You Don’t Know Your Brand

Posted by on 10:50 am in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Powerful brands make the world go ‘round – and what we think of as a powerful begins with how we define “power.” Is it the brand with the strongest social mission? The largest revenue? The most employee retention? It gets personal. Quick.

This idea of powerful brands residing outside of the brand itself is an important part of the conversation we have when working with clients who are evaluating “the next thing” – and maybe the stuff of nightmares for marketers. A core belief of ours – one that we share with many – is that you CANNOT create your brand. That’s right – you can’t “make it happen” or “seize the day.” This time you can snooze and win.  

In a way.

After all, it is through a) consistency and b) others’ experience of you – that the truth of your brand is revealed, not just what you think it is or should be or used to be or could be. Just the truth. That’s a great place to start.

We offered this dichotomy at a recent Crain’s Summer School session, part of the Crain’s Academy suite of leadership and career development offerings. And we asked the question, “What are you known for (consistently)?” It prompted some introspection – and some uncertainty. Is what I’m known for a good thing? Is what I’m known for accurate? Is what I’m known for what I want to be known for? And then what?

Running an experiment on the brand called you is actually an easy lift; but it takes some guts. Our prescription: ask three or four people the simple question, “What am I known for (consistently)?” Remember to always consider the source – these are people that should have a sense of how you’ve shown up, over a period of time. You can even ask anonymously, or use one of “Start with Why” guru Simon Sinek’s templates.


And, of course, now that you have the data – a.k.a. what you’re known for a.k.a. the role you are master of – you’re only halfway there. You’ve got to tell the story of your brand, and this part you can control. Sort of.

Consider, then, sharing a branding Mad Libs with your chosen folk and pushing the conversation a little further to ask, “How do you see what I’m known for?” It could be sentence completion something like:

“YOU are really good if I ever need ______ and the reason I know that is because _______.”


“If I ever need ______ solved or have a question about _____, I call _______, and the reason I would is _________.”

Getting a little help from our friends (in the Collective) to define our brand makes sense.

Getting a little help from our friends (in the Collective) to define our brand makes sense.

Make this summer a time to take stock in what kind of awesome-ness you already possess and how you’ll talk about it heading into your next conversation or opportunity.

Committing to Change

Posted by on 10:43 am in Finding Your Mission, Psychology, Strategy | 0 comments

Committing to more time outdoors at the Universal Sole Burgers & Beer 5K. 🍔🍻👟🐶

Committing to more time outdoors at the Universal Sole Burgers & Beer 5K. 🍔🍻👟🐶

One of the hardest parts of making a change is commitment. (Duh; you know this.) The ideation is awesome – “Oh, the possibilities!” – but then one of many pings is heard and you’re back into email and any variety of easier / safer things. “No matter! I’ve always got tomorrow.”

Which is totally true – but when tomorrow arrives, you don’t feel very well.

And we’re really interested in you feeling great. Particularly about yourself; particularly about the possibilities.

Know this, though: Humans are inherently wired to prefer short-term versus long-term; to prefer flight versus fight; prefer safety versus risk. It’s all good. That’s why The Collective exists – to help you keep “the long-range” in focus and get there, sometimes via unexpected routes –  because you matter and it matters. It’s worth committing to.


We got to thinking, talking and taking action on this, as a bigger Flank 5 Academy community, while reading How Will You Measure Your Life? – a super-provocative title offered by Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen. While meeting to discuss it recently, we talked about how we define “the person I want to become” – and holding that vision close as we traverse challenges (e.g. discrimination), and get “off course” (e.g. those pings I mentioned) and find ourselves stuck in a pattern we want to get out of (e.g. taking the job because it pays more; not because it motivates us).

Because with purpose front and center, and with a strategy effectively applied, you’ll wake up feeling good. You’ll have your very own yardstick by which to measure your life.


