Create Untouchable Distance From Your Competition

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How do you differentiate yourself from the competition in a world where it’s easier to follow—and copy, steal, and mimic—well-crafted messaging and personal brands from other successful leaders?

Why be different when there is a playbook chock full of templates and best practices that will guarantee some amount of career success? Perhaps AI will do it for you?

Further, suppose you’ve been a truly innovative leader and stood out in the past. How do you now compete with the copycats and vultures that have undoubtedly eroded your competitive advantage through imitation? 

If you’ve made even a fraction of a name for yourself, plenty of others are diligently taking notes and working to usurp your success. Or at least take a share of it. 

Sometimes these folks are players on your team. 

Other times they are lurkers on social media repurposing your words for their gain.  

Some may even boldly copy and paste your LinkedIn profile, website copy, pricing, contracts, and intellectual property.

In a sea of sameness, how do you stand out? 

Consider How Perception Influences Others

I’ve made a respectable living by “reading” executives based on limited information that is freely available to the public. 

I often predict client challenges and pitfalls based on job title, company size, and length of previous tenures. 

I can quickly recognize unique reads on executives—such as familial pressure, age-related insecurities, midlife crisis, corporate political challenges, retirement fear, startup misdirections, financial milestone drivers, burnout, ego, self-awareness, brand positioning, skill gaps, executive presence, and communication shortcomings—within a 1 minute LinkedIn scan and a few questions in a discovery call. 

I’m not saying I’m always right—or that it’s wise to make snap judgments—but let’s be honest, we all do it. We can often assume enough to be dangerous in conversation. 

Hell, I used to brag that I could get an idea of how much money someone made based solely on their LinkedIn headshot. Unfortunately, AI-generated headshots have thrown a wrench in that superpower.  

Why does that matter to you? 

Whether you like it or not, others (not merely recruiters and headhunters) will make snap decisions based on the information you share with the world. 

How can you guarantee that the work you share leaves the impression you want? 

The perception that you leave should guide others toward your future aspirations—and not muddle you in the trappings of your past work.

Positioning for the future can be problematic, considering that LinkedIn is the prominent tool for executive positioning in our digital-first world. 

LinkedIn is a one-to-many platform with a chronological resume stamp of your past. It begs you to overshare, broadcast to a big audience, and stand on a soapbox—but your profile is designed to highlight your history. 

And you can’t rewrite history (without being a deceitful scumbag), so you might be stuck being perceived as who you used to be. 

People find you for what you’ve done—not what you’re capable of doing. 

It’s your job to break through this trap.

Of note— 

While social media is a central place to start, controlling your outward perception is not limited to LinkedIn activity. 

Consider the following:

  • The company you pick and its reputation.
  • Your title and team size.
  • Your university and its reputation.
  • Your age, gender, race, sex, physical appearance. 
  • Your functional expertise.
  • The communities you join and their reputation.
  • The content you author or share.
  • Your word-of-mouth reputation. 

There’s plenty to think about. 

It makes a perfect perception nearly impossible to master—at least if you rely on a resume or your LinkedIn to do most of your bidding.

If that’s the case, you’re getting left behind.

Understand How Your Online and Offline Dialogue Impacts Perception 

I’ve noticed an interesting trend in how professionals talk about themselves throughout their careers. 

The entry-level professional will share a relatively blank canvas. There may be a few roles, but little context for what they’ve done. This is likely because entry-level folks haven’t done anything consequential or need to learn how to talk about it (as one may expect).

The ambitious mid-level professional will share a damn novel. They often highlight everything they’ve ever done and emphasize the tools used, the tactics mastered, or the KPIs they’ve managed. Mid-level folks are getting their bearings straight and learning more about their impact on organizations and are doing their best to illustrate that value. 

Mid-level professionals often speak more about tactics, software solutions, and sprints.

The average senior-level professional will do everything the mid-level professional does, but the numbers will be bigger or more impressive. They’ll overshare, write a novel, hire a resume writer to make them sound better, etc. The better leaders will also sprinkle in the soft skills they’ve developed, such as cross-functional impact, operational excellence, and team mentoring and leadership. 

