I have been a fan of Muhammad Ali since I was a child. I remember as an adolescent, I walked around the house in my night robe throwing punches at the air yelling “I am the greatest! I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” I recall my grandmother asking me “how did I know about Muhammad Ali at my age?” as he was the heavyweight champion in her time. I simply told her that I read about Ali in school, but she was still so surprised I knew about him at just seven years old!
As a fan of Muhammad Ali, I have begun to study his life and career in and out of the ring. While developing a professional development curriculum, I brainstormed individuals with excellent personal branding and who is a greater example than Mr. Muhammad Ali?
Lesson #1: Stand For Values
Muhammad Ali presenting boxed medicine and relief materials to officials of the Juan Manuel Marquez clinic in Old Havana in 1998.
Muhammad Ali lived his life based on values, which were cultivated through his faith in Islam. His life work was centered around values greater than himself: universal justice, equality, freedom, and peace. He remained grounded in these values when he opposed the Vietnam War, advocated for Black Empowerment, and promoted world peace through his multiple philanthropic efforts. Ali was a principled man and his life’s mission was to serve as a mechanism to achieve the values.
Values are core beliefs based on what you stand for, believe in, and behaviors you expect to execute as a result. Values also help articulate your vision to yourself and to others. As Muhammad Ali demonstrated throughout his life, personal branding is authentically expressing one’s values with the aim of contributing a unique service and/or product to a targeted audience.
Each one of us is a CEO and your business name is “YOU.” As the CEO, the first order of business is determining your values. It is easier to convey your personal brand when it is guided by values as it has been articulated in your mind, embedded in your soul, and expressed with honesty and authenticity. Below are some questions to ask yourself when determining your values.
- What are the key non-negotiables critical to your success?
- What are the guiding principles that are core to how you operate?
- What behaviors do you expect to see from yourself?
- If the circumstances changed and penalized you for holding this core value, would you still keep it?
Lesson #2: Learn the Fundamentals and THEN Add Flavor
A young Muhammad Ali pictured in November 1954.
Before you saw Muhammad Ali dance in the center of the ring, lean back when a punch was thrown and lay against the ropes to wear his opponents down, Muhammad Ali started like all other boxers: Learning the Basics. Before Ali gracefully danced in the ring, he learned how to move forward and backward, jump rope, and pivot-pull in the gym. Before he leaned back as a defense technique, Ali had to learn how to block, slip, and parry punches. Before he strategically laid on the ropes to wear down the toughest heavyweight fighters of all time such as Earnie Shavers and George Foreman, he studied film, practiced techniques, and read about his craft. Before anyone knew him as the “Greatest of All Time”, Ali worked on the basics first and once he honed these skills, Ali added his own zest to his craft.
It is essential to learn the fundamentals of your chosen craft and then offer a unique alternative to what is being done already. This step allows for research, knowledge-building, and ensures that you are creatively expressing your values in a particular area. A key in personal branding is to Innovate, Not Imitate as imitated efforts get imitated results.
Lesson #3: Make Your Words Memorable
Muhammad Ali practicing his poetry before his big fight against Archie Moore in 1962.
“I am the greatest! Float Like a butterfly, sting like a bee! I’m going to show you how great I am!” Anyone, anywhere around the world can say these phrases and you immediately know who they are quoting. That’s right, they are quoting the one and only Muhammad Ali. He was not only a world-class athlete, philanthropist, leader, and cultural icon, he was also a brandmaster, which was established in his numerous wins against the most feared opponents of his era.
As proven above, a strong slogan or phrase can last a lifetime and be remembered for its uniqueness, simplicity, and delivery. Muhammad Ali perfected his unique blend of poetry, confident affirmations, and humor to deliver some of the most timeless interviews and speeches of all time. Words leave a lasting memory on others, so it essential to make your slogan representative of who you are (your values) and what you aim to deliver. A slogan should be value driven and affirm to yourself and to others your vision and your unlimited uniqueness.
Lesson #4: Keep it simple (no “stupid” is necessary, because you are not)
Muhammad Ali displaying a warm-up demonstration for fans in 1975.
When I watched Muhammad Ali’s matches, I noticed he always wore his white robe dawning his name, his red with white pinstripe or white with black pinstripe boxing shorts (usually white), his white boots, and his red Everlast boxing gloves. Though he was flashy with his words, he displayed a simple and calm nature, which was reflected by his “battle gear.”
When determining a personal brand, it is best to keep it simple, straight-forward and to the point. The key is to convey your message in as few words or symbols as possible. A strong brand is known for its simplicity in displaying their service and/or product and slogan. One question I use to help my clients in this area is having them think about “What message do they want to get across and how can they achieve this in the most simplistic and unique manner?”
Muhammad Ali’s brand has transcended time as he will be remembered for his courage and work in helping others, his one of a kind boxing style, his witty poetry, and simplistic demeanor in and out of the ring. As the People’s Champ, Muhammad Ali exemplified greatness in boxing, in helping others, and cultivating a timeless brand.
Muhammad Ali, The Greatest of All Time. 1942 – Forever.
To read my other post about Muhammad Ali, please click here.
Picture 1: “Ali presents officials of the Juan Manuel Marquez clinic with boxes of medicine in Old Havana as Ali’s wife Lonnie looks on in 1998.” Photo Credit to AFP/GETTY IMAGES. Accessed on 3/7/2019.
Picture 2: “Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, before his fight against Ronnie O’Keefe on the WAVE-TV amateur boxing program, “Tomorrow’s Champions.” Photo Credit to Charley Pence/The Louisville Courier Journal. 11/1954. Accessed on 3/7/2019.
Picture 3: Ferguson, Mystee Mercedes. “How to Write Poetry Like Muhammad Ali “. The Medium. 6/6/16. Accessed on 3/7/2019.
Picture 4: “Muhammad Ali in the ring in Las Vegas.” Photo Credit to EUROPEAN PRESS PHOTO AGENCY/FILE. 1975. Accessed on 3/7/2019.
Picture 5: “Muhammad Ali, the former three-time world heavyweight champion, began boxing at 12, training with policeman Joe Martin after he vowed to ‘whup’ the person who stole his bike.” Photo Credit to YOUSUF KARSH/CAMERA PRESS. Accessed on 3/7/2019.