PCMA Education Conference Preview: Kaplan Mobray

Two keys to being a successful leader?  Understanding your choices and envisioning the outcome of your work — before you've even started.

When he says that branding is not something that should be reserved for businesses and organizations, Kaplan Mobray is his own best example. The author of the bestselling The10Ks of Personal Branding and the forthcoming The 10Ls of Leadership — outlining his formulas for leadership success — is a former U.S. diversity programs leader at Deloitte who was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by The Network Journal. Mobray bases his presentations and speaking engagements on how creating his own personal brand and developing specific leadership skills have helped him in his own career.

Those presentations — which sometimes include Mobray playing soprano saxophone — have been described by attendees as life-changing. “I deliver my presentation with a high level of energy,” Mobray said in a phone interview with Convene, “and I think that becomes infectious. I’m passionate about everything that I’m talking about because I’ve lived it and it’s helped me in my own career.”

That career path has taken him from corporate life to author and public speaker. In each stage, Mobray came to understand how people’s ability to articulate the “value [they] bring to everything they are engaged in” and to realize the impact that their own choices have on their leadership skills can help them become more successful in their professional and personal lives. “What becomes life-changing,” he said, “is this really powerful sense of personal reflection, of introspection, that gives someone a chance to peel themselves all the way back down to ‘Hey, here’s what I believe I’m good at. Here’s what makes me stand out from a crowd. And here are the assets, the value, I bring to everything I’m engaged in.’”

Next month, Mobray will bring his life-changing presentation to the 2013 PCMA Education Conference in Denver.

What is one of your core principles of leadership?

The people who come to PCMA, they’re meeting executives, meeting planners, the people who are out there working with clients, who have to sell themselves in order to represent a service or product or idea that they’re presenting to clients. So from a leadership perspective, it’s always about choice. The premise of this particular work is that leadership is a choice you make to act or create something that makes something better, or to prevent something from happening, [which in turn] makes something better.

‘One of the strongest traits a leader can have is the ability to have vision and use it in a way where people clearly understand the impact that they’re going to [have], so they can anticipate that result as they create it.’

But it all starts with the personal initiative that you take to extend yourself to do one of those two things. I encourage people to understand their choices, because [then] you can certainly understand your outcomes. Because we control our choices.

Are there parts of The 10Ks of Personal Branding that go hand-in-hand with The 10Ls of Leadership?

Yes. When you think about your brand and you think about being memorable — you have to make a conscious choice to understand the impression that you want to leave with others, and specifically what you do consistently. The ability to be consistent at something is a choice that we make — especially as it relates to driving impact and creating value. In the presentation [based on The 10Ls of Leadership], the principles that I talk about I do through a series of exercises and interactive examples with the audience, but I also talk about vision. You can make a choice to do something, but there are a lot of people who wait for the outcome of what they planned as their final result.

For example, meeting planners will plan a meeting and then at the end say, “Here’s what we got. Let’ s sum up the results, get the feedback from the audience.” They tally up the results after everything happens, and that’s where a lot of them see the impact of their plan…. I believe leaders follow this formula called Expected Outcomes x Predicted Results/Time Frame, and it’s my formula for vision. That basically means that, in order to lead your way to a specific result, you have to see the story, if you will, well before you do the work… That’ s a very different mindset than starting the work, assembling the team, assembling the plan, executing, and then asking “What did we get?” at the end.

One of the strongest traits a leader can have is the ability to have vision and use it in a way where people clearly understand the impact that they’re going to [have], so they can anticipate that result as they create it.

What would you say to planners who are looking to innovate their approach to their meetings, but have trouble envisioning the outcomes of new elements?

There’s a principle I call “Leaders simplify the complex and they innovate to create success.” So the first thing around innovation, especially if you’re taking a risk, is to understand that new ideas come from unconventional thinking. Anytime you get a chance to create something new for a client from experience, the newness — even though there’s a risk — the newness allows that client and you to learn, it allows you to grow, but also it helps when you’re very intentional on what you’re trying to do.

Here’s an example. I was speaking in Hawaii and… they decided to have a menu that was totally vegetarian. And typically [the meals at] their past meetings had been chicken, fish, and beef. They went to a total vegetarian menu [and] they did not tell their attendees ahead of time. So when the participants had lunch, it was kind of a shock, because some people were expecting the typical chicken, beef, or fish, and they got a vegetarian meal that was decorated very nice, but they didn’t explain the purpose behind the vegetarian choice…. I would have suggested that group let people know in advance — if they can anticipate the experience that they will have, they will join you in the experience as they have it as opposed to it being some sort of surprise. But then also, if we knew that we were going vegetarian because someone at the property who had recently become ill — that was their favorite meal and was something the employees were doing to honor that particular person … actually, the food will taste better, because we’re now eating with a purpose, not just eating with surprise.

How might someone in a leadership role within their own team present innovations to the upper management in their organization?

[P]lanners should always think of themselves as trusted business partners, especially if they’re working in a larger organization, as opposed to someone who “just plans events.” When you’re faced with resistance, always bring it back to how whatever you’re proposing ties back to the strategy or the objectives — the things that keep the CEO up at night.

I always tell planners they should be on the investor relations calls for [their] organization…. You should be in on the things that are really trending within the industry of your organization, so that anything you plan or any idea that you propose, you can always draw a correlation to the business, to the strategy, to the industry and where it’s going, or to specific topics or themes that are keeping top managers up at night.

Employee morale, for example. We’re coming out of the recession slowly, but many companies have had really thin, lean staffs of people doing the work of three, four, five people. Over time what happens is morale drops, so when they look to planners to plan a celebration event for first-quarter wins or for a new client, it’s really not just a celebration. It’s really part of the company’s ongoing retention efforts to keep its top-valued talent so they can actually continue to grow business. If you can keep your people happy, they’re going to produce more. So I’m not planning an event, I’m actually facilitating revenue growth and retention of our people.

What role have you seen meetings play in the overall success of the organizations you’ve worked with?

I think that meetings and the experience that people have is everything. If you look at the value for a company, the brand, and the appreciation it gains from its employees, its customers, and its potential new clients — if you as an organization plan a great event, a successful event, that allows people to get on the same page … it really elevates the value of your brand as well as the experience they have with you.

Katie Kervin

Katie Kervin was formerly assistant editor of Convene.