I was coaching a bio-tech executive - let's call him Mark. Mark was talented and extremely knowledgeable about his industry. I was brought in due to the perception Mark needed to lead and influence at a "higher level". It took me a while to figure out the disconnect between his "perceived" performance and senior leader expectations. Even I was surprised at a big breakthru for the entire process. Mark was using a presentation template given to him by management and instructed that it was the way information should be delivered. The template was dreadful; however, he did not feel he had options. He felt confined by the expectation AND the tool.

Mark wanted to communicate from a higher perspective. The senior leadership needed Mark to communicate from a higher level. So what was the problem? It was two fold. First, the template was a structure driving a behavior the organization really did not want. Leaders frequently underestimate the unintended consequences of what appears to be simple solutions. Second, Mark was being questioned and judged for doing exactly what he was asked to do!

So what can we take away from this corporate story? Here are three ways we can stop sabotaging our own personal brand unknowingly.

1. Know Thyself - A big part of building your personal brand is knowing who you are and what you stand for. If you are not clear about your foundation, it is easy to be swayed by organizational dynamics (a.k.a. drama). Figure out three words or phrases that best represent who you are. It provides a foundation and a guide when you receive push back. In this case, Mark KNEW he was not living up to what he really believed. Once he realized it, it gave him confidence to be the kind of leader he knew he could be AND the kind of leader the higher ups were expecting.

2. Trust Your Gut - Senior executives expect you to push back and stand up for what you really believe. After all you were hired for what you bring to the table. If senior executives already had all of the answers, they would not need you, right? It is surprising how many times leaders will hold back when deep down they KNOW what needs to happen. Yet they feel trapped . . .powerless . . .caged in by the perception that they "have" to do things a certain way.

Mark had a choice to make when I explained the dynamics to him. "Mark, this is what you THINK they want. This is what they REALLY want. Bring a printed copy of the template with the information as expected; however, deliver the presentation from a higher level perspective. Trust your gut Mark. Yes, it is a bit of a risk and no one can tell you how much risk to run. It is your choice." He chose to deliver the message in the way he knew it should be. Guess what? The senior exec loved it and have asked others in the country to model their presentations after HIS. Life is funny that way.

3. Step Out of the Cage - Structures are put in place to help bring order to chaos and drive results. They are meant to help but too often we underestimate the unintended consequences. If you feel confined, try to look at your world through a different perspective. Ask yourself how much risk are you willing to run. Our world is looking for leaders to step up and LEAD. Sometimes that means pushing back. Sometimes it means meeting the "expectation" but finding an alternative or secondary way to be who you really are like Mark did.

In business and in life, we feel powerless at times. We feel like the bars are above us, below us, and on each side. We feel trapped. More often than not, if we DARE turn around, we might just find there are no bars behind us.

The defining difference between our today and our tomorrow is CHOICE.

What will you choose?