Walking The Talk

The first time I met Rosalind Joffe, she introduced herself to me as a “leadership coach” — someone who took people from, “where they are to where they want to be.”

Several months later, when she hired me to help her with her E-Newsletter, we sat down together and began talking about her business. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she lived with both Multiple Sclerosis (25 years) and Ulcerative Colitis (12 years). I filed away these two facts as interesting, but irrelevant, and we spent the next couple of months working on her newsletter.

Frankly, her focus at the time wasn’t all that distinctive. Here in Boston, you run into a ton of life and leadership coaches, and I don’t mind telling you that we were having a tough time finding an angle or topic area for her newsletter that would break through the e-mail clutter and set her apart from the pack.

Then one day, the light came on. Although Rosalind’s business was focused on helping businesspeople become better leaders, she spent a lot of time “on the side” helping other people with chronic illness learn how to cope (and thrive) in the workplace.

After all, in the 25 years since first being diagnosed with MS, she had raised a family, started her own business and pretty much figured out the ins and outs of how to be successful no matter what your health. The fact is, if you suddenly found yourself in a similar situation, she’s exactly the person you’d want to talk to.

And so one brief phone call later, we decided to refocus Rosalind’s entire business (not just her newsletter), ultimately rebranding it as, ” CICoach: Thriving in the workplace while living with chronic illness.”

The result? I’m so glad you asked. Within six months Rosalind’s profile skyrocketed — she was quoted in the Wall Street Journal (front page) and interviewed on the radio by Sam Donaldson. Her coaching business took off as she gained national prominence as a spokesperson for, and advisor to, people who live with chronic illness and who want to continue working productively.

I’ve written here before about the power of adopting a narrow business focus, and Rosalind’s tremendous success is a good example of the traction you get by specializing in one thing. When a Wall Street Journal reporter went looking for somebody who could speak on the topic of “chronic illness in the workplace,” it didn’t take her long to find Rosalind.

But that’s only part of what’s happening here. Not only is Rosalind specializing, she’s managed to take a personal experience (i.e. 25 years living with chronic illness) and convert it from something that was at best a neutral aspect of her business and turn it into her single most distinctive credential.

Think about that for a minute. Any leadership coach could decide tomorrow to narrow his focus to chronic illness in the workplace. Rosalind however, has lived it.

Given the choice between Rosalind and somebody who simply specializes in this area, who would you rather have for a coach?She’s taken a life experience that most people would consider an obstacle and turned it into her primary competitive advantage.

So here’s my question for you: What unique life experience or personal trait of yours can be converted from a liability into a business advantage?

As for me, I’ll be spending the weekend looking for a way to leverage rampant baldness.

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