FLY FISHING

Let me start off by telling you two things about me:

First – I’ve never fished with an actual fishing pole.

Second – I hate sitting next to people on the airplane whose first question is “What do you do?”

Let’s tackle the topic of fishing first. I really have to blame my father for not teaching me how to fish with a fishing pole. I find it so ironic that I was born on an island where so many people earn a living by fishing and yet I was never taught how to use a fishing pole. When my father taught me how to fish we simply used a hook, bait, weight, and a line. It still amazes me how many red snappers we were always able to catch with what I used to call a “string” as a child.

Although I do not yet have any children of my own, I did make a promise to myself that I would teach them how to fish with a pole. Being the overachiever that I am, I started watching fishing TV shows to learn as much as I could. While watching an episode of “Wicked Tuna,” I came across two terms that I had never heard before. The first was chum, which is chopped up fish; and the second was chumming, which is the process of throwing chopped up fish overboard to attract other fish. It was fascinating watching fisherman use scrap fish to catch five hundred pound blue fin tuna worth thousands of dollars.

Hold that thought for a moment.

So let’s talk about the talkative people I always end up sitting next to on my flights. Because my job requires me to travel a good amount, I’ve racked up enough miles to earn status, so occasionally I am upgraded to first class. I assume that the other individuals in first class are there because they travel as much as I do or because they coughed up the extra cash to not be bothered by the people (like me) that tend to fly coach.

My normal routine is to pull out my newspaper, laptop, or Bose headphones to send that early signal that I do not want to be disturbed. However, it never fails that I end up sitting next to “Dave” who wants to know what I do. My goal is always to give as little information as possible in hopes that Dave will leave me be.

Below is a snippet of a conversation I actually had with a guy named Dave several years ago.

Dave: “So, what do you do?”

Did he really just tap me on the arm even though I am wearing noise-cancelling headphones?

Conrod: “I turn people into believers.”

That should be the end of the conversation right? Nope!

Dave: “Hmm, what does that mean?”

Wow! Really Dave?

Conrod: “I convince people that they can have the health outcomes they have always wanted.”

Dave: “That’s interesting! How do you convince people of this?”

Dave is not going to let me off the “hook.”

Conrod: “I am in marketing for a large pharmaceutical company.”

I’m pretty sure you can imagine how this story ends. Dave and I end up talking the entire flight and low and behold he is a physician heading to the same conference that I am. During our conversation we learn that we are staying at the same hotel so we decide to share a cab. After getting to the hotel, Dave and I agree to meet at the bar to watch the football game and have a drink. Dave also took it upon himself to invite a few of his friends to join us at the bar. Two of the gentlemen he introduced me to actually ended up being customers of mine a few years later. Believe it or not, Dave and I are still in touch to this day

So let me tie it all together.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my attempt to discourage people from asking me questions about what I do was actually backfiring on me. My smart aleck comment was actually the bait and the hook. It was so different from anything he had probably heard in the past that he was instantly intrigued. My brevity was the line and the weight. Since Dave was expecting me to say more and I didn’t, my silence generated a plethora of questions in his mind and left him with no choice but to ask more questions to get a deeper understanding. Before getting off the plane I had already reeled him in, but what I didn’t realize was that the cab ride consisted of me chumming. The chumming eventually ended up helping me catch the big tuna, which were his friends that ultimately became my customers.

I accidentally stumbled into my version of the elevator pitch, which I now call chumming. People do not want to hear a pre-planned fifteen or thirty second pitch followed by the gibberish that comes at the end of a radio commercial for Labor Day Car Bonanza. They want to be intrigued. They want a conversation. By using the same items my father used when he taught me how to fish – bait, hook, weight, and line, you too can catch the big tuna.

I guess I owe my father an apology. And to my future children, you will not learn how to fish with a pole.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Chinese Proverb

KEEPING IT REAL!

Some of my favorite snacks growing up were Fruit Roll-Ups, Fruit-Loops, and Pop Tarts. When possible, my mom would try to steer me towards “real” fruit, but I would always remind her that the snacks I loved were made with “real” fruit.

Not too long ago, my health conscious friend Darrell forwarded me an article about Kellogg being sued for deceptive advertising because of their use of “made with real fruit.” I immediately went to my pantry to review the label on my fruit snacks; and here is what I found:

Go figure, my mother was right. “Made With Real Fruit” meant fruit concentrate, corn syrup, dried corn syrup (really?), natural flavor (Isn’t that what the “real fruit” is for?), and color (red 40, yellow 5&6, and blue 1 – my favorite).

