That’s it. You too. But the difference is this: You care about them more than you care about you. And about these.” He gestured to my bars.

I protested. I told him that wasn’t the case. He put his hand on my shoulder to quiet me and continued. “Not all the time. Not even most of the time. But when it matters. When it matters, you put yourself last. And they notice.”

I didn’t know what to say. I felt like a fraud. The reason why I wasn’t afraid for my job was because I knew I wasn’t in for good. This wasn’t going to be my career. I didn’t care if I never got promoted. Besides, I still had my share of enemies on base, people rooting against me, hoping to see me fail. He told me he knew all that. That all of my predecessors had been in the same boat (forgive the pun).

“Your men aren’t indifferent to you, Olivier. They don’t mock or resent you, the way they mock and resent other officers from the EOR program. They love you. Not all of them and not all of the time, you aren’t that good, but enough of them and when it matters. That’s the bond you have with them. They’ll always be loyal to you because you’re loyal to them. And just like you only show them that loyalty when it counts, so do they only show you theirs when it counts. They know they can depend on you, and that’s rare. That’s how it works. Leadership is a handshake. It’s a quid pro quo of respect, empathy and honesty. You give and they give back in kind. That‘s the secret of leadership.”

Then he said this: “What you probably don’t see, however, and something you should be careful about, is that you crave their approval the same way they crave yours. It’s a double-edged sword.” With this, he taught me temperance. He reminded me that there is a line between leadership and friendship. That seeking the approval of your men, of your staff, can be dangerous.

I thought back to my first day with the petty officers.  The speech I gave them. He knew where my mind was at that moment. He had come up in the ranks with several of them. They stayed in touch. Some of my closest allies on base had turned out to be lifelong friends of his. He knew everything I had done since taking my command.

I asked then what I should do. He grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. And that was that.

I left military life behind at the end of my tour some months later. Part of me always regretted it, and it’s fair to say that I still miss it every day, but I don’t think I was meant for military life. Not in France, anyway. Too many generals and not enough action. Never a good combination.

At any rate, 18 years later, here I am, finding the same lessons spelled out in Steven Pressfield’s books about Leonidas and Alexander, and suddenly compelled  to write these long ass posts.

The lessons then, and what this has to do with the psychology of failure

And now, the lessons:

(I know. You could have just scrolled down to this paragraph. Sorry. I forgot to mention that.)

Leadership is love.

That’s it.

Okay, but seriously?

Yes. Seriously. And here’s what’s else:

The way you engineer a culture of failure is by doing the exact opposite of everything I wrote about in this post. Here’s how it’s done. This is how it starts (Sorry, SP, I took the liberty of turning one of your paragraphs into the opposite of what it actually states):

I will tell His Majesty what a fool is. A fool abides within his tent while his men bleed and die upon the field. A fool dines while his men go hungry and sleeps when they stand at watch upon the wall. A fool commands his men’s loyalty through fear and purchases it with gold; he never earns their love by the sweat of his own back and the pains he endures for their sake. That which comprises the harshest burden, a fool assigns others to lift in his stead. A fool requires service of those he leads without ever providing it to them. They serve him, not he them.

– (What Xeones might have said if asked to speak about the exact opposite of a good leader.)

Leadership is not an entitlement. Cultures of failure, the psychology of failure in organization begins with the opposite of love: It begins with fear and selfishness. It begins with the word my.

My bonus.

My promotion.

My project.

My office.

My job, and no, you can’t have it.

What is mine, I can lose. It can be taken away from me. This puts me at odds with everyone else because it puts my self interest above everyone else’s. My brothers now become a threat. I begin to regard everyone with suspicion. Silos emerge. Whips appear.  The illusion of control replaces dynamism. Before you know it, the organization begins to turn against itself from within.

I am reminded of a group VP I once worked for, who before every quarter-end would fire staff if her P&L showed she came shy of her bonus.

This is poison.

When leadership ceases to be about entitlement and perks, about bigger salaries and nicer offices, when it becomes service instead of power, it returns to its pure and effective form. Not that any of these things need to be removed from the equation, mind you. It’s just that they don’t matter. They’re the surface, not the substance.

Another thing I learned during my time in uniform, and what was later confirmed in every position I’ve held since is this: People will shine if you give them a reason to. And everyone, yes everyone can shine.