Endings are Important

Posted by on 4:47 pm in Uncategorized | 0 comments


There’s a lot of fear that comes with endings – when it’s time for you to move on, make a change, or show up in a new way. That fear is why we stay put, maybe too long. Or why we leave too soon: “Just get it over with.” Or maybe why we “ghost” – disappearing without really having to end; it’s so scary we avoid it.

But endings are important: they prompt helpful questions (“How will I keep the momentum going?” or “How will I keep in touch with these people I’ve grown to care for?”).

They mark a pivot point and an opportunity to take stock: of what we’ve learned, what we believe and, perhaps most importantly, what we’re committed to

We evaluate who we care about, who is better left “as is” and what we’ll carry forward. After all time is finite, and energy is not.

This question of, “How will I keep the momentum going?” comes up a lot as people leave The Collective. It’s not overstating to say the group is transformative. When people leave they are different than when they arrived. It’s no wonder, then, that leaving is a hard decision to make – how do you continue to transform without the support and push the group provides?

In your own transition, you could just as easily ask, “How will I keep in touch with people I’m leaving?” or “How will I avoid slipping into ‘bad habits’ I’ve worked so hard to stamp out?”

The fear makes sense, but it’s actually not a great motivator. The answer to all the “how?” above has a lot to do with first thinking about what fuels us. In other words, what motivates us.

Seth Godin wrote an awesome blogpost this week that offers a list of fuel / motivators – and reminds us that we have the power to choose, whether we’re fueled by “big dreams” or “dissatisfaction,” it’s important to take note. As Seth says:

“They [any motivator / fuel] all work. Some of them leave you wrecked, some create an environment of possibility and connection and joy. Up to you.”

Endings prompt an awareness that we’re going to have to look inward for our fuel – intrinsic motivation –  as opposed to a group, or a role, or an individual. This is hard especially if we’ve worked in a traditional supervisor / employee setting where we “follow the leader.”

But when it’s really up to us – to move on, make the change, show up in a new way – we get to choose to look within. Knowing it’s hard, unnatural and will take practice / failure can actually be enough to make sure we avoid self-sabotage and just go for it – whatever move, change and new way may come on our path forward.


Taking the First Step

Posted by on 9:17 pm in Psychology, Strategy | 0 comments

Being open to new things is an attractive quality. When we see “openness” in others, we admire it – we praise them for bravery, living in the present. . . being risk takers. For taking the first step.

Inherent in that point of view is the tiny voice of Judgment – that we, in comparison, are not open. That we say we’re going to do new things but we never do. “It’s so easy for others, but what’s wrong with me that it’s so hard?”

What that Judgment prevents is compassion – and it keeps us stuck, from even the first step of our leadership and career purpose. It prevents us from acknowledging how hard it is, for humans, to grow and do new things. How hard it is to flex, bend and shift in the name of getting into alignment, finding fulfillment and enjoyment in work – in life.

We gloss over / ignore / forget that we are innately wired for safety – that our fight / flight instinct is difficult to override – that the discomfort of new a.k.a. weird a.k.a. dangerous is powerful.

We talked a lot about this as a community in April while reading 10% Happier – How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story. After having a nationally televised panic attack on Good Morning America, the book’s author Dan Harris knew he had to make some changes.

Harris eventually landed on meditation as a “new thing” to try, after sifting through his own beliefs, judgments and fear around it. Like, a LOT of judgment. But, hitting his own bottom increased the willingness to surrender to the new, to take the first step, toward something that would eventually do for him what underreported research says meditation has done for CEOs, scientists, and even marines – all of whom are using it for increased calm, focus, and happiness.

What the Flank 5 Academy folks loved about his story was the authenticity, skepticism and desperation that spouted from the crippling voice in his head that was committed to him staying stuck, sick and the same. From taking step one.

We all have that voice. The voice that keeps us from starting.

And this month, we’re exploring the why, and the how, of all that is “the first step.”