As I dug a little deeper, I realized that there were several companies in hot water for making claims about their products that were not quite accurate. Have you seen the following claims on some of your favorite products: “all natural,” “sugar free,” “no sugar added,” “fat free,” or “organic?” While some companies have rightfully earned the freedom to use these claims, other companies are putting consumers, their employees, and investors at risk by stretching the truth or not “keeping it real.”

This issue of not “keeping it real” has gone beyond product claims to employee and company behavior. Over the last couple of years, people have developed a deep distrust of companies, notably banks and mortgage companies and their leaders. The absence of integrity as a core value for a company and its’ leaders has led to the skyrocketing of “authenticity” as a key leadership behavior. Organizations are looking for leaders who are self-aware, speak with courage and candor, and practice integrity when interacting with customers, employees and stockholders.

Regardless of your role or title, authenticity is an important behavior to exhibit. In their article “Be Yourself, but Carefully,” Lisa Rosh and Lynn Offermann state, “Authenticity begins with self awareness: knowing who you are – your values, emotions, and competencies – and how you’re perceived by others.”

In my quest to be an authentic person and leader, I came up with five steps to help achieve my goal of always being the “real” me.

1) It starts with knowing your story and telling your story.

Your life story is one of the best guides for discovering your authentic self. It provides the context for what makes you the way you are. Your triumphs and disappointments point you towards your inspiration and passion, and through telling your story, you are able to help others find theirs. You can start the discovery process by answering the following questions:

  • Which people and experiences in my life generated “real” emotions from me?
  • What are my values? How do they shape my behavior and decisions?

2) The real you is the best you.

Discovering the real you requires a mix of self-reflection, self-disclosure and self-awareness. I have found self-awareness to be somewhat tricky, so what has helped me with my self-awareness is completing the following statements:

  • I am most happy when I ____________
  • I am at my worst when I ____________
  • When I am being the real me I am ____________
  • When I am not being the real me I am ___________
  • When describing me, people often say that I am ________

3) The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

One of the best ways to be authentic is by being honest with yourself and others about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Denial is one of the biggest hindrances of authenticity. I try to have at least one person in my life that I can be completely honest with about the good, the bad and the ugly. This person (and I am blessed to have more than one) also helps keep me honest by holding me accountable for my actions.

4) There is no “I” in team.

Building on my previous point, authentic people realize that they have to be willing to listen to feedback. One of the best tools for discovering your authentic self is getting feedback from friends, family, and co-workers. These individuals can provide support, guidance and perspective.

5) Consider Your Audience

There are two points I would like to highlight as it relates to your audience. First, despite the multitude of benefits that comes with being authentic, you still have to be mindful of what you are sharing, who you are sharing it with and when you are sharing it. What helps me avoid falling into a hole on this topic is asking myself “What is my purpose for sharing this information?” Sometimes “keeping it real” can go wrong if things are being shared for the wrong reason. Secondly, being genuine and authentic helps build trust and confidence, which are two critical components for establishing your brand and developing great personal and professional relationships.

A brand is a person’s instinctual reaction to a product, service, or company. Similar to Pop Tart, you too can be a brand. A person can have an instinctual reaction to your appearance, your words and/or your behavior. The foundation of a brand is trust. The foundation of a good relationship is also trust. Your personal brand is directly correlated to your relationship with people. People will trust your brand when their experience consistently meets or beats their expectations.

When I discovered that “made with real fruit” was a false claim, those products no longer met my expectations, and I severed my relationship with any and all companies that unjustly made these claims.

Do not run the risk of someone doing the same to you because you didn’t keep it real.

I’M OPEN

I am the fourth child in a family of six children. I have three older brothers of which two are seven years older than me and the remaining brother is eight years older than I am. My little brother and sister are eleven and thirteen years younger than me, respectively. Other than highlighting the fact that my parents have been “busy” for a while, there was a significant period of time where I was the baby in the family before I became a big brother.

As the little brother, I can tell you countless stories of things my brothers did to torture me. On an overcast night, my oldest brother told me that because I couldn’t see the moon, I was the devil. Whenever I would ask to go with them anywhere, they would always tell me to take a shower and change my clothes. It always seemed like a reasonable request, but as soon as my bedroom or bathroom door would close, they would speed off.

