If You Want To Rise, Pay Close Attention To Your Leadership Brand

If You Want To Rise, Pay Close Attention To Your Leadership Brand

Over the years keynote speaker, executive coach and author Sara Canaday has gained a unique, front-line view of leadership and its fascinating evolution. She shares those observations with in-depth analysis in her second book, Leadership Unchained: Defy Conventional Wisdom for Breakthrough Performance, which published in April.

I have known Sara for many years and it has been a pleasure to watch her rise.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview her. Here are the highlights of that interview:

Jill Griffin: Where did you grow up? Describe your early childhood and its significance on your life.

Sara Canaday: I grew up in El Paso, Texas. Growing up in a border town exposed me to a wide range of people, cultures and economic conditions. I credit the city for my street smarts and for my propensity to be tough-minded and resilient.

Griffin: When did you first get the whisper you belonged in business?

Canaday: During my High School Summer breaks, I worked in my Father’s civil engineering firm. Though I had no desire to learn about joists, soil tests and transfer loads, I got a taste of the business world and that was likely a primer for me.

My Mom also worked outside of the home as a high-school counselor and both of my parents put themselves through undergraduate and graduate school. This sparked my determination to work hard and pursue a career, not just a job.

As I reflect back on my own career map, I can see a clear demarcation between my early drive to reach individual career milestones and my later focus on making an impact as a leader (growing others, helping them uncover their blind spots and bring their best selves to work) and then eventually as an owner of a boutique leadership development firm.

Griffin: Was there an early teacher that inspired you? Who and how?

Canaday: My Father has always inspired me. He was an extremely hard worker, very disciplined and highly respected in our community and the industry. My Father was a consummate professional. I never saw him lose his temper or act boastful. He was a gracious man who did everything with excellence and integrity. Even though he worked endless hours, he dedicated his free time to his family and to giving back through the rotary club of El Paso.

Griffin: What’s a great piece of business or life advice you received, who gave it to you and how has it enhanced your life?

Canaday: A former boss modeled what it meant to be a connector of people and information. She would set aside lunch every Friday to meet with someone outside of our company and she consistently shared relevant or interesting articles with her staff and new connections.

That inspiration to connect and the results that followed, showed me that regardless of what type of business you are in, it is all about relationships. And there is no better way to foster strong and lasting ones than to help others by making introductions, offering support and sharing wisdom.

Griffin: Please give me the top three bullet points in your Personal Leadership Credo.


  • Be willing to adjust your behavior to better engage and influence others.
  • Be open to others’ perspectives and disrupt your own thinking by intentionally seeking out thoughts counter to your own.
  • Work to challenge and grow yourself and those you lead.

Griffin: Describe a painful setback in your life and what it taught you.

Canaday: In my mid-20’s, I went through a divorce and the experience left me deeply wounded. What I learned from that experience is that it is ok to be vulnerable and that opening up to others is what leads to deeper and more meaningful connections.

I remember thinking that the experience should have left me disappointed and skeptical. However, I was so humbled by the genuine support and care of others, that I now see the event as a gift. (ahem…on several levels.)

Griffin: What advice do you have for young, talented, ambitious women who want to rise?

Canaday: Don’t be afraid to ask for help or seek counsel. Most people are happy to offer their perspective, help make connections and steer you in the right direction.

Deliver on your commitments and make your work so outstanding that others want to champion you, open doors for you and give you candid and game-changing feedback.

Never underestimate the power of your leadership brand. Whether you are trying to sell an idea to your colleagues or trying to make your mark in a competitive industry, it is important to be aware of your image and business reputation. People base their decisions to work with you, promote you, or buy from you based on your likeability and their perceptions of your leadership brand.

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