What does it look like to start the thing you’ve been wanting to do? How does it feel to let go of steps two through 1,000, in the name of knowing it begins with one? How do you get the accountability, support, strategy to name and then claim that first step?

More to come as we walk through this together, in the name of you showing up for yourself, to be a better human, leader, spouse, friend, boss, partner. To be more open and more willing, to go first.




Brain Food: Focusing on Strengths

Posted by on 9:56 am in Psychology | 0 comments

When I was growing up, I used a lot of effort to blend in with my classmates and friends. We’ve all asked, “How come he is so much more talented at this than I am?” or “How did she become so much better than I am at that?” As we begin to experience and develop more, we play a balancing act between our positive attributes and comparing ourselves to others.

For me, I spent lot of energy trying to enhance that which I wasn’t naturally talented at when it turns out the real secret is to focus on our strengths.


Can you believe that focusing on your weaknesses actually has a negative effect on your brain activity? I didn’t believe it either until I stumbled on scientist and self-development writer Ilka Emig, who is also the author behind Her article posted on Pick The Brain entitled “How Focusing on Strengths Instead of Weaknesses Changes Your Brain” is a great reminder as well as insightful to the point where it deserves optimal space on your fridge.

“Spending every day being reminded of what we’re not good at is frustrating. And it stresses the brain. So all of the brain’s functions are reduced to one simple activity: surviving the present situation.

The brain does only what guarantees survival and uses only what it knows. In no way is the brain able to use all of its areas and capacity to visualize and be creative at this stage. Stress reduces and blocks all that.”

Focusing on your strengths is much more than knowing that you have them. What is knowledge and skill without application? Ask Lisa Cummings, CEO of Lead Through Strengths, who delivered an impactful message on TEDx earlier last year. It’s a talk that bridges internal realization to the needed external action, which we all can use motivation in from time to time.

As we contemplated the power of strengths in the Collective last month, we worked through our StrengthsFinder results, and wonder: What are your strengths? And what can you do today and moving forward to channel them toward making an impact on your career?

#CollectiveWisdom: What is the Reward in the Consideration of a Career Transformation?

Posted by on 9:45 am in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Amanda Ryznar is a Flank 5 Academy Collectivist alumna and facilitator. Professionally, she is a digital marketing leader who is committed to the pursuit of conscious leadership for herself and others. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn.

Amanda Ryznar

I have always expected a reward and I have always been willing to work for one. My theory has been that hard work = reward.

My world was initially set up to support this theory. I liked the model and have continued to play it out most of my life. Hard work at school meant good grades. Good grades meant getting into a good college. Getting into a good college meant getting a good job. Getting a good job meant achieving financial stability, satisfaction, etc. You’ve heard this before. You may have done this. You may be doing it now. And, you aren’t wrong for doing it. I only know that it does not serve me, personally, to continue this way of thinking.

I joined the Collective because I wanted to know my purpose. I thought that if I spent two hours a week in this group setting, and then more time thinking about it outside these meetings, that I would figure it out. In other words, if I just worked hard enough, the reward would come. The reward in this case was specific purpose with a specific role.

That is not the reward that I received. And, I no longer think that the “reward” for my participation needed to be a purpose and an associated specific role.

Mark Nepo in the Book of Awakening writes, “The closer we get to all being, the more synonymous the effort and its reward. The reward for uncovering the truth is the experience of an honest being. The reward for understanding is the peace of knowing. The reward for loving is being the carrier of love.”

The reward is the experience that you have that is internal and intrinsic to you. It’s not an external acquisition – and viewing it as a set target with a set point in time can be extremely limiting.

My rewards for participating in the Collective are many. I evaluated my role at work, my attitude towards work, the type of leader I wanted to be, and the dynamic that I was co-creating with my colleagues.

It was not easy, but the reward was a clearer picture of how I wanted to view work and an acceptance that growth comes from the willingness to question and sit with challenges. People who I didn’t know, got to know me, and as a result encouraged me, believed in me, and supported me week after week.

