Personal Effectiveness [Part 8.1]


All good things have to come to an end. At least that’s what my Mom used to tell me. Coming out of World War 2, I can imagine such a view but it does not really have to be true.

However, this is the last of the Personal Effectiveness series that I have enjoyed the privilege of writing. This last one is unapologetically long and therefore divided into two parts. The reason is not that it’s a summary of what’s been before because that’s accessible to anyone interested in a re-read, but rather, because it’s about a topic of huge proportions – Personal Definition [which, I may abbreviate to PD]. Just page 1 of cell phone Google, gave me 13 sites and 8 related articles. The temptation is to read one and regurgitate its content as my paraphrased version. But, as I’m wont to do, I’d like to cover a few of my own thoughts coupled with 60-something years of experience, education, and travel; in short, Life. So throw your thoughts into the imaginary ring and let’s share together.

If you wondered about Wikipedia, “Personal branding is essentially the ongoing process of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others about an individual…….. [and]………often involves the application of one’s name to various products.” If you wondered, Personal Definition is mentioned as personal branding, but the reason I use the term is simply that in our minds, branding can be quite hazy. The fact is, those who know you and matter, have a very distinctive view of who you are and what you do, as it relates to them – indeed, you are defined as a person in their mind.


For some of you, thinking of yourself as a brand is strange. On the one hand, it’s not like you “to put yourself out there” and for others, it’s too “American” or simply “not something you would ever do; it’s vain”. I hear you but as we interact, sell, serve, get married, participate in sport [or not] and just go about our daily business, we are creating a brand, a way people know us, a sense of predictability [or not!] and a knowing, of ourselves and by others. Why else would your dog hide when you’re in a bad mood or alternatively, Mugg n Bean have a doily reading: “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” You see, you can ignore the heading and just think of yourself as “Me” but others, if asked to describe who you are, would have much more to say about you, good, bad and indifferent. You simply cannot ignore your brand. Call it what you like, you leave a stamp on humanity every day and over long periods of time. You are known no matter what. Silence and self-deprecation is brand building; haughtiness and know-it-all is brand building and being authentic and confident in your own skin, is brand building.

Every day, everywhere you show up, get held accountable, and get watched. You build your brand no matter what until the day you die and briefly get remembered, or lovingly get buried in the hearts of those you loved and who loved you.

What a responsibility and what a great thought!

Of course, the definition includes attaching your name to a brand or product. In our property industry, Seeff or Chas Everitt, Berry’s amazing Dad. Or, “I am Pam” to celebrate 40 years of a great lady. Many years ago, the now-late Clive Wiel, drove the concept on our new advertising media, TV, for a much smaller Checkers as it began to fight it out for grocery retailer dominance with Pick n Pay in an ad that started something like this, “Hi I’m Clive Wiel from Checkers. Trolley for trolley we will……” and the rest is history. Not an owner, but like the modern Samuel Seeff ads, my name = my brand = my company and, most of all, = My Promise.

Welcome to YOU Inc. Embrace or reject it, every moment of the day you’re being it and building it.

What does yours look like and how is it developing? Beeg question!


In 2010, we did an exercise in a Coaching class that I will never forget. We were asked to term ourselves as Dogs or Cats. The end result was good for a laugh but loaded with truth. The moral of the story? Each of us has characteristic traits and, together with their own views, others see us as they believe we are.

The question of course for personal definition, is: Do we validate ourselves in the opinion of others? Yes, I think of myself in another person’s estimation or, No, I am my own person. I believe all of us at some stage have validated through others. Just think of when you fell in love; the fact that she loves you makes you feel very good. In fact, you think, she has good taste choosing me! Hopefully, we grow to maturity from that thinking but wanting recognition and affection is very often a need for the admiration of others. Many think the human race has this basic need; just read parenting books to see it, though balanced with consistency and discipline. The opposite is also true. Criticise me, break me down and see no good and I could take on that persona. Sad but true for many.

As an aside for the latter, an anonymous quote: “What you think of me is not my business.”

From this comes the issue of dependence, independence, or inter-dependence. No better author than Stephen Covey comes to mind on the subject and you are encouraged to read his books starting with Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Dependency is fragile and very dependent on the stronger party. Dependent upon you, if you let me down, I am broken; unable to “find myself” from under your shadow. The person trapped in this state is unable to be their own person until they recognise their own worth and manage the relationship accordingly. An old book, I’m Ok, You’re Ok, covered this relationship very well. In turn, it highlighted the benefits of not being dependent, being able to be “Ok” in the presence of any company.

On the other hand, is independence. It is not freedom but rather an attitude of not requiring the other party, from government, your employer or an individual. Being “off the grid” is popular these days – no Eskom, Rand Water and even food Retailers – as we “go it alone”. Not needing others may have limited appeal but sooner or later, you need someone or something. So independence is a pipe-dream, desired but never found.

The only sustainable state is interdependence; that realization deep down that we or things, are dependent on each other. In fact, we are not only dependent but also strengthened by association. “Think team, see individuals” is an old management adage that recognises the power of people together and encourages the team as superlative to the individual – Messi and Ronaldo are good, but nothing without the ball they’re passed. So too, we exist in an ecosystem in our families, our workplaces and our communities that give as shelter, encouragement and nourishment. Alone is nice sometimes as we take the space we deserve, but extended too long, it becomes dysfunctional. Get up, pick up and show up is the mantra for success; be ready interdependently, to take the opportunities passed to you. And, pass some to others so they and experience the joy as well. Covey summarises the matter for us before we have to move on:

“Independence is the paradigm of I – I am responsible; I am self-reliant; I can choose. Interdependence is the paradigm of We – We can do it; we can co-operate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together.”

