I have experienced many remarkable aha moments doing the Exploring Forward Thinking Workplace interviews, but this may be one of the most significant to date. It all started as most of my interviews do. I was searching for something else, and synchronicity happened.
Several weeks ago, I was searching for insights and advice on how to market my new book The Future of the Workplace coming in October. Frankly, I don’t want to promote it in the way I see many books marketed today. I was looking for good examples that I could learn from elsewhere.
That’s when I accidentally discovered Lindsay Pederson and her remarkable new book Forging an Ironclad Brand: A Leader’s Guide. Something drew me in, so I purchased and read the book.
It didn’t take long for me to discover that Lindsay had a meaningful and powerful new way to look at brand. I believe her message and work are eminently important to bring to the Exploring Forward Thinking Workplaces conversation.
I think Lindsay tells it best. Please set aside a few minutes to read the full interview and prepare to be enlightened by this remarkable new understanding of brand. I hope you experience the same aha moment I did.
Meet Lindsay Pedersen
Brand Strategist and Best-Selling Author of Forging an Ironclad Brand
Lindsay is a brand strategist with a demanding, scientific approach to brand building. She helps leaders unlock business growth through rigorous, Ironclad Brand Positioning.
She uses her Ironclad Method to build a brand strategy that helps the business fulfill its potential, and gives its leaders the ability to grow with intention, clarity and focus.
Her background is as a P&L owner at Clorox, where she led mature, billion-dollar businesses and newly-launched categories, from Clorox Bleach to Armor All to Brita.
How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?
Lindsay: What a big question. I was thinking about what’s the common thread when I’m in a work environment where it feels like there’s a thriving, vibrant culture. What’s the common thread? What enables that and what I keep coming back to is this idea of psychological safety.
All of the individuals in this workspace or this company feel respected and dignified as a human being. It sounds so negative and necessary, but it’s surprisingly rare.
I have noticed that when people feel safe, psychologically, they thrive and find meaning. When they succeed and find meaning, they naturally contribute. Meaningful to the business because they feel cared about, so they care too.
Bill: I think that’s critical and interesting you mentioned that. I just posted an article this week on this topic: Does your culture support telling the truth? It’s so vital. Everything else works when you can do that.
Lindsay: Exactly. It’s like proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise as a foundation for health. You need those things. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many bottles of kale juice you’re drinking if you’re only sleeping four hours at night.
Bill: I received an anonymous quote one time about our interviews, but it so relates. They said, “This conversation invites and allows whole beings to show up; like whole food, whole beings are more nutritious to the system they exist within.”
Lindsay: I love that. Brene Brown talks about that a lot. The wholehearted acceptance and welcoming of the whole person because we’re a whole person. We’re not just an automaton that creates widgets for a company. We have other things going on too and when we see that it’s very humanizing.
What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?
Lindsay: Assuming that they have psychological safety, I think that’s the underlying condition. Once that’s true, how do you get the most out of this employee?
To me, it’s an overlap between what the employee cares about and what a company’s purpose is. When there is something the company stands for that human being who is an employee cares about, then they are going to devote more of their cognitive resources.
So number one make employees feel psychologically safe. And number two, give them a purpose as a company that your employees can galvanize around.
What do people really lack and long for it work?
Lindsay: I think it’s a very human quality to be a meaning seeker. We’re looking for meaning in everything that we interact with in our environment. When that’s missing from a significant part of a person’s life, there isn’t a sense of why am I here? What is this all for?
I think there’s something very existentially draining about being in an environment that has no meaning. Conversely, when people are finding meaning in the work that they’re doing every day, it’s really energizing. I think that what people lack and long for at work is the same thing that people lack and long for in all of their lives, which means that something that they’re spending their precious time and attention is something that matters to them.
It’s an eight-hour day, but if you’re checking your watch every five minutes, it’s because you want it over with, which is the opposite of the flow state. In the flow state, time disappears, and you get lost in the creation of something that is engaging to you. It’s difficult enough to engage you, but not so difficult that you’re put off by it. It’s so soul-sucking when you’re in a place that’s devoid of meaning for you.
What’s the most important question leaders should ask employees?
Lindsay: What matters to you? What do you care about? What do you value in life?
What is the most important question employees should ask leaders?
Lindsay: Why is this company here? Why does this company or this business deserve to exist beyond creating and perpetuating a financial profit and loss? What are we doing here?
What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?
I think of it in two ways. The first part is what’s the question that we ask ourselves and the second part of it is making sure that we are asking ourselves questions to begin with.
I think there’s such a tendency to get caught in the vortex of the busyness of our lives. There are so many demands on our time and attention that massive swathes of time can pass when we haven’t even checked in with ourselves. The first thing and the reason I love this question is to stop, get still, and check-in with yourself. It almost doesn’t even matter what the question is as long as you’re taking time to ask yourself a question.
The question that I find to be the most revealing is, how am I doing? What’s it like for you right now? How is life right now for me? How can I be my own best friend and advocate?
What prompted you to write your new book?
Lindsay: I kept noticing that I was having the same conversation over and over again. It was a conversation of demystifying for leaders what brand means. I have this bee in my bonnet to make brand accessible to an audience that has always found it a little bit off-putting, intimidating, or mysterious. I wrote this book to accomplish the same thing that I was doing in this conversation with leaders. I wanted to share with them the power of a brand as a leadership tool. A brand is much more than a logo.
A brand is an essential guide for leading business, making decisions, engaging employees, and for building an enduring relationship with customers.
