Friday, 18 December 2009

'Tis the season … for giving…

In the spirit of giving, this Christmas I’ve made a donation to PLAN, an organization that promotes child rights and lifts millions of children out of poverty. I'm doing this instead of sending Christmas cards to friends, relatives and clients. Given the huge challenges that affect children around the globe, it feels like the right thing to do.

I wish you all a peaceful, happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Best wishes,


Sunday, 6 December 2009

Your Outer Brand is a Reflection of Your Inner Brand

There’s a lot of media attention being paid to the new wave of being ‘nice’. In fact, The Sunday Times Style section tells us "It’s Cool To Be Kind Right Now.” You may be asking ‘what’s that got to do with my Brand?’ Well, just about everything.

When I read that Victoria Beckham is doing “charity work in Kentucky”, I realised that, like the New Black is Colour and 50 is the New 40, All About Us is the New All About Me. Hooray! It’s fashionable to be kind, generous and nice. I like that. And one part of me is delighted that common decency, thoughtfulness and kindness is now considered fashionable. However, having spent years in the fashion business, I’m wondering how enduring this new trend will be.

Following the hottest trends can be mildly addictive. I know, because, when I was in the fashion business, much to my chagrin, I fell into that trap on more than one occasion. After pitching up at a handful of fashion shows, ranging from New York to Barcelona, one can get carried away with the fashion cognoscenti swooning over a designer’s, often un-wearable collection. Think Christian Lacroix’s failed, loss-making, couture-fashion business. The top fashion buyers bought it and loved it. However, that was it, customers didn’t. Sadly, his brand didn’t have any commercial recognition or appeal. In part, that’s because it was hugely expensive, beyond exclusive and out of reach for mere mortals. In addition, the brand was too ephemeral.

Any brand, even a personal brand, cannot afford to be known as ephemeral. And in order for your Personal Brand to be strong, impactful and lasting, it has to be able to tell and sell a good story. Here, I’m referring to the ‘inside story’, or your Inner Brand. An Inner Brand that tells a good story needs to be congruent, authentic and credible. And achieving that wiil largely depend on who you are on the inside: what your Inner Brand stands for. Think about it, the people we most admire or warm to, aren’t always the most beautiful on the outside. Think Mother Theresa, Susan Boyle, Ugly Betty, the character of the title, Vera Lynne. What about Madeleine Albright, the first woman to become a United States Secretary of State?

So, in order to create a Personal Brand that’s authentic, congruent, impactful and sustainable, follow these 9 Tips:

1. Reject quick fixes and replace them with patience

2. Be generous to others, both in word and deed

3. Think positive thoughts, even when you feel less than positive

4. Be grateful for what you have, rather than focusing on what you don’t have

5. Be prepared to make sacrifices in order to have the life you want

6. Remove prejudices and replace them with openness & learning

7. Offer unconditional compassion and empathy to others

8. Be a good listener

9. Remember, giving is the new getting

As Dr Robert Holden, Director/Founder of The Happiness Project, said recently in The Sunday Times: "I think of kindness like an antidepressant”

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Out Of Fashion – In Style

The title of this Blog stands as a testament to the way I’ve always felt and continue to feel about the fashion industry. More importantly, why I’m of the strong opinion that Style transcends fashion; always has and always will.

Although I spent a large part of my working life in the retail fashion business, I never really felt a part of it. In fact, during the heady 80s when logos and designer labels were becoming more important than the clothes they adorned, I made a stand. I only bought a line of designer clothing if the manufacturer would agree to leave off or remove the designer’s name or logo from the garment. My customers were not prepared to wear any clothing item or accessory that visually advertised a designer or their logo for the world to see, moreover, nor was I.

Like me, my clients were focused on buying clothes that worked for them, not for the designer or manufacturer. In those days, the fashion coterie thought I was mad. At a time when most fashion retailers were going loco for logos, I was denying them their (often) unearned place of pride. The buying public had been brainwashed into believing that if a designer, their label or logo was deemed de rigueur, the purchase, almost irrespective of what the item was, its quality, design or price, would be money well spent. I did not subscribe to that false belief. At that time, my views, by industry insiders were considered as being out of sync. I guess I was out of fashion!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

First Impressions Count (to 10)

With the minimum of effort, just a few brush strokes conveys the identity of the person above. Now that's what I call a powerful, iconic Personal Brand...