In the same way, people will fail if you give them a reason to. It goes both ways.

There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.

Two last little bits, and I’ll let you go.

1. The first is this: If I sometimes shone as an officer – and not everyone was of the opinion that I did – it wasn’t because I was wise enough to be popular with my men, whether by accident or design. The truth is that I looked up to several of the petty officers I met on that first day. How could I not? I was 21 and they were in their late thirties. They were badasses: Confident, experienced, great at their jobs, they were everything I wanted to be. After my little speech, a group of them took me under their wing. They mentored me. They blessed me with the courtesy of their respect and exemplary behavior before their men, putting aside pride and personal feelings of scorn for an officer so young, and treated me as if I were worthy of their best salutes… which I wasn’t.

There are lazy salutes and there are snappy ones. You learn to know the difference. These guys snapped to as if I had been Charles De Gaulle himself. That, more than any other thing, inspired me to be the officer they thought I could be. It set the tone for the rest of the unit to give me a chance to serve them with the gratitude and awe they deserved.

It was them. It was always them.

And it didn’t hurt that the base commander himself, by granting me his affection and protecting me as he did, gave me license to be the officer my unit needed in order to get back on its feet.

The more I gave, the more it gave back. The more it gave back, the more I found myself compelled to dig even deeper and give more.

Leadership is a trust.

2. Here’s the last one, and it speaks directly to failure. My failure. It deals with the petty officer who left my command under what could best be described as unfortunate circumstances. He had been a good man once. Probably. At least a good soldier. As a section leader in my company though, he had become poison. It had begun long before my time, but as an officer, his officer, I failed him. There are no bad boat crews. Only bad leaders.

For months, I tried to reason with him. He scorned me. The man had no more respect for me than he did for his men. He wasn’t alone in his dislike for me, but he was the only one who expressed it openly. Nothing I tried worked. I simply couldn’t get through to him. I spoke to his peers and asked for their advice. They tried to settle things among themselves, which failed as well. He was a bully. He was angry with everything. He didn’t want to be there. As the entire unit fell into place, he made himself a wedge and pushed back. He taunted me. At every turn, he challenged me. My men didn’t have to say what they thought. I knew that I couldn’t let it go on: My authority was at stake. My very ability to command. If I allowed him to defy me any longer, I would lose their respect and loyalty, no matter how much they liked me. No matter how many colonels I stood up to. And there was the other issue: That it was my job to protect them, and if I couldn’t do that, what good was I?  At only 21, I didn’t know what to do. I eventually ran out of options and it came to a confrontation. It’s what he wanted and it’s what he got.

The outcome was this: He left. I stayed. By morning, workers had already patched up the walls of my office and repaired the broken glass of the windows. The desks and chairs were returned to their proper place. It was as if nothing had happened. No one spoke of it openly outside of the official inquiry, which was itself swift. He was transfered, then offered early retirement. I made sure his record wasn’t tarnished by his undistinguished final years in uniform. A man’s life work shouldn’t be invalidated by only a fraction of it.

The immediate problems of morale, abuse and my ability to command were solved that day, and his departure was as if a weight had been lifted from the entire unit’s shoulders. His friends did not become my enemies. I was told I had done the right thing. My mentors offered to buy me a round of drinks. But I never saw it as a win. Neither did my superiors, who expressed their disappointment in me. The culture of the Fusiliers was such, though, that in the absence of a better course of action, only this one remained: A good old duel. Two rams locking horns. The dumbest form of problem solving on the face of the earth. In the end, it came down to that, but I wish it hadn’t. This also is not a great way to resolve management problems in the civilian world, by the way (though there, transferring or firing people can be a bit easier).

Cultures of failure are resilient. They grab hold of the ground like a weed and don’t let go. If you allow them to take root inside an organization, they grow and eventually take over. In the best of worlds, you find the wisdom not to fight them, not to defeat them, not to allow them to brace themselves against you and become an enemy. In the best of worlds, you can inspire them to turn themselves around, you can win them over with reason and affection and virtue. Sometimes though, as I found out in this instance, no such luck. But you still have to do what you have to do. Leadership is also about having to make hard decisions in impossible conditions, about having to choose between two bad solutions when no good one is available. Sometimes, leadership is as much about minimizing failure as it is engineering wins. It isn’t for everybody. It’s tough on the nerves and hard on the soul, but for those who want it, it’s there, at once beautiful and terrible, elating and terrifying, infinitely rewarding yet relentlessly unforgiving. You never quite figure it all out, but as long as you press on, the wind tends to stay mostly at your back.