I’ve noticed that the average senior-level executive will talk about their career in shorter periods of time. (They’ll hyper-focus on ‘x’ months to launch, quarterly performance, or belabor 30-60-90 plans).

Here is where things get interesting. 

The elite senior-level professional will have a relatively blank canvas—similar to the entry-level folks.

Instead, they lean on their title, the company they worked with, and their reputation—and often don’t share a lick of any in-the-weeds detail. 

I’ve noticed that the elite senior-level executive will talk about solutions based on a more extended time period. They’ll discuss ‘x’ years or talk multi-year strategies.

Why can the truly elite executives get away with sharing less? Are they just lazy? Is it just that if you’re well-known enough, it doesn’t matter?

It seems counterintuitive to all the advice we hear from gurus, no? 

They’re actively doing less (at least publicly) and still kicking your ass. What gives? 

They do more when it matters, but you can’t see it. 

They are masters of owning conversations, directing perception, and influencing better outcomes that suit their careers. 

Elite Executives Seize Control of Positioning

I’ve learned that elite executives are hesitant to overshare, especially publicly. As a result, what you see online is often broad or simply the tip of the iceberg—and they like it like that. 

I want to think it’s because they anticipate how information can be used against them in a negotiation—but that is likely my personal bias.  

It’s probably because they are busy doing their job and don’t have time to talk about work flippantly. Or they know that what they say can and will be used against them, for better or worse. Better that mum’s the word.

Sometimes, their work is publicly recognized, or they work for such a well-known company that they can get away with it. 


’nuff said.

But how can the average executive become elite—without already holding that prestigious title—and without bragging up a storm on LinkedIn like a content guru influencer?  

You need to take the offensive when it matters. 

In the scheme of things, LinkedIn does not matter. 

I’m in the camp of sharing less publicly — or leaning more on the broad top-of-funnel positioning — and then setting the perception in real-time by taking conversational ownership. 

You can experiment much more with your positioning and personalize each conversation to the needs of the person you’re speaking with. 

Starting broad allows you to narrow in—only when relevant. You can ensure that you relate specifically to your audience on the phone while using their exact language to build a shared identity. 

See also: sales mirroring.

“It sounds like going to market is important to you; let me share a funny story about going to market back at XYZ…”

Conversely, being hyper-specific can pigeonhole you to a specific function, tactic, or industry—and the associated perception. As a result, you may find yourself walking back from your position. 

“Yes, I am known for sales and sales performance, but I can do so much more, like go to market too. And yes, I’ve worked with marketing, customer success, and…”

Being overly vague gives you more control over perception but can make it more challenging to be found organically. 

So, yes, you’ll do more outbound work to keep the phone ringing vs. waiting for fate and inbound attention to lock on to your past work profile. 

But the fate of your career is in your hands.

Alternatively, you can twiddle your thumbs and hope for someone to lend a hand to you generously and at the perfect time. (Wishful thinking, bub.) 

In summary, positioning more broadly can be okay—if you want to widen your opportunities, are comfortable taking the actions necessary to ensure you speak with the right people, and can take conversational ownership of your perception in real-time situations. 

Let’s go one level deeper.

Understanding Your Career With Clarity

There’s a short quip I often repeat while coaching. 

“Nobody knows your career quite like you do.”

In some cases, your fancy title and accomplishments will be impressive. In others, they will not. It depends on who you have in the room. 

What matters is how you choose to use your experiences to reach your future ambitions. 

For example, I was disappointed when we built a multi-million dollar executive career services business. Why?

Some entrepreneurs thought, “Hot damn, that’s impressive. Good job, mate!” 

Some more experienced entrepreneurs thought, “You’re just starting, sweetheart. Call me when you hit $50m.” 

I was disappointed because I drank the Kool-Aid of Silicon Valley, venture-backed hyper-growth expectations. If we’re not hitting a 3-5x growth clip—why bother?

Even my perception of my success was jacked up.

The same can be true of your career. 