Although there are differing opinions about how much time we have to make a positive first impression, in my considered opinion it’s about 10-seconds. This brings me to my Webinar on Personal Branding, hosted by former Dragons’ Den panellist, Rachel Elnaugh. The event was a success because the subject is very important right now. I believe that’s a symptom of our times and people’s need and desire to distinguish themselves. It’s a kind of riposte to the sameness we seem to experience in the world; whether that homogenization appears in fashion, use of language, physical attractiveness, behaviours or attitudes. Or, even in the way we communicate with each other.

It seems to me that in order to stand out from the crowd, we need to develop a strong, positive personal brand. We all have a Personal Brand, whether we know it or not. Our personal brand is what people say about us, not what we say about ourselves.

In case you missed the Webinar, here are the main points I covered. These are the all-important components for a congruent Inner and Outer Personal Brand.

Your Outer Brand is the way you ‘package’ yourself. Here’s how to convey unquestionable professional polish:

Excellent grooming
Upbeat body language
Good steady eye contact
Attire that is appropriate to the business culture and says something about you
Smiling – it’s contagious
A firm handshake – it sets the tone
Excellent manners - treating others as you would like to be treated
Communication – in-person, by phone or email, one congruent communication style
Be engaging and know how to build rapport

Your Inner Brand, in essence, is your Reputation. Here are the attributes that will contribute greatly to your Inner ‘brand promise.’

Passion & Enthusiasm
Excellent listening skills

With these attributes in place, your Personal Brand will be given a significant upgrade. Moreover, whether you’re a CEO, a spouse or entrepreneur, your value and collateral as a human being will increase exponentially. You’ll also be considered by others as being someone who’s authentic. Moreover, some of you will know who really are, perhaps for the first time.

Men Only - Outer Brand - Grooming Tip in London: a great haircut at a good price is to be had by Carmelo @ Melogy. He's very talented and also a really nice guy. Here's his website:

Women Only - Outer Brand - Makeup Tip: Several of my female clients are thrilled with the products from the CHROMA makeup studio in the heart of Beverly Hills. Their high quality,well-priced products can't be found on the high street. For a unique experience, now you can order easily online:

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Personal Branding Webinar

Instead of my regular Blog, I'd like to invite you to a Webinar, hosted by Rachel Elnaugh, former panellist on BBC 2's Dragons' Den, when I'll be talking about Personal Branding. The date for this event is August 20. The time is 6:00 - 7:30 PM. Anyone can join the webinar, and what's more it's FREE. It's an interactive event, so the Q&A segment is likely to be interesting.

I do hope you'll be able to join me. Here's the information and link to join for FREE:

Rachel Live with Malcolm Levene, Personal Branding Guru and Business Coach

Join us for a Webinar on August 20

Space is limited.Reserve your Webinar Seat Now

I look forward to speaking to some of you on Thursday!

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Friday, 3 July 2009

Face the Facts… Image Matters

Here are the facts: recent research makes it clear that up to 93% of how we communicate is down to body language, facial expressions, voice, language, enthusiasm, energy, grooming and clothing. Only seven per cent is represented by our content. Ignoring this fact could make the difference between nailing it at a job interview and leaving disappointed. In addition, in almost any situation, be that business or personal, knowing that you’ve made the effort to address the 93% is a great confidence booster and self esteem generator. Furthermore, others always recognise and admire those who make an effort.

Having spent much of my working life in the world of fashion, image and style, I’m highly attuned to the pitfalls of ignoring the 93%. Think of yourself as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, each particle making an important contribution to the whole. So when even a seemingly small piece of the puzzle is missing, the picture appears incomplete. That’s how we look when we ignore the 93%. The word ‘together’ is oft used when people remark on how someone looks, or how they come across or conversely, when they observe someone who looks ‘un-together’. In both cases the viewer is making a judgment, perhaps wrongly. However, if you ask yourself how you’d like to be described, I know which description you’d go for.