I thought about what gave me energy and what took it away. I realized I had been saying yes to a lot of things because I thought I should versus because I wanted to. I came to believe that there is no real end point to what I become and that the journey does not have to be perfect. In fact, it won’t be, but I am open to carrying on, learning as I go, and making the journey and the reward my own.

The value of the group experience is a “spot check” on honesty – on my own truth – and making sure I stay the course that I’ve set out to journey; not a prescribed journey with a definite outcome.




#CollectiveWisdom: Lather, Rinse & (Maybe Not Always) Repeat

Posted by on 5:31 pm in Collective | 0 comments

Joanne Worden is a believer that work matters and “work is good” – she should know; she’s been an HR executive for most of her career. She is also an alumna of The Collective. You can learn more about her via LinkedInJoanne

I’ve been working since I was 16 years old (and before that, if you count babysitting and odd jobs). For the most part, I’ve loved – or at least liked – every job I’ve had. I found each one sort of fascinating in its own quirky way, and through each position I learned, grew, accomplished, built relationships and, of course, spent some amount of time banging my head against the proverbial wall. Even the experiences that put bumps on my head taught me something – the importance of knowing yourself, knowing the environment, being realistic, and figuring out if the job is a good fit.

And so, for years and years, I was on what I called the ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ cycle.

You get up, you show up, you do your best. Promotions and new projects come your way. You meet wonderful people, and you meet some asshats. If you wise up along the journey, you learn to appreciate the former and manage the latter.

I was fortunate. I had way more good bosses than bad, and colleagues who were patient and kind and giving of their time and talents. We did cool things, we won awards, we got shit done. . . with lots of laughs and, yes, a few tears along the way.

And then, like that (at least that’s what it felt like), I was done. I had the opportunity in the fall of 2015 to take a very lucrative ‘package’ from the company I had been employed with for five years. I weighed all the options carefully and decided it was a good time to pack my boxes and go.

But then what? I figured out pretty quickly that I wasn’t ready to ‘sit’ – and, in fact, chances are good that I never will be. Work and working is woven into my DNA, and I doubt I can be content to be a ‘lady who lunches’. However, I do recognize that I want my second – and third – acts to be meaningful and focused, with the ability to ‘do some good’.

Enter my time in the Collective. Getting connected to this wonderful group of smart, talented, open-minded and open-hearted folks is one of the best things I’ve ever done, personally and professionally.

I was able to bring my semi-blank canvas to our meetings each week and talk to the group about what colors I thought I wanted to paint with. I got lots of affirmation about being sure to use the ‘greens and blues’ that interest me and that are my strengths, and also great ideas about potentially blending those colors to form some new shades. I’m finding out that purple is indeed a beautiful color that belongs on my palette. And while others in the group were so helpful to me, I felt that I could be helpful to them in return. By offering advice at times, simply by listening at others.

The Collective taught me that simply lathering and rinsing is enough – and repeating, without intention can actually be pretty black and white.

I’d rather live a colorful life, creating new and exploring – career adventures and otherwise. One where my story can be of service to others, continuing on March 7 at the Life of Yes Storytelling Showcase – the culmination of my storytelling class with Mac & Cheese Productions. Join me, join us and share yours!

Staying Stuck or Moving Forward

Posted by on 10:10 am in Psychology, Strategy, Uncategorized | 0 comments

During this month, The Collective explored the topic of “moving forward” – we looked at how we are motivated, the pro’s and con’s of making a decision, and reflecting on our progress. Just as moving forward is important, we are also big fans of reflection. Taking stock of where your mind and your body is important. During our “tuning in”, what continues to pop up? Are there barriers in your life that make you feel…stuck? What does moving forward look like for you right now?