Thanks for sticking around to the end. I felt like telling stories today.

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Wow. That was fast. 2010 is here already? What happened to 2009?

Oh… I’m sorry, that’s right. 2009 kind of sucked. Most people are glad it’s over. Me, not so. Not that 2009 rocked my world or anything, but I am a bit sad that we couldn’t make it better. Know what I mean?Starting by giving all the people who lost their jobs since H2 2008 their jobs back – or better yet, whole new jobs. Jobs they like even better. That would have been good.

Another way we could have made 2009 better might have been to come together in time of crisis instead of polarizing ourselves around issues that shouldn’t be issues to begin with – Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Progressive, Social Media vs. Traditional Media, earned attention vs. bought attention…*sigh* Seriously? 10%+ unemployment and we’re debating ideology? Seriously?  So yeah, 2009 could have gone a little smoother for everyone if we had spent more time working TOGETHER instead of against each other, or – as it were – off on our own trying to score our own little slices of pie.

We can do better than this. Much better, in fact.

I’m sad to see 2009 go, not because I liked it that much, but because for all the talking and blogging and tweeting and arguing we managed to do, we didn’t get a whole lot done. The US is still bleeding jobs. Some of my friends have been out of work for over a year. In other words, though most of us managed to pay the bills, 2009 came and went, and we didn’t solve anything. We didn’t take 2009 anywhere.  We just… talked. And tweeted. And waited for things to get better, as if that would happen all on its own: The magic economy restoring itself through… divine intervention. Truth is, 2009 came and went, and we failed to fix much of anything. Not exactly the best way to end a decade now, is it?

When I was training to be a Fusilier Marin, much of the training I was put through was intended to boost individual performance: Obstacle and confidence courses, weapons training, PT, classroom instruction, etc. The basic stuff, essentially. But the real value of the training, especially as an officer, was the portion of it that emphasized teamwork rather than individual performance. And I am not talking about “team building exercises” here. We’re way beyond the “close your eyes and fall backwards so your office mates can catch you” stuff. I’m talking more about getting dropped inside an empty 15ft-deep WWII concrete fuel tank (more like a giant concrete crater with impossibly vertical walls, in case you’re trying to paint yourself a mental image) with 6 guys and no gear with a single mission: Get yourselves out.

How the hell do you do that? It’s dark, it’s cold, you’re hungry and sleep-deprived, no one on your team has ever done it before, and you have until dawn to figure it out or you’re all flunking out of the program.

Okay… now what?

Well, I’ll tell you now what: You start working together is what. You’re in a hole (literally) and you have to get yourself out. That’s the problem  – which isn’t unlike the problems that most companies face today. So what do you do? Do you start barking out orders? Do you assert yourself as the “project leader?” Do you build a plan based on ideology? Nope. Not if you want to get out. What you do is start by clarifying the problem as a team, then coming up with ideas – as a team, hen testing the ideas – as a team. Until you figure it out. And that starts by putting your ego aside and admitting to yourself that sometimes, you are more valuable as a sturdy cog than as an inadequate hub.

Playing Rambo (in the military world as in the business world) will get you nowhere fast. Survival and success both come a lot more easily when you rely on a team – a community, even. Sure, sometimes you have to do stuff on your own, but that should be the exception rather than the rule. If one supergenius is worth his/her weight in gold, then surely a team of supergeniuses is unstoppable. Right?


So the question then is, now what?

It’s 2010. We just wasted most of 2009 arguing over healthcare, Social Media R.O.I., traditional vs. social marketing. Are we going to do the same thing in 2010? Are we going to turn 2010 into 2009 Part 2? Let’s hope not. If that’s your plan, have at it. Me, I have other plans for 2010: I am not interested in being a solo operator. I have no ambition to be the next social media or business strategy or brand management guru. I have absolutely no want to keep doing this on my own. There’s no value in it for me. (As much as I dig the recognition from time to time, I don’t need the ego trip.) None of this is about me. It is 100% about doing things better.