“Interdependence is a higher value than independence.”

And, very important…..

“Interdependence is a choice only independent people can make.”

If you buy what I’m writing, then this leads us to a few life skills or, interpersonal relationship skills:

  1. Relate or transact?
    As you build personal definition, do you relate or transact with other people. Transaction is simple – we do a thing and “no consequences”. You give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want. Take the till at Checkers for instance. I’ve shopped, you man the till, you ring up, I pay and we part. Frankly, if I never saw you again, that’s okay. Thousands of transactions occur every day in our lives and we even have a plethora of virtual transactions now occurring on WWW.

    If only life was that simple or that shallow. But my experience is that those who sustainably succeed make Relating a habit. Nobody it too “small” and the “big” are placed in perspective – respected but not revered; such emotion belongs to very few. Relationship is long-term and premised on the importance of every person as a human being. Employees are not units of labour but associates in the business, whether it’s yours or shareholders. People matter and profits are a by-product of people rather than an expectation of management. Relationship changes your perspective of significant others. As much as we realise we cannot be responsible for everyone, we do take personal responsibility for ourselves and in doing so, are able to bring something of ourselves to many in our life’s journey. Check this out as a summary:



  1. Smirk or smile?
    I’m watching MKR on most nights now and Josh is bugging me. He always has a smirk at anyone’s fault. I heard him refuse another team help in a mass cook-out whilst his co-inhabitants of the kitchen container helped with pleasure. You know Josh’s – independent, clever, competitive and correct [always] – they adorn the hallowed halls of institutions. They rise on the backs of others and enjoy the view from the 7th floor and above.

    I never forget an initiative in Nedbank where, as part of our Values initiative, we awarded monies to worthy causes of our staff. One man, 20+ years in the bank and a Grade 8 for all of it, told the story of how he coaches disadvantaged children soccer on a rough field in Soweto. He has done it for years, keeping them off the street and giving them physical, emotional and spiritual sustenance in the process. We gave him the money to buy the team their first kit of football attire. I wondered as we signed it off – who was the hero in the story, the ones who signed off the gift or the man who would have been back on that field with the kids on Saturday even if we didn’t. I later saw a picture of the handover; he was smiling from ear-to-ear. Enough said, hope you get my drift?


  1. Help or break?
    In similar vein, do we help people or break people? Breaking people is so easy. A bad word, finding mistakes, silence in the light of performance and the famous one, pointing out what still needs to be done. “Never good enough” can be the message communicated in so many ways. Just a nod of the head is often all that it takes. It is said, that we listen to words for 20-30% of communication and feel the body language for the rest.

    Help involves involvement. It is probably the main reason for not helping. “Don’t get involved” is the mantra of many. Kind, considerate and even listening, but not involved. In fairness, I would not like to take the moral high ground on this. Sometimes the need, the time and emotional commitment is just too great and we need to be supportive but, ultimately, not get involved. However, the question is is there a point to which I could be involved? We heard it said that when one hurts, we all hurt; but is it actually true? I guess the purpose of this line of thinking is about whether I am for myself or for others and where the break-point lies. If not all about me, is there a word of encouragement or a helping hand in my sense of personal definition? I know some are committed to animals, others to the poor and homeless, others to their immediate and broader families – all giving something of themselves and, certainly from a time point of view at least, even hurting a little in the sacrifice.


  1. Teach or take?
    As far back as high school I learned the principle that teaching cements learning. So my formula was learn then teach and I even used this process when someone wanted to copy my homework; I would simply offer to help them with theirs. It often worked for both of us.

    At the heart of this question is attitude. Do you take what is given and use it for yourself? Or, do you use it for yourself and teach others then learning as well? Never mind the obvious application; I see the principle so often in Corporates. Information is power and he who has the most is the most powerful. So letting go of your information, your foreknowledge, can reduce your power [by the way, called Informational power]. So you see power held and dispersed only to the “important” people. The premise is anyone not receiving information doesn’t need to know. This power is so childish but very effective. Of course, no one exercising it would ever teach; rather “need to know” becomes the practise of these people. Now, I’m not implying confidentiality is not important [remember, “slipping” something which is confidential makes the person doing it appear even more powerful and “connected”] but the sharing of knowledge is inclusive and directional; in the end, people who feel they belong are more motivated and are willing to be lead. Leaders share information.

Rightly or wrongly, we frame who we are in the perceptions of others. For some it is validation but for the mature, the opinion of others of us is tempered by our own self-worth. I love graffiti and always read the back of Hulletts sugar packets. A recent one says: “If you know yourself, then you’ll not be harmed by what is said about you.” Sage advice from what is apparently an Arabian proverb. On the other hand, if the shoe fits, wear it. Allied to this is the humbling experience of asking a friend how they see you and listening carefully to their insights. It is also very important to realise that often what we think is our truth and the same goes for others’ opinions; truth, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder so be circumspect about what you let in or ignore. A lot of “truth” especially from parents and other respected people can be the source of our self-limiting beliefs.

Personal definition involves facing others. Whether it’s a glance in a train or a long-term business relationship, others define who you are in their own minds. Is their definition to your liking? If not, change it. It is in your hands.

Yours in Property.

Jack Trevena
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