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A Brand Called You

Lesson 10 of 22

Characterizing Leadership

Debbie Millman

A Brand Called You

Debbie Millman

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Lesson Info

10. Characterizing Leadership


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1 Class Introduction Duration:12:41
2 Defining Brand Duration:09:34
3 Finding Your Mindset Duration:04:57
5 Busy Is A Decision Duration:02:45
6 Honing your Mindset Duration:07:35
7 Generators vs. Drains Duration:19:39

Lesson Info

Characterizing Leadership

Stature, the idea of showing up with grace and with dignity, comes from leadership, and leadership is a really, really squishy word. Leadership is a word like branding, like strategy, that a lot of people have a lot of different definitions of, and I believe that stature comes from leadership. Stature is the result of having the courage of your beliefs and your ability to lead with them, so you feel like you can share those beliefs with others. I think it's important to understand what leadership actually is, and I've spent a lot of time and done a lot of research into ways that people lead, how they show up, what is the way in which leadership is created and borne, and I found a definition that I consider to be among, if not the best definition of leadership that I've ever encountered, and I'm going to read that definition to you. It's actually more like a little essay (laughs) than a definition, but it's written by David Foster Wallace, the late, great David Foster Wallace, and it's ...

a definition that was included in an essay that he wrote in when he was following John McCain on the political path and covering his election, and he wrote an article in a book called 'Consider the Lobsters,' a collection of his essays about leadership, and I'm going to read that to you. So the name of the actual essay itself is "Suck it Up," and it's from his book of essays, 'Consider the Lobster.' "It's just about impossible to talk about the really important stuff in politics without using terms that have become such awful cliches, they make your eyes glaze over and are hard to even hear. One such term is leader, which all the big candidates use all the time." Things haven't changed much. (audience laughs) "As in providing leadership, a proven leader, a new leader for a new century, etc, and have reduced to such platitude that it's hard to try to think about what leader really means, and what today's voters want is a leader. The weird thing is that the word leader itself is cliche and boring, but when you come across someone who is a real leader, that person isn't cliche or boring at all. In fact, he's sort of the opposite or cliche and boring. Obviously, a real leader isn't just somebody who has ideas you agree with, or isn't somebody you happen to believe is a good guy. Think about it. A real leader is somebody who, because of his or his own particular power and charisma and example, is able to inspire people, with inspire being used here in a serious and non-cliche way. A real leader can somehow get us to do certain things that deep down, we think are good and want to be able to do, but usually can't get ourselves to do on our own. It's a mysterious quality, hard to define, but we always know it when we see it, even as kids. You can probably remember seeing it in certain really great coaches, or teachers, or some interesting, cool older kid you looked up to," Interesting phrase. "and wanted to be like. Some of us remember seeing the quality as kids in a minister, or a rabbi, or a scout master, or a parent, or a friend's parent, or a supervisor in a summer job, and yes, these are all authority figures, but it's a special kind of authority. If you've ever spent time in the military, you know how incredibly easy it is to tell which of your superiors are real leaders, and which aren't, and how little rank has to do with it. A leader's real authority is a power you voluntarily give him, and you grant his this authority not with resentment or resignation, but happily. It feels right. Deep down, you almost always like how a real leader makes you feel, the way you find yourself working harder and pushing yourself and thinking in ways you couldn't ever get to on your own. In other words, and you have to suck it up and just ignore the cliches here for a second, because these aren't just words. There's real important stuff in back of them. In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear, and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own." Is that magnificent, or is that magnificent? I want to read that last sentence again because I actually left out one word and I want to make sure I get it exactly, exactly right. "In other words, a real leader is somebody who can help us overcome the limitations of our own individual laziness and selfishness and weakness and fear, and get us to do better things than we can get ourselves to do on our own." David Foster Wallace, 'Consider the Lobster' Is that magnificent? So what can we do for ourselves? How can we propel ourselves? How can we be our own leaders, to be able to propel ourselves to do things that we would otherwise not do because of our own selfishness and laziness? We all have it, and it is an easier path to take the safer route, but it's not really any easier, because as we talked, even working at McDonald's is hard. So there is no easy. How can we lead our own lives? How can we take our own journeys and be able to fulfill what we want just because we want them? Because left to our own devices, maybe our own laziness or selfishness would get in the way. But how can we propel ourselves upward? Because we all have our own inner leader, and so if we are able to convey our benefit strategically with stature and leadership, then we'll be able to convey to others who we are and what we believe and why we are the best possible person for this dream job that we want with all our hearts and with all our souls. It's not that easy, right? (audience laughs) But it is. It's not that hard, either, but it is. That's the best definition I've come across, and I love that definition so much that I actually did a piece of art wherein I used felt letters and individually stuck down on a giant piece of felt the entire definition because I just felt that it was the most important definition of leadership and self-actualization that I'd ever come across. So leadership has responsibilities. It has responsibilities. You can't just be a leader. The responsibilities are essentially accountability. You are accountable to yourself. You are accountable to others when you are leading them, and if people believe in you and if you believe in yourself, you owe it to them and to yourself to be able to lead with integrity and sincerity. If we go back to the definition of positioning and how you want to articulate your positioning, you are articulating your unique beliefs and benefits, which we've talked about, stated with stature and sincerity, and we haven't talked about how to state all these things. We've talked about how to show up with a belief and a benefit that is unique. We've talked a little bit about stature and sincerity and leadership, but we actually haven't talked about stating those things, stating those things, and that's what we're going to talk about in our next session. How do you show up? How do you represent yourself? And that's what we're going to talk about next, and I see already, there's some questions, and I think, Jim, you might have some questions as well, but we'll go with-- Questions everywhere. There's questions everywhere. Yay! I love questions. We'll start in the studio audience, and then we'll move onto the Internet. Excellent, excellent. You were emphasizing on stating. Are you making a distinction between stating it or communicating it, or they're one and the same? Same. Stating and communicating. Stating is just a shorter word. Stating. We're going to talk all about how to state these things, how to communicate, how to say. Say is probably the best word or all, because it is what it is. We're going to talk about how to say these things to other people in a way that resonates and feels