So using together as an outcome of getting the 93% right, how does one begin to develop a personal style or, as some describe it as a personal brand that’s both appropriate for them and that conveys something authentic? Of all the famous people I’ve met, some of whom I dressed, so to speak, those who embody the best of the 93% never followed fashion, although they acknowledged its existence. They did, however, convey a strong personal style. Keeping up to date with trends be they food, architecture or the arts seems to strike a positive chord; people who do this are often thought of as sophisticated. But people who pay too much attention to fashion and image are often seen as superficial and vacuous. Personally, I think those who summarily dismiss the fashionista as someone whose contribution is worthless do so because they are intimidated or perhaps even a little jealous.

When I was in the business, I never followed fashion, although I was highly aware of what was in, what was about to come in and that which was considered to be on the way out. This awareness was very helpful to me; it acted as a cultural barometer, something that kept my eye sharp and my mind alert. As far as the 93% is concerned, it’s worth considering what percentage of that might be responsible for grooming and clothing, my guess is that it’s about 50%. That leaves 43% for everything else.

As many of you know, we have 10 seconds to make a positive impression; it would be churlish to ignore the fact that our appearance is integral to the impression we make. However, when I come across people both in business and in social circles who don’t think that image is worth discussing or given any credence to, it is odd to me. Maybe it’s a British thing, you know, we just don’t talk about things like that, it’s far too personal. You bet it’s personal and that’s why it’s relevant. Think of it as a personal preference, something you believe in, perhaps even value. In a way, values are a good place to get the ball rolling. Ask yourself what your personal values are. Maybe integrity, optimism and equality are important to you. If so, do any of those characteristics manifest when people meet you? Ask yourself if your inner values match your outer personal style? In short, is there a connection between who you are on the inside and who you are on the outside? For most, the answer is usually ‘no’ or ‘I hope so.’

This quote from Oliver Sacks seems prescient – “Style, neurologically, is the deepest part of one’s being, and may be preserved almost to the last, even in dementia.” I agree with Mr. Sacks. In many ways that’s why I want to bring this subject to your attention. I firmly believe if we continue to develop our personal style our lives will improve measurably. Knowing that your inside matches your outside is both reassuring and empowering. That’s because it improves the most important relationship in our lives, the relationship we have with ourselves.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

'Life is Like a Box of Chocolates’
Forrest Gump

Selling your Service, Product or Idea is Like Serving a Three Course Meal’
Malcolm Levene

Being highly tuned to other people’s behaviours, values and attitudes, puts us at a great advantage as it relates to engaging and building rapport with clients. One of my early coaching clients, the Head of Research for a prominent City bank, was having some challenges convincing his team and his boss to buy into a new strategy he thought would boost sales. When I discussed this with him, I became convinced his idea was sound and likely to pay off. So I asked him to role play the meetings that he’d had with his team and boss to help me to identify why they didn’t buy into his story.

After a few attempts, we got to the bottom of what he had done that prevented him nailing it. His opening pitch was rushed and not entirely clear. The nub of his presentation was good; however, he came across as dogmatic and a bit egotistic. The way he ended his presentation was abrupt and there seemed no room for debate. We worked on how he could set up another meeting that would be more likely to achieve the outcome he desired. I wanted him to keep the next presentation as simple as possible. Therefore, I developed a strategy that I felt would enable him to better sell his story to one and all.

As many of you will recognize, knowing something personal about your client is important. It's one of the best ways to bring about amenability. Now, I knew that my client was a foodie, so I suggested he treated his second pitch as one might a sumptuous meal. I asked him to visualize a tantalizing starter, something to awaken the taste buds, a delicious main course, a dish that would satisfy the most discerning epicurean, and a dessert that would leave everyone with a sweet after taste. Here are the ingredients of each course he served to this group:

Starter – Energy, enthusiasm, passion and positive body language. Appropriate breaks so that his guests had time to digest and savour his proposal. He added the right proportion of seasoning, like humour and personality, to pique the curiosity of everyone so that they’d become more alert to his pitch.