How we bring social media and business together in the real world isn’t through thought leadership alone. It’s through collaboration. Through teamwork. Through PRACTICAL application. You don’t get yourself out of a hole by talking about it. You get it done by actually TRYING things and learning from what works and what doesn’t until you and your team are out of the hole. That’s how it works. There is no other way. Staring up at the ledge won’t help. Barking orders won’t help. Firing your teammates won’t help. Throwing money at the hole won’t help either. Everyone has to pitch in, roll up their sleeves, and do their part. It’s bloody, messy business. Real work is hard work. It’s uncomfortable. It’s scary, even. It can be discouraging at times. But if you work as a team, eventually, you figure out how to get your teammates out, and then help them get you out as well. Everyone does. One of the things I learned about this particular exercise is that teams that can’t get themselves out were simply teams that couldn’t work together. Escaping  (Succeeding) had nothing to do with brains or talent. It was 100% about collaboration.

So instead of putting together a list of resolutions for 2010 (the list would be way too long anyway) let me instead devote myself to this: More collaboration. With you. With him. With her. Some of you might call it “engagement” and that’s fine. I find collaboration more specific: I don’t just want to “engage.” I want to work with you. I want you to work with each other. I want to see everyone working together to get ourselves out of this massive economic hole.

Our objective this year isn’t to write the ultimate white paper or publish a best-selling business book. It isn’t to properly spend the entirety of our marketing budget. It isn’t to be promoted to some cool sounding position at a Fortune 50. It’s simply this: To help create jobs. That’s it. Not to keep your own or upgrade it, but to help create jobs. Sales jobs. Manufacturing jobs. Design jobs. By helping our employers and clients become more successful. By helping them kick ass. By working with each other for each other. To hell with egos and the me me me attitude. We need results. Real results. Measurable results. Not BS.

The economy as a whole may take a while to recover, but nothing says our clients and employers can’t recover WAY ahead of the curve. And by that, I mean in the next six months. Hiring again. Expanding. Redefining their markets from the ground up. Breaking away from their “competitors”.

The keyword in 2010 won’t be “recovery.” It’ll be “landgrab.”

And the secret weapon won’t be mergers and acquisitions. It won’t be a new hot-shot CMO or CEO. It won’t be the next round of startup funding. It won’t even be the next great app (at least not for the majority of you). It will be collaboration. Teamwork. The opposite of bickering. The opposite of everyone doing their own thing in their safe little silo.

That collaboration piece, that’s where I’m putting my money in 2010. The consulting and teaching, it will be less and less solo. Expect to see me collaborate more with client project teams, with subject matter experts, with product vendors, with service providers, with peers and friends and colleagues. I can only do so much on my own.

Before I start sharing the 2010 roadmap with you guys, I wanted to at least take a day or two to emerge from my annual Christmas Holidays hibernation and get back to answering emails and voice mails, and of course wish you all a fantastic new year. (A whole new one, mind you. Not just a repeat of 2009.)

So please accept this virtual hug, handshake or kiss on the cheek, and let’s vow to make 2010 everything 2009 wasn’t, even if for many of you, 2009 was a pretty decent year. 😉

Cheers to you all, and let’s crank this one up to 12. (11’s already been done.)

Next up this week:

The LikeMinds 2010 Summit

Chess Media Group

The Marketing in 2010 e-book

Red Chair strategic and operational training for the C-suite.

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To celebrate thanksgiving this year, I thought I might share my Top 100 list of things I am thankful for. In no particular order:

  1. Blue skies.
  2. Night thunderstorms.
  3. Nutella.
  4. Gravity.
  5. Fine English saddles.
  6. Cheese.
  7. Architects.
  8. Seat belts.
  9. Planet Earth.
  10. Croissants.
  11. The DOW hitting 10,000 again.
  12. Satellite technology.
  13. Courage.
  14. Antibacterial soap.
  15. Power outlets. Especially in airports.
  16. Wi-Fi. Especially in airports.
  17. Artists.
  18. My parents.
  19. The number 2 pencil.
  20. The internet.
  21. Emergency exits.
  22. Toilet paper.
  23. Skim milk.
  24. Sail boats.
  25. Yogurt.
  26. My wife and kids.
  27. France.
  28. Sushi.
  29. Rollercoasters.
  30. Deodorant.
  31. Skype.
  32. My brother and sister.
  33. Fishermen and farmers.
  34. Helmets.
  35. Petits Beurre, de LU.
  36. Canon cameras and lenses.
  37. My friends.
  38. My enemies.
  39. Bailey’s Irish creme.
  40. Ice cubes.
  41. My extended family.
  42. Cartier.
  43. Washing machines.
  44. Power tools.
  45. German cars.
  46. Provence.
  47. Extra virgin olive oil.
  48. Spring.
  49. Summer.
  50. Fall.
  51. Winter.
  52. Birthdays.
  53. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
  54. Dental hygiene.
  55. Astronomers.
  56. Dogs.
  57. My childhood.
  58. Movies.
  59. Smart phones.
  60. Bespoke tailors.
  61. The path less taken.
  62. Triathlon.
  63. Duct Tape.
  64. Twitter.
  65. Performance fabrics.
  66. Kate Winslet.
  67. Jazz.
  68. Laughter.
  69. French patisseries.
  70. Slow motion.
  71. Cormack McCarthy.
  72. My readers.
  73. Medical research.
  74. US foreign policy in Europe since 1944.
  75. A proper cup of coffee.
  76. Haribo Cola-flavored gummies.
  77. Blue jeans.
  78. Designers (engineers and otherwise).
  79. Rubber bands.
  80. Paris and New York in the spring.
  81. Honey.
  82. Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, Faconnable, Yves St. Laurent and Francesco Smalto.
  83. Benevolent space aliens.
  84. Air travel.
  85. Brave, selfless people.
  86. The Mediterranean Sea.
  87. The perfect gin and tonic.
  88. Afternoon tea.
  89. The USA.
  90. England.
  91. Guitars.
  92. Kevlar.
  93. The International Baccalaureate.
  94. Cashmere and Merino wool.
  95. My health.
  96. Old people.
  97. Laptops.
  98. Traditional French cuisine.
  99. Stereophonic sound.
  100. Every single day.

Missing from the list again this year:

  1. Alarm clocks.
  2. Disease.
  3. Selfishness.
  4. Sociopathic bosses.
  5. Celery.
  6. Pollution.
  7. Bigotry.
  8. Cancer.
  9. Religious and political extremists.
  10. Poverty.
  11. American Idol.
  12. Adolf Hitler.
  13. Easy Listening radio stations.
  14. Awful advertising.
  15. Land mines.
  16. Plastic shopping bags.
  17. SyFy Original movies.
  18. Social Media hacks.
  19. Rabid raccoons.
  20. Long lines.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

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I keep running into this every few months or so. It always makes me smile because it’s so true:

The master in the art of living makes little distinction
between his work and his play
his labor and his leisure
his mind and his body
his education and his recreation
his love and his religion
He hardly knows which is which…
He simply pursues his vision of excellence
in whatever he does
leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing
To him he is always doing both.

– Zen Buddhist Text

If you’re any good at what you do, and by good, I mean really good, work is play.


I’m sorry that BrandBuilder blog postings have been a little scarce lately. On the one hand, I have been traveling a lot. But there’s other reason: For the last few months, I have quietly been working on some pretty exciting projects with some of my favorite people on the planet, and I should finally be allowed to start talking about them very soon.

So patience, Grasshopper. We’re almost there.

I could be wrong, but my hunch is that you’re all going to like what I have in store for you guys in 2010 and beyond.

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I am going to be in Europe for the next week or so.

Don’t worry, I will most likely be blogging from France and the UK. (We’re all good.) That said, my ability to approve comments may be limited, so don’t get stressed out if your comments remain in approval limbo for up to a day or two. Likewise, my access to email, Skype and Twitter will most likely be spotty, so don’t stress out if an email , IM or DM goes unanswered for a bit.

Oh, and in case you want to stalk me, here’s where I’ll be:


Dates and places:

October 15 London and Exeter (UK)

October 16 and 17 Exeter (UK)

October 18, 19, 20, 21 Nice, Cannes, Toulon (F)

October 22, 23, 24 London (UK)

So if you’re in London, Exeter or anywhere near Cannes while I am there, let me know.

I’ll throw more details at you once I’m in the old country.

Happy travels to all. 😉

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