entirely true to who you are. Thank you. Sure. Other questions from the class before we move to the internets? Right, keep thinking, but I've got some here. So there's some questions. We have a very diverse audience here at Creative Live, and we have people from all ages and walks of life. I'm feeling like, does this education apply to anyone of any age? That's a good question. Anyone of any age. A woman is in her 50s and she's starting a new business. Oh, please. I'm in my 50s. I'm starting something new every day. Absolutely. I think it, absolutely. I think the older you are, the easier it is to actually come up with what you believe in because you've had so much experience, and especially if you're trying to reinvent who you are. Then, you have to undertake an exercise where you're thinking about what do you stand for now? What do you want to communicate, say, state to the world now about who you are and what you believe? If there was ever, ever a case study for changing your life midstream and trying to reinvent yourself, it's moi. I mean, I didn't start doing this type of work until I was in my 40s, and so I think for anybody that wants a second chance at becoming who they want to be in the world, the older you are, the easier it is. You think it's harder because you don't have the youth and the beauty that you might have once had, but you have the intelligence and the philosophy and the experience to be able to come up with something that is entirely unique because you have that much more to pull from. I get excited about this. (audience laughs) Talking about leadership. Yes. Can you define a few qualities of what-- like, specific qualities that make a good leader? So I think that there are different qualities that define leadership based on the way in which you lead. For example, Winston Churchill. He led through his communication and his ability to create big, bold visions and communicate them in big, grand speeches. He was able to lead like that. Then you have somebody else like Cal Ripken, the great baseball player. Cal Ripken wasn't somebody that had a big, fat charisma and wasn't somebody that was blogging about playing baseball and doing endorsements for sneakers and so forth in big, out-there ways. He showed up to play baseball for two thousand games in a row. That was how he led. He led through his consistency and his constantly being there. There are different ways to lead. Some people are very comfortable leading in public, and some people are very comfortable leading with smaller groups of people, or by example. Leading by example is a great way to show people what you stand for, because you're not grandstanding, and you're not trying to convince somebody of something that you think they should believe in. You're actually showing up and doing what you do and showing people how you do it every day in a certain way that shows other people that you can do this and they can do it, too. So you can use other people's leadership skills to try to hone some of your own, but fundamentally, you have to create your own leadership style based on what you're comfortable communicating and stating and how you're going to show up and be. Okay, and another. Same topic, another question from Darian. Is being young an inhibitor when it comes to people recognizing leadership qualities or respecting your foundational beliefs? Yes. (laughs) The interesting thing about today's youth, so to speak, so the millennials and the Gen Zers, is really how capable you are. These two generations are generations of people that have more belief in what is possible for themselves than any other generation I've come across, either by living thorough those generations or in my research. There's such a sense of optimism and hope in the way that they show up. The one thing that I have had the pleasure of witnessing is how they sometimes want more than they are sometimes ready for. What I think that young people suffer from is impatience, in that if they want something, they want it now, and they want it to happen, and then they want the next thing and they want more. It's not unusual for somebody to get hired in any of the places I've been working, and seven or eight months later, want a promotion or want more money or want something that they don't currently have. I think that that's wonderful to want so much. I mean, I came from, "Whatever you give me is fine. Thank you. I'm not going to protest. I'm just going to accept it and be grateful." But I also think that there is a time wherein you have to really make sure that you know everything you need to know before you're ready to go on to the next thing, and the question that I would ask you to ask yourselves is, "Why do I need more of whatever it is? Do I need more because I'm bored? Do I need more because I'm not satisfied? Do I need more because that will make me feel better about myself?" Because if the answer is, "I need more because that will make me feel better about myself," another hedonistic treadmill. Henry Miller had a great quote in about how today's worker always wants something more. The factory worker wants to be an executive, and the executive wants to be the boss, but the boss knows he'd be far better getting out of the game and living the simple life, and what that's stating is everybody always wants something that is just slightly out of reach. Now, we might be evolutionarily constructed to want more, because I do believe that evolution is where invention happens, but it's also a way of distracting ourselves from what we currently have, and if you are looking to grow because you feel like you have maxed out your capabilities in a particular arena, then yeah, there's a real reason for wanting more, but the whole notion of being promoted means you want to be seen as better than someone else or where you currently are. So be careful not to get into the trap of looking for outside endorsement to give you a sense of self. How is this outside acknowledgement going to help you? If it's going to help you get a better job, okay, but if it's going to make you feel-- If you think it's going to make you feel better about who you are, it's going to last for about 10 minutes. Maybe a week, and then you'll start thinking about the next thing, and then the next thing, and then the next thing. Because it's all about, if you're doing it that way, safety and security, and you're using these things to feel safe and secure about yourself, when, in fact, fortunately, really, a big unfortunately, those things don't do it. We just think they do it, and we get trapped in that cycle of wanting more and better, and more and better, and more and better, and nothing is ever enough. So it's a trap that we can sometimes get in about wanting to have something that states to the world that we're better than we are, and this is really, really prominent now in the Gen Zers, who are sometimes being called-- No, the Generation Z is sometimes being called Generation D, D for Depressed, and the reason that they're depressed is because we're now living in this really comparative world where we're constantly evaluating how many likes we have on an Instagram photo, or how many followers we have, or how many friends we have. Why do we really need to know those numbers? Because it gives us a hit of dopamine? The same response would be when we get a promotion. We suddenly feel better about ourselves for a few minutes, but then it goes away and we're dopamine addicts. So we can get really depressed if we don't get that hit, whether it be the number of likes or the number of followers or the numbers of friends or the number of promotions. I think it's really important when we evaluate what we want to understand the motivation behind what it is that we want. What do we think this thing is going to give us? Because if money and success would be all that is necessary, then athletes and famous actors and actresses would never end up in rehab. Right? It's not enough. It's not what it is about. Think about what it is you need and how much you're asking others to validate your own experience of something. Chances are, if you deserve a promotion, you'll get it.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