Main Course – A robust explanation as to why and how his idea would work, what was in it for the business and those present. He asked for feedback and made a point of acknowledging everyone’s point of view. He smiled lots, was open and receptive. He expressed a strong desire to engage and was able to build rapport, which made everyone feel included. He paid attention to anyone who left anything ‘on their plate’; ensuring that any doubts or uncertainties were addressed and dealt with. If anyone expressed a desire for a 'second helping', or wanted more, he took this to mean that everyone had enjoyed what they consumed.

Dessert – A sweet ending. Here, for some, is the favourite part of any meal or should I say deal. The main job here is to leave each guest buzzing, the kind of feeling you get after a sugary dessert. I don’t mean sugary as in false or too sweet. I’m referring to being left with feelings that are both upbeat and satisfying. This means ending on a high note. Something that leaves the guests wanting to come back for another 'meal' because one has provided a well prepared menu that was mouth wateringly delicious and presented with professional aplomb.

Coffee - In closing, he made sure he said something uplifting, so that everyone left feeling enthusiastic and optimistic.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Green Shoots or Grey Roots It’s Your Choice…

I know which one I’d go for if I had the choice. Given the last two years of news, grey seems to be the colour and mood over Great Britain.

Personally, having passed the grey roots phase in that my hair is mostly grey, I’ve decided to focus on green shoots, and I might add, not only as far as the economy is concerned. It is said that, in part, worry causes us to go grey. That seems to be particularly true for those who are considered too young to have grey hair. I would imagine that over the last two years grey roots have increased exponentially across all age groups in the UK. In the worry department, it seems as though the media has had its way with us. Like the food labels that say ‘May contain nuts’ I think that every newspaper should add that to their front pages. I also think that TV and radio broadcasters that are responsible for communicating the news should post a 'May contain nuts' warning in advance of their newscasts.

I don’t know about you, but the mixed messages we're being bombarded with by the news media is driving me nuts. In fact, I think some of the editors who give the okay to broacasting and printing these mixed-messages are either nuts, or intent on driving us nuts. I recently read in a quality Sunday broadsheet that the housing market was improving significantly. As I turned the pages and reached the Business section, I read that house prices were still falling and had a long way to go. That’s just nuts. If I had any hair that wasn't grey, reading that and other gloomy reporting, might have just done the trick.

So, if you want to prevent grey roots sprouting, concentrate on the green shoots.

This week's Telegraph announced: “The worst of the British recession could be over, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggested yesterday, in its latest snapshot of the global economy.” That same newspaper leaked the MPs’ shenanigans over their expenses on a slow-drip daily basis. And while this news is enough to cause more grey roots, we really don’t need to spend as much time as the media insist we do focusing on it. Of course, the behaviour of these individuals erodes our confidence in politicians and makes us all very angry. What can we do about it? Not very much, except worry about our public officials, which is likely to cause even more grey roots to emerge. Stephen Fry told the BBC that the debate over MPs’ expenses is “not that important, it really isn’t.” Whilst, in part, I agree with Mr. Fry in that as a nation the challenges we are currently facing are far more serious than the MPs' mindless missteps, it is something that needs to fixed, now!

Back to more green shoots and less grey roots. The huge amount of print and news space the MPs’ disgraceful behaviour is taking up is diverting us from reading or listening to the good news or the kind of news that's likely to occupy our minds in a more helpful fashion. We have no direct control over the MPs’, nor do we have any control over what may or may not happen to them. Okay, we can all be furious, disappointed and frustrated about it; a lot of good that will do us. Or, we can ‘let that go’ and focus on those things upon which we can effect.

For instance, how we communicate with others will have an effect on our relationships, our businesses and indirectly the economy. Focusing on the positive is pivotal to the way we feel about life and ourselves, it also significantly affects our levels of confidence. And if the economic historians know what they are talking about, confidence is one of the key factors to economic recovery. So why don't we all work together to restore our confidence and remember we're in this together? And for those of you, who don't see it this way, remember, like it or not, we are in this together. As Tax payers, we have all become shareholders in the banks. Now that’s what I’d describe as being in it together.