Eventually, things got better and they would take me with them whenever they went to play basketball. I’m not sure if it was because they wanted to hang out with me or because at the age of ten I was taller than them. Each time we played, I spent most of the time yelling, “I’m open, I’m open.” In true “baby” fashion, when I didn’t get the ball I would start crying and walk off the court. Giving up actually made things worst, as they would make fun of me even more. I guess I wasn’t the most resilient child. On the walk or drive home they would give me some very candid “feedback” about my behavior and explain to me what it meant to be “open” and the things I could do to get myself open.

The lessons my brothers shared with me about how to be open on the court transferred over to my life off the court. It is not enough to just say you are open; you actually have to take some actions to make yourself open.

Below are seven tips from my big brothers:

  1. Become a continuous learner (learn the game)
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (if you are not sure, ask)
  3. Become a better listener (the feedback is meant to help you, not hurt you)
  4. Stay in the moment (and the game)
  5. Be patient (take your time, don’t rush the shot)
  6. Always be aware (know where the ball is, where you are, and the person you are guarding)
  7. Don’t be afraid (you play slower when you play scared)

The best part of being the baby and then becoming a big brother was the fact that I was afforded the opportunity to teach my little brother and sister what I had learned. By passing on the knowledge, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of what it meant to be open.

One of the most important things I’ve learned about myself is that I am not always open. When I am frustrated or angry or hurt, I’m not in a position to be “open.” When I learned that about myself, I made a point of letting people know when I was open to feedback and also made a habit of asking people if they are in a position to receive feedback before providing it.

Just incase you are wondering, I was and still am a great big brother. I took my little brother and sister with me everywhere I went. As for the Marine Corps basic training exercises I would make them do outside in front of their friends for bad behavior or failure to do chores, I was just teaching them how to be RESILIENT.

What advice would you give others who are seeking to become more open?

ROSES

My wife and I currently live in a row home in Philadelphia and we have been thinking about moving out to the suburbs. Even though we both enjoy spending time downtown, we do not do it enough to want to pay the city wage taxes, especially since we both work on the outskirts of town. So every Sunday we pull up our real estate apps and sort through the open houses in hopes that one of them will be our dream home.

We typically pick homes based on the price, neighborhood, floor plan, and curb appeal; and we rarely ever look at more than two or three. Last Sunday, we found an open house that looked like it could be the one. So we got dressed and rushed over to the property. We were so excited as we approached the door. We walked into the house expecting roses, doves, and butterflies, and then it hit us.

The smell of mildew, cigarette smoke, pet odors, and left overs from two Thanksgivings ago filled the air. This beautiful home that we were so excited to see didn’t even manage to get five minutes of our time. We just couldn’t get over the smell. You could tell that the owners had tried to mask the odors, but it just made it worst. We wondered how much time, effort, and money they put into air-fresheners, candles, or plug-ins, instead of ripping up old carpet, fixing a water leak, or taking out the trash. No matter how large, exquisite, or updated a home is, if it has an unpleasant odor, it will be much harder to sell.

What do you smell like?

When was the last time you asked someone to give you the sniff test?

Now while having good hygiene is important, the sniff test is a metaphor for getting feedback. When you get so close or attached to who you are or who you think you are, sometimes referred to as the ego, it is often difficult to acknowledge your blind spots. Most of us have certain characteristics that are obvious to everyone but ourselves.

To find out if you have issues that need to be addressed, seek out feedback from a friend, mentor, or co-worker. A little hint that something may not be quite right is if you keep getting the same kinds of comments from different people.

Unlike the home we visited, if you discover during the feedback process that there are some things you can work on, then don’t try to mask them. Go after the source. It amazes me how hard people will work to avoid the extra effort required to permanently address the issue. There is an old saying that an arrogant person walks around as if their “stuff” doesn’t smell. Outkast, the Atlanta based rap duo, profited off of this saying with their hit song “Roses.” Do not fall into this trap of allowing your ego to tell you your stuff smells like roses.

Every home has a scent, but unless the owner gets feedback from someone who doesn’t live in it, they’ll never know whether it’s a deterrent to someone buying it. Passing the sniff test is not only a huge part of selling a home; it is a huge part of selling yourself.

Be on the look out for Conrod’s upcoming book.

What did you learn about yourself by asking someone to give you a sniff test?