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Let's See What Aunt Clara Sent You

"Aunt Clara had for years labored under the delusion that I was not only perpetually 4 years old, but also a girl." -Ralphie

Ralphie_bunny_suitMy girls and I chose Christmas Story as our first family movie night this Christmas season. So for the past few weeks, I've been thinking a lot about Aunt Clara. What was this woman like? Most of us have had an Aunt Clara in our own world at some point (or knew someone who did): sweet, befuddled, well-meaning, yet determined.

As the owner of my own pink bunny suit (long story), I've always held a special affinity for this scene. Poor Ralphie! Christmas morning is supposed to hold joy and excitement and anticipation as the wrapping is torn off each gift, and his character captures the overall moment with rapture. And then there's this.

What I want to know is this: what possessed Aunt Clara to produce this monstrosity in the first place? Did she, as Ralphie suspected, think he was somebody else? Did she just not know her audience well? Did she secretly harbor a pink bunny fetish? (SHUDDER) Could it have been averted if Ralphie's parents had provided her a little more guidance?

Either way, all you have to do is mention "pink bunny" and people think of Aunt Clara. It is the one accomplishment with which she will forever be branded. The entirety of Modern Western Civilization associates the two: Aunt Clara = Pink Bunny Pajamas. And then we sigh and smile.

As we wrap up 2012 and look toward 2013, I want to ask you: are YOU thinking about how your accomplishments are branded? When people hear your name, what accomplishments are they considering? Do they understand the compass directing you to accomplish what you did? Are you providing others with the direction they need to brand their accomplishments effectively.


I'm Thinking About The Dads

BildeOne of my high school friends instant-messaged me yesterday on Facebook, inquiring why I'd been so obviously quiet about the Sandy Hook tragedy. I told him I was still processing it... then I unloaded a lot of my "processing" over the course of a few short messages.

I've been thinking about the first responders. Having a lot of buddies in law enforcement and a close friend who has worked in the coroner's office, I've heard their stories of other crime scenes. Those stories pale in comparison to the horror they must have come upon.

I've been thinking about the family members of the survivors and their sense of relief of finding their loved ones safe and sound.

I've been thinking about the victims themselves and their last few moments of life.

I've thought about their family and friends as they found out the horribly unthinkable news.

But mostly, I've been thinking about the dads. Especially the fathers of the little girls who were killed. Most of us naturally use context to make sense of a traumatic event; I'm no different. I'm the father of two girls who mean the world to me. When a little girl is born, there's an unspoken, unwritten, yet innately understood relationship: she's the princess, I'm her prince, and my job is to protect her from the dragons.

The dragons take on different forms. During infancy and toddlerhood, dragons resemble baby-proofing against outlets, stoves, household cleaners, over-zealous children, and dog-slobber. When our daughters are mobile and talking, we actually can play prince and princess with them. I personally have slain my daughter's stuffed alligator-posing-as-a-dragon no fewer than 4,186 times (all successfully, I might add). Dragons also look like traffic and stranger danger and stupid boys next door during these innocent childhood years.

Knight_DragonAs they age, the dragons change as does our role. In order to fight the dragons successfully, we begin to teach them to fight against them without us. But we're always there in the background with our sword drawn... just in case. Homework, boys, cell phones, grades, and driving... all dragons.

That's why this tragedy sucks the wind out of me. These men, these fathers, these DADDIES... were all cheated out of protecting their daughters from an unthinkably evil dragon. I've done over seven years of elementary school drop-offs. The first day of school is always rough, and the unknown is a dragon in and of itself. But to have this happen. It's not the way the fairy tale was supposed to end. Sure, the other family members of all victims, boys and girls, are suffering in their own ways. But to the dads of daughters who have been to the gates of parental hell, there aren't words to describe how sorry I am. You were their princes, their knights in shining armor. And I am so sorry that on this one fateful morning, the dragon got away with this heinous act.

It's all still too raw to think about - even from hundreds of miles away. Just too surreal. But to the dads, you have my sympathy, my respect, and a piece of my heart. God bless you during your time of sorrow.


"Hush, my dear," he said. "Don't speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I'm supposed to be a Great Wizard."

"And aren't you?" she asked.

"Not a bit of it, my dear; I'm just a common man."

"You're more than that," said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; "you're a humbug."

"Exactly so!" declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. "I am a humbug."

-Excerpt from The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

DorothypullingcurtainThose of us familiar with the movie are familiar with the "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain line. We've all known people who pose to be one thing but are exposed later to be something else. As a project manager and as a consultant, I've seen my fair share of "humbugs" posing to be wizards. 

Often, we get blindsided by the fact that there was a curtain in the first place. In the role of office politicians, our job is to identify when and where curtains exist between the "image" and the "reality." It's generally not that hard to expose if one knows what to look for:

  1. How does the person in question treat others who are not present? More than one co-worker has exposed their curtain by "taking me into their confidence" by bad-mouthing others on day one. That's a huge warning sign that the snake will rear his/her ugly head against me some day.
  2. How does this person's behavior change in the presence of those whose organizational power and influence is higher or lower than theirs? People without curtains tend to treat people consistently regardless of organizational position.
  3. What exterior signals does this person give to draw attention to themselves? Note that there's a difference between a strong personal brand (e.g., wearing a bow tie every day) and drawing attention to a $2,000 suit.
  4. How does this person behave in meetings? Are they interested and engaged in what other people have to say? Are they late? Leave early?
  5. Do they verbally draw attention to their own press? I knew a law enforcement officer who rose high in the ranks who talked about his own ethics all the time. His behavior soon negated his own press releases.
  6. Do they change their behavior during or after a conflict? Once corrected or reprimanded, are they grateful or resentful of the feedback?

These are just a few of the "curtains" to look for to determine whether the "wizard" in your life is really hiding a humbug behind the curtain. The ability to identify this is key in both human relations and branding. What are you doing to identify and pull back the curtain before it's too late?

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