Your performance may be impressive to some, but it might be a turn-off to others. 

If you share too much, you could be turning people off before you have an opportunity for a conversation. 

If you share less, you can guard yourself against the snap negative assumptions and take control of your perception in real-time on the phone or in person.

Use Perception To Create Competitive Distance

Fast forward to a scenario you may find yourself in. 

You’ve got an interview, perhaps through an application, or a buddy sent the good word to a hiring manager for you. 

You have not overshared your expertise in a way that can hurt you — via LinkedIn or your resume. 

Instead, you’ve been strategically broad and have the opportunity to create the impression that you want during the first interview. 

The world is now your oyster.

How do you do it? 

Smart leading questions will help you understand exactly where to get specific and help you drive your competitive differentiators in one efficient swoop.

You create distance by voluntarily bringing up alternative solutions, e.g., your competition—and discussing the pros and cons. 

What are the alternate solutions that a company could choose instead of you? 

Do you know? 

No matter your path to where you are now, it’s your job to have an intimate understanding of the pros and cons of your competition. 

Your goal is to align with the company you’re speaking with—not impress them. 

What better way to find alignment than to ask questions that get them to commit to you as the right solution vs. all of their other options? 

Consider the following as you navigate the first conversations. You may ask these directly or listen throughout the discussion to arm your responses.

Why me? Why do you need an executive hire now? 

An open-ended question like this will give you information about what they admire most about you or hope to learn from you during the process. You should also get information on what they need accomplished and a glimpse into their challenges. This intel serves your entire conversation and tells you exactly how to position yourself for the remainder of your interviews. 

What happens if you don’t make a hire?

Now you’ll understand their sense of urgency, what’s on the line, and any other business drivers you may need to tap into later. This will also help you understand how to maximize your value and impact on the company, fueling your negotiation later.

Have you considered hiring a vendor or adding software instead?

Are you replaceable by an outside consultant, agency, or tool? A question like this helps you avoid objections you may face later in the process. You’ll also hear why they’re committing to an executive hire—which furthers their affirmation of making a hire like you. 

What are some of the traits of other candidates that you admire? What do you think is missing? 

A bold line of questioning about the specifics of your competition can inform you exactly how to position yourself to maximize the outcome of your interviews and negotiation. It can also show that you don’t fear your competition but want to understand what the company values most from the hire they’re looking to make. 

What about hiring 2 or 3 less-experienced or more affordable (or someone with ‘x’ industry experience) hires? 

Questions like this serve significant gains. You’re further talking through objections you may face later in the process, but you’re also encouraging them to talk themselves into YOU.  

  1. You’re insinuating that you can do the work of several people. 
  2. You’re creating distance from less-experienced hires. 
  3. You’re building the perception that you are not cheap. 
  4. You’re listening for the other party to commit to a senior executive hire being the best decision for them. 
  5. You’re learning each angle you must satisfy to win the deal.

Asking questions like these will give you the understanding to weaponize your experience and use influential psychology to get them to verbally commit to what they want from you. 

For example, 


“Have you considered hiring a more affordable candidate or two here instead of a senior leader? 


“We specifically want a senior-level hire with experience in X, Y, and Z — because we want to build the organization behind a strong leader, challenge the market, and…..”


“Now I understand why the recruiter was so excited to speak with me. It sounds like I’m your leader. So let’s work through what we’ll accomplish together…”  

The formula is straightforward. 

  1. Propose an alternative solution different than you.
  2. Get specific about the pros and cons of the alternative.  
  3. Listen to why they want to speak with you. 
  4. Add stories of your experiences to validate or challenge their decision-making.
  5. Double down and positively reinforce that they’re speaking with the right person. 

Creating distance from your competition also serves to maximize your negotiation later. Why? 

You’ve already rattled off the alternative options, overcome the objections, and know what concessions they’ll have to make if they go with your competition. 

Now the leverage is in your favor. 

Do you have strong alternatives if they don’t make an offer you like? Do you know how to increase the offer or propose a new offer? 

You’ll have to contact me for more insight on that. 

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