Erika Anderson, the author of Growing Great Employees, Being Strategic, Leading So People Will Follow, provides insight on how great leaders have had success with moving people forward. According to her, they are key ways of keeping a company or team motivated which include:

  • Don’t indulge in distractions
  • Recognize your impact
  • Remove obstacles
  • Encourage enthusiasm
  • Support conclusions

Sometimes knowing where to start is difficult. In a TED Talk from Dr. Lani Nelson Zlupko we get to see an inspiring and relatable picture of staying stuck or moving forward. Being a founder of LNZ Consulting and Adjunct Associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania certainly gives her some experience in the art of problem solving.

Are you ready? There is no better time than now to “Get on the arrow” as Dr. Nelson Zlupko would suggest.

We’ve enjoyed exploring similar career-building elements this month within The Collective. Adding a powerful community to your process only increases your potential for success – and there isn’t any direction more rewarding and more freeing than, well, forward!

The Most Important Research Project: You

Posted by on 11:50 am in Collective, Finding Your Mission | 0 comments


The opinions on how you should start your day for “maximum results” and “increased productivity” are vast and varied. . . some may even be helpful. Whether the advice is “avoid the snooze” or “drink water right away” it can be hard to sift through all the recommendations to find one that really makes an impact. . . for you.

So, we’ll keep it simple and suggest something we’ve offered and observed has an impact with the hundreds of people who have come through our programs:

Tomorrow, start your day with an intention (Source: Huffington Post) – and end your day with a reflection.

Lately, we have been asking participants in Crain’s Academy and other F5 leadership programs about journaling:

Do you do it? Have you ever done it? And who cares?

Astoundingly few do. And most aren’t sure why it matters.

Well, it matters – to your ability to be successful and move forward (Source: Harvard Business Review).

You are the most important research project of your life, so knowing what your intention is and reflecting on how you lived it out day to day gives you a lot of data to pull from to make better career and life decisions.

intentionSo what is an intention and how is it different (Source: TED* Works!) than your goals?  

  • It’s present focused (today) versus future-focused
  • It’s a lived experience versus a destination
  • It’s internally driven, versus externally

If you begin with an intention you can reflect at the end of the day how you lived it out. If you wanted to “Remain open, flexible and kind with all people” or “Stay in learning and avoid judging” and you felt you didn’t live it out, don’t be too hard on yourself. Living out an intention takes a lot of practice and in research, sometimes experiments fail.

Involve community in your intention setting and increase your chances of “coming back to center,” making better decisions and being more successful throughout the day. The Collective and Crain’s Academy are great communities to join as you conduct your research! 

Introducing Josh Johnson, Marketing and Growth Coordinator

Posted by on 4:05 pm in Announcement | 0 comments


I’m no stranger to change and adaptation. I’ve experienced many typical life “curve balls” and I’ve never been happier than current state:

Continuing to try on as many “hats” as possible to find one that fits – or maybe quite a few, knowing me.

Breathing into the importance of self-awareness, the value of wisdom, and regular reflection is becoming more of a routine for me these day – AND I will always have the need to  strive to be better.

From my experience in retail, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside inspiring individuals who have just graduated high school. By supervising them, I quickly saw myself showing signs of multiple passions and strengths while developing my managerial skills.

My path in retail earned me a few promotions and, more importantly,  helped me ultimately gain an understanding about the difference between management and leadership.

While my work life flourished, my urge to finish college was still really important. I made the decision to step down from my position in 2014 and finish my final two years at Columbia College Chicago, graduating last month with a BA in Music Business Management with a focus in marketing. Throughout my life, I’ve been known to many as a “musical individual,” growing up and participating in district and state level choirs. By the end of my high school education, I began diving into music production and working with local musicians in Chicago.

Returning back to school a couple of years ago opened up my eyes to new opportunities. My career journey has helped me learn to embrace change and possibility as the only way to move forward and it’s from that realization that I was so excited to get the opportunity to work with Flank 5 Academy as their Marketing and Growth Coordinator. May my own growth continue!