The Queen of Mean

Today is Tuesday, so this post is on personal impact.

Leona Helmsley died yesterday.  She was 87.  If you know who she was, what comes to mind when you hear her name? 

For me, it’s three things:

  1. Her nickname, "The Queen of Mean", because she was said to terrorize her employees;
  2. The statement attributed to her that she always denied “Only the little people pay taxes”;
  3. Her conviction on tax evasion.

Not the greatest legacy or personal brand.

On the other hand, I read an online obituary and learned that Ms. Helmsley also was quite the philanthropist.  She made a $25 million gift to New York Presbyterian Hospital, donated $5 million to Katrina relief and $5 million to help the families of firefighters after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the late 1990s, she gave millions of dollars to help rebuild African-American churches that had been burned in the South.

All of this brings me to the common sense point for today.  Your personal brand is what defines you in the eyes of many people.  You need to cultivate and nurture it. 

Ms. Helmsley didn’t do a good job with her brand.  I would be willing to wager that at least nine out of ten people who know of her would think of her as the queen of mean, who went to jail for tax evasion.  Very few would know her as the philanthropist she was.  Maybe she didn’t care about what people thought of her.  She seems to have kept her philanthropy quiet for a reason known only to her.

If you are as wealthy as Ms. Helmsley, you might not need to worry about your personal brand.  The rest of us, however, need to do so.  In his e mail newsletter yesterday, Mike Litman ( made some interesting points about personal branding. 

“I’ve been talking about this same concept for years. It’s so important.

"Whether you’re working a job or a distributor for some company’s products, change your thinking.  Stop focusing on building their brand, START building your own.  In the 2010 economy, YOU are the asset.

"Dollars are not the only currency available to trade on.  There’s 3 other ‘invisible’ currencies that some would say are even more valuable than money.

"Here’s one of them. Your BRAND is your 21st century currency.

  • Who are you in the marketplace?
  • What do you stand for?
  • Who are you fighting for?
  • What problems do you help your target market solve?

"Ask yourself: If I could take one action to start building my brand in a bigger way, what could I do right now?

"Your brand is called YOU. Keep that in mind.  Build it. Small steps. It’s easier than you think. Much. You don’t have to get it right, you just have to get it going.”

Leona Helmsley could have benefited from some of this common sense thinking.  She’s gone on now, but you and I are still here.  My suggestion for today is to take Mike Litman’s advice to heart and start building your personal brand.

A little more on personal branding…Recently, I was asked to contribute a chapter to a forthcoming book called One Great Idea.  My one great idea was using my blogs to build my Common Sense Guy brand.  You can read the article by going to  Let me know what you think after reading the article.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website to subscribe to my monthly ezine and for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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  1. I think even with all that money, your brand is important. I say this because you want others around you to enjoy your company and not to label you “the queen of mean.”

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