What's Your ‘Lagniappe?’

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A professional interview panel quizzes transitioning service members in mock job-readiness interviews, during a five-day Transition Readiness Seminar at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany (Photo By: Verda L. Parker).

A few years ago on a coaching call, my personal branding client started to tell me of his "lagniappe."

I interrupted him.

"Your what?" I asked.

Lagniappe (pronounced lan-yap), as he described it to me, is that quality or offering you bring that's extra, unexpected and meaningful. Like the 13th doughnut that makes up a baker's dozen or the extra time a colleague spends to train you.

"Lagniappe," more broadly, is "something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure."

His lagniappe, he explained, was that he always delivers more than expected on projects. If he's asked to lead a development team, he spends time turning the contributors on the project into leaders, too. If he's asked to advocate for additional resources for his team, he'll include ways to support other teams in the company as well.

In personal branding, so much of the focus is on how to stand out, set yourself apart, promote your value, and make yourself relevant and interesting to a target audience. This idea of lagniappe aligns beautifully.

Here are a few ways you can begin to identify your lagniappe -- that extra something you bring, offer or promote: an extra value to the people you serve:

1. What's your value proposition? How do you describe what you're passionate about, who you serve, the problems you solve, and why you're unique in your approach?

2. What does your target audience care about? What makes them excited, intrigued, happy?

3. How do you go above and beyond? What are some instances where you've been asked to do something, but you pushed past the expectation and grew your contribution or expanded the deliverable or made a more significant impact?

4. How do you express gratitude and appreciation? Are you known to write handwritten notes, do you always follow up with a phone call, or do you routinely donate to a charity in your clients' names? Think about the ways you show appreciation for the help others provide you.

Your lagniappe is sometimes obvious. For instance, if I pay for 12 donuts but 13 are in the box, I can see that and enjoy the bonus.

Sometimes, however, that extra you're bringing to the team, meeting, situation or project is more subtle, and you have to draw attention to it -- and yourself. This gets uncomfortable, for sure.

In the instance where you have to point out that you did something extra, the goal isn't to boast or brag, but rather to gently bring their attention to that which was extra, in the hopes they'll acknowledge your contribution and possibly follow your lead.

Consider this example: I was recently asked to send a few copies of my best-selling book, "Your Next Mission: A Personal Branding Guide for the Military-to-Civilian Transition," to a nonprofit that supports military career services. They purchased three books. Personally, I know their need is greater, but likely budget constrained them. I sent five books. Could they have thought I made a mistake? What if they believed they had, in fact, ordered five and would be invoiced?

Instead, I sent a note and pointed it out. "I'm sending along these two extra books -- at no charge -- in the hopes that whomever needs them finds them through your wonderful work."

Did that sound pushy? Was I touting my own horn of generosity? Or was I letting the organization know I fully support their mission and wanted to contribute, even in a small way?

Your lagniappe doesn't have to be expensive, grand or loud. It can be a small gesture. For instance, you could offer to meet someone over coffee to conduct an informational interview when they asked for 15 minutes of your time on the phone. Or you could send a thoughtful and personalized thank you note after a phone call.

Whatever your gesture, if possible, let the recipient know that your gesture comes from a passion and commitment to go above and beyond, to deliver more than is expected and to show appreciation. Then, add the extra doughnut.

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