Leadership: Living, Learning and Telling Your Story

May 5, 2015 | blog | By Mike Sullivan


Most people have a story that would read like a novel, complete with twists and turns, triumphs and failures, embarrassments and learnings. I haven’t written a novel, but I have worked with leaders to tell the media bits and pieces of their stories that give color and authenticity to their character.

Entrepreneurs, executives, creatives, leaders, there’s always something exceptional about them, and people are curious about that. How did they do it? What’s their secret? What are they really like? What’s important to them?

In the age of social media, personal and professional lives have converged, and people have a higher expectation of the people at the top. The days of the chief executive sitting high on a pedestal untouchable and unreachable are over.

That’s good change in my opinion, and my favorite way to generate media coverage for clients is to tell their story or even parts of their story.

Once a client shared a funny story about a disgruntled customer. To smooth things over, he showed up at the customer’s house one Saturday morning in a full butler’s tuxedo with a grandiose presentation of morning coffee. Another executive was willing to discuss her candid thoughts and experience of being a woman in male-dominated industry.

And there are plenty of well-known examples as well.

Ariana Huffington has shared how fainting from exhaustion was a wake-up call for getting more sleep. Her Ted Talk message is meaningful to all over-achievers who sacrifice sleep for their responsibilities.

In contrast to his hip-hop mogul status, Russell Simmons has been vocal about his passion for meditation, yoga and veganism. While these lifestyle choices may not resonate with all hip hop fans, everyone can appreciate his authenticity.

Perhaps the best example is media maven, Oprah (no last name needed). Over the years she’s shared many aspects of her life from her difficult childhood to her struggles managing her weight. Her candor makes her ever more relatable and adored by her legions of fans.

An example of self-revelation gone wrong is Paula Deen. The southern cook famously served up decadent food, while secretly managing diabetes. She didn’t reveal her health condition until she aligned with a pharmaceutical sponsor selling a diabetes drug. Had she opened up sooner and not done so for personal gain, she could have positioned her recipes as being for special occasions, not every day.

LOOMIS Imagibrand Process

Expect to see this concept play out during the upcoming presidential election, as candidates reveal personal nuggets designed to make them connect with masses.

No one wants to reveal everything, and I wouldn’t advise that, but I like to uncover the stories that have made leaders who they are. It doesn’t have to be their whole life story, just a compelling narrative that gives the media and customers a glimpse into the leader’s life.

It’s the best kind of personal branding. But it only works if the leader is ready and willing to share.

That’s where I come in. I help them navigate the seas of self-disclosure to paint them in the best possible light.

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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