It takes work to get the work you love. It takes knowing how to interview well, how to communicate flawlessly, how to articulate your own purpose and to simultaneously do this while facing tremendous rejection. Debbie Millman is one of the most influential design minds of our time; an author, educator, brand strategist, and founder and host of the acclaimed podcast Design Matters. In her class you'll learn how to:

  • Create a meaningful philosophy that will guide your career
  • Present yourself in meetings and interviews
  • Network and standout from your competition
  • Find discipline in your approach to work
  • Sell yourself with more confidence

Are you spending enough time on looking for, finding and working towards winning a great job? Are you doing everything you can—every single day—to stay in “career shape”? What else should you be doing?

Join Debbie and answer these questions you should be asking yourself...


a Creativelive Student

B R I LLIANNNNNNT !!!! I love the such solid human being that she is and her grandiosity of holding our shoulder and say : go head! Dare to be your best self, own it. Here are some tips .... !!!! Uhuuuuuuuuu!! So inspiring! Thank you so much, Debbie. For couple of days you were my very BEST FRIEND :) Thanks Creative Live!! This is NOT a live "manual" on technical skills. If that is what you are looking for go some steps down and there are plenty of people teaching that, like traditional schools do. You will only learn what is "there" for you to learn if you are open TO HEAR with sincerity. Debbie tells several things that works and that doesn't in professional field besides showing what successful business look for in the people, or partners. Out standing!! I would love to watch another class with her.


I loved this course. Five Stars. I was initially drawn to this course because of the title. I had read Tom Peter's article (with the same name) in Fast Company magazine many years ago, and found it really inspiring. This was before 'brand' was a household word. Anyway, the course is geared more towards designers looking for their dream job than a typical branding course, but as it happens, I am a designer, so it was quite informative. I can also use much of the advice and lessons and apply them to my own business. From contacting potential employers or clients to creative self promotion, there's valuable lesson to be had. I watched and listened to this course in one day, almost straight through. I highly recommend it. Great insight, great advice - whether you're a design student or not. If you're the creative type, I think you'll find this both enlightening and very enjoyable.