Ask yourself what you can do to effect positive change in your life and in your business. Be focused on what you can do, rather than what you can't do. I attended a personal development seminar a few weeks ago. The one thing I was left with afer the event was focusing on what is working in my life, particularly when I feel as though I’ve been thrown a curve ball. When we focus on our good fortune, we become more optimistic, upbeat and as a bonus, people tend to enjoy our company more. What’s not to like about that? In addition, with the emergence of these good feelings we tend to feel more empowered and therefore become inspired to take positive actions. We think less and do more.

So, consider what is working for you in your life, that recognition alone will enable you to feel more optimistic. Then, use those good feelings to do something positive. Perhaps invite a junior member of your team to lunch. Send an email mail-out with some upbeat news. Choose not to complain about anything for one day. And on days you feel less happy, think of five things you are grateful for. These strategies and more for feeling better about ourselves and the world around us are tried and tested; they have been designed by eminent experts in the field of human behaviour and psychology. In my personal experience coaching men and women over the last seventeen years, these strategies have proved to be highly effective.

I do hope that green shoots begin to sprout up in your life. Please remember, if you sew the seeds and nurture their growth, green shoots will surely blossom into something that you and others will enjoy.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

How Is Everyone Feeling?

I don’t know about you, but it does look as though there are very real green shoots appearing in the economy. Although it can depend on what we read, watch and listen to. For instance, yesterday, the FT reported that the CBI announced that the “Worst of the Recession is Over.” I have to admit that reading that made me feel optimistic. In the evening I watched the Channel 4 News, all of which was bad, ranging from the economy to local and global news. Not the kind of media coverage that would give rise to feelings of optimism and hope.

Our feelings are often determined by our thoughts. Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but only thinking makes it so.” Our thinking is influenced by what we read, see and hear. So keeping a watchful eye on these sensory experiences enables us to be more alert to what pleases us and what displeases us. Moreover, how it affects our attitudes, levels of confidence and moods.

Earlier this year, one of my clients was having a challenge around feeling upbeat about his business. This was partly because of the extreme negativity from the media. I asked my client to tell me about his reading habits. He told me that he read The Times on the way to work and on his way home from work. He added that he reads the sports pagers first and the business pages last. I asked how he felt after reading the sports pages. He said, with a smile, “Very good.” I asked how he felt after reading the business news and he said, “Terrible.” He now reads the sports pages last. He told me that this new habit has helped him remain more optimistic.

Russell Crowe, who knows a thing or two about the media, said that journalists should write their stories with objectivity and deliver the information with the ‘truth of the moment.’ If only. We all know that the media is not bent on telling us the whole truth and nothing but the truth, that’s not exactly news. However, what might be news for some is how we are affected when we read the news. I took a media diet for about six months. I chose to only read, watch and listen to news that left me, at best, feeling optimistic or at least neutral. Having had a six month holiday from reading and listening to bad news, I feel stronger. I am now able to ‘bounce back’ relatively quickly to news that would otherwise have rendered me emotionally exhausted.

Here’s some good news…

“The UK economy appears to have escaped a recession, with many economists and business leaders now forecasting a spring recovery”. BBC NEWS

"Spring has brought with it tentative signs of an economic recovery, particularly in the retail and service side of the economy,” said Ian Fletcher, chief economist at the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC).

Feeling any better?

Monday, 9 March 2009

The Nice Blog

Being nice is in! That’s what I’m hearing in the business world. From prominent financial institutions to small to medium enterprises, the word is that being nice is the best way to achieve better client rapport, more buy-in from your team and generally speaking, it’ll help you to feel good, too. Interestingly enough, one of my clients is talking about introducing the Nice Awards into his company.

You may be asking: What’s this all about? In pure business terms, we tend to do more business with people we like, and likeability, for the most part, manifests itself as someone who’s nice. Nice is about being thoughtful, going the extra mile, being well-mannered, acting helpfully and smiling. Think of it, when you are around people who demonstrate those characteristics, don’t you feel more upbeat? For those of you who are distrustful of people who just seem too nice, I’m sure you know the difference between real and fake. And if you’re in any doubt, pay attention to the way you feel, not the way you think. Your intuition about someone is often all you need to make a decision about whether they are genuine or not.