I found that every time a leader grasped that message, something shifted for them. They embrace this idea of focus in a way they previously couldn’t. There was such a great buzz from that transformation experience that I wanted to bring it to more people. I wrote this book to pull back the layers and demystify what branding is. What’s in it for a leader, and why should they care? What are the steps to building one? How do you create a brand that is vibrant for you as a leader and as lively for the business in creating value that only your business can create?
Bill: I think that’s brilliant Lindsay. That’s exactly what lit me up when I started reading your book and discovered those aspects of a brand. I never heard a brand discussed as a leadership tool before. Was it something you learned through your work?
Lindsay: My background is in consumer packaged goods, so I spent a lot of my career at Clorox, which comes out of Procter & Gamble and this old model of consumer brands. There’s an ethos in consumer packaged goods where a brand is your most sustainable competitive advantage. A brand is what you stand for. It’s the thing that you uniquely own and bring to your customer.
It is so powerful and was always so powerful in that world. I was surprised when I left consumer packaged goods and found that most people outside of that realm thought the brand was a logo. Given how powerful brand was for me as a leader at Clorox, I wanted to call attention to it. Brand was the most powerful tool that I had as a leader. There’s no reason why a brand is useful in consumer packaged goods, but not be useful elsewhere. A brand is valuable anywhere where you want to build a meaningful, profitable relationship with your customer.
There are many books on branding. What makes your book different?
Lindsay: There are many books written for marketing people and not for leaders and not for an audience that might have some baggage against branding. What makes my book different is the audience that I was writing it for. It’s for leaders and because I am of the same ilk. I come from running a P&L business as a leader.
I have a lot of empathy for what it’s like to be a leader and that constant tension of trying to survive in an increasingly competitive world while also building a thriving and enduring business. I wanted them to be able to harness brand as a leadership tool in the same way that I had been able to in the consumer packaged goods world.
What question is at the heart of your book?
Lindsay: My book asks what is the one thing about your business that is different from anyone else and that your customers care about? When leaders can answer that pairing of questions, that’s their brand strategy. The thing that you uniquely bring that your audience really cares about.
When I wrote this book, I wanted to get my reader in a philosophical place. They know that their business is here to create returns for investors and to create a livelihood for their employees. But it’s also here for some other reason. What is that reason because that answer is going to be the thing that fuels your employees. It’s also going to be the thing that fuels your customers in the long term. Ultimately products and features can be copied, and patents eventually will expire. But the relationship that your brand has with your audience is not something that others can copy. It’s a worthwhile exercise to discern that.
What is the readers take-away? If just one (or two, or three, etc.) idea(s), what would that be?
Lindsay: The first is that there is massive power in focus. There’s enormous power in single-mindedly bringing to life one strength of your business. The brand is a way to both reveal what that focus should be and to shine the light on that focus continually. The second takeaway is that brand is not a merely creative right-brained intuitive exercise. It’s an exercise that you can approach in a step by step way.
If you’re a person who is allergic to warm fuzzy concepts, you’ve likely been dismissing brand. What I’m here to say is a brand is not squishy. A brand is the most enduring source of value and financial value creation that we have as a business. You don’t have to sit passively and wait for the muse has to tell you what your brand is. You can deliberately and intentionally define your brand. When you do, you not only unlock a lot of value for your business, but you also make your business feel more meaningful to lead.
Bill: I think those points are right on target with what I got out of reading your book and some of your articles, Lindsay. You expanded my understanding of brand and what was possible. What I really liked was how you could create that focus and use it in a powerful way to lead your company and your people forward. You shifted and expanded my understanding of brand and what else was possible.
Lindsay: I’m energized by what you just said that now you understand in a bigger way what brand is. I’m not a purist when it comes to brand. I hope that people can start to think about brand in this big way that I’m talking about.
It’s less than I’m dogmatic about the word brand and more to say, “Hey leaders, you know that that thing that you’ve been searching for? A sense of purpose that can be your focus as a business? Brand is a way to get to that purpose. I don’t want brand to feel like an I should. I want brand of feel like a get to. I get to do this.
It’s not brand for brand sake. It’s brand for the sake of focus and purpose and clarity.
Sometimes I’ll even talk to leaders after I’ve taken them through what brand really means, and they still feel like it’s squishy. But they are on board with the idea of getting deliberate about what their purpose is and what their focus is. That’s okay with me because it’s not like, “Oh, I’m the brand police, and you have to use the word brand correctly.” It’s more like this is a tool. The ultimate reward of using that tool is the focus and purpose that it brings.
It’s funny for me to say that having just spent a lot of time defining what brand is and trying to demystify it. But at the end of this, brand is in service of purpose. It’s not in service of itself. It’s just the most empowering way that I know to get to a purpose that creates value both for your business and for you as the leader.
What did you find most intriguing in this interview?
Below are seven of the most intriguing insights that I found in this interview…
- The common thread is people in this company feel respected and dignified as a human being.
- When people are finding meaning in the work that they’re doing every day, it’s really energizing.
- It almost doesn’t even matter what the question is as long as you’re taking time to ask yourself a question.
- A brand is an essential guide for leading business, making decisions, engaging employees, and for building an enduring relationship with customers.
- Brand was the most powerful tool that I had as a leader at P&G.
- There’s enormous power in single-mindedly bringing to life one strength of your business.
- It’s not brand for brand sake. It’s brand for the sake of focus and purpose and clarity.
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