I asked my client who is considering introducing the Nice Awards, if five stars for being Nice are best, how many he would give his employees? He said 4. I suggested that four stars are really good. He responded by saying that five is really good, and that anything less is not really acceptable. He added that ‘being nice is just common sense, isn’t it?’ Well, for some it is. However, in my experience a lot of people need to be taught that kind of common sense.

Have a Nice Day!

Monday, 2 February 2009

Finding Happiness

In the UK we prefer to use the word ‘wellbeing’ in exchange for ‘happiness.’ I think the reason we Brits are reluctant to use the “H” word is because it might sound too frivolous. However, this is now changing. In all the recent research I’ve undertaken and interviews I’ve conducted as it relates to what people really want in their lives, when it gets down to the nitty-gritty, happiness sits right at the top.

The LSE’s (London School of Economics) most attended classes are its happiness classes. The same can be said of Wellington College, Harvard University and Cambridge University, to name but a few. In fact, ‘a few’ is inaccurate; there are large numbers of schools, universities and government initiatives in the UK that have happiness/wellbeing projects in place. So now that happiness is out of the closet, how are we going to keep it that way?

It's become clear that real, sustainable happiness is a by-product of what we give, not what we receive. So to put that theory to the test, at the end of last year, I attempted to spend Christmas day volunteering at a charity. However, by the time I got round to contacting the various bodies, it was too late; all the spaces had been filled. There’s a saying - “A dog is not just for Christmas”… I decided I could offer my services after the holiday season.

I approached a mental health charity at the beginning of last month. It turns out that they were looking for someone to run a class on Personal Development. That seemed to be a good fit for me. So, last Thursday I facilitated the first of a 3-week course on Self Development for the charity. About ten ‘service users’, as they’re called, arrived at the Centre to attend the workshop. To be frank, before the event began, I was quite nervous. However, as soon as the first service user arrived, who was both communicative and articulate, I felt calm and happy to be there. At the end of the workshop I felt privileged and fulfilled.

For me, learning how to be happy continues to be a very personal journey. For some, it’s as if they were born happy and remain so throughout their lives. For others, it seems to be as normal as having a cup of tea. I’ve met people who don’t consider unhappiness as an option. Clearly, I don’t have the secret to happiness per se, in saying that, I am learning how to recognise it when it emerges. And being able to recognise what it is that makes me happy for long periods of time is the key to revealing the secret.

P.S - The following may encourage some of you to feel a little happier:

"Banking shares have enjoyed their best week for months. ...bail-out plans on both sides of the Atlantic will ease the current strains..." - The Guardian, Saturday 31 January.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Here’s the Good News for 2009…

Towards the end of 2008 I felt very strongly that 2009 would be a very good year. And in spite of the media onslaught of negativity, I’ve been able to remain optimistic. One thing that has enabled me to stay positive is my determination. In part, this has come about because I don’t trust the media and the way they tell ‘stories.’ We all know that good news doesn’t sell and that bad news does. Well, I for one am no longer buying that story. I’ve had enough. Anyway, how many times do we need to be reminded that we’re facing huge global challenges and living in a new financial climate?

So, as a riposte to the media, naysayers and the doom and gloom merchants, here’s some of the good news for 2009:

Housing – “Affordability will improve in 2009. Which is good news for first time buyers” – Fionnuala Earley, Chief Economist, Nationwide

The Footsie – “City analysts are predicting a healthy rally for shares in 2009…” – Kathryn Cooper, The Sunday Times

The Economy – “Even if the economy shrinks by 2 per cent next year, it will still be as big as it was at the beginning of 2007, and 25 per cent bigger than ten years ago” – Andrew Ellson, Personal Finance Editor, The Times, December 2008.

The good news is out there, we just have to find it. One of the reasons I’ve decided to make it my mission to find better and good news is because, like my clients, I want to feel happier. And we can achieve a state of happiness by being optimistic, imbuing a positive attitude and not giving in to the negativity that’s out there.

Researchers say, optimists do better at work, respond better to stress, suffer fewer depressive episodes and achieve more personal goals, than pessimists. I fully understand that this way of thinking might be a stretch for some. Think of it as learning how to ride a bike, cook or getting fit: practice, practice, practice. As Matthieu Ricard, who has been described as the happiest man in the world has said,
“Genuine happiness is a skill it takes time to develop."