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Branding Room Only Interview with Michele Coleman Mayes: Reimagining

Interview with Michelle Coleman Mayes
Interview with Michelle Coleman Mayes
Branding Room Only Interview with Michele Coleman Mayes: Reimagining
Michele Coleman Mayes is Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary at The New York Public Library. She previously held the position of General Counsel for Allstate Insurance Company and Pitney Bowes Inc. Ms. Mayes has held a long and prestigious career, having served on several commissions, including the Presidential Commission on Election Administration. She is a sought-after speaker on the topic of diversity and inclusion and is co-author of the book Courageous Counsel: Conversations with Women General Counsel in the Fortune 500.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The power of intentionality as a leader
  • What is the difference between branding and reputation?
  • Using the right resources to cultivate your brand
  • How authenticity shows up and why it matters
  • The valuable engagement work Michele has done for her community

In this episode:

The beauty of building your brand lies in the opportunities. Once a baseline of success and momentum is established, the continued development of your brand is up to you and your vision. Many people feel hemmed in or indebted to a specific portrayal of themselves, but this does not have to be the case…possibilities lie in reimagining.  Michele Coleman Mayes is an accomplished lawyer and leader with a rich history of working on boards and commissions for a better community. She offers her advice to both young professionals and those looking toward retirement. In both circumstances, there is an opportunity to reimagine the possibilities ahead. In this episode of Branding Room Only, Paula T. Edgar sits down with Michele Coleman Mayes, General Counsel and Secretary for The New York Public Library, to discuss her views on branding and professional development. They discuss giving back to communities, the difference between branding and reputation, and key strategies.

Resources mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode

This episode is brought to you by PGE Consulting Group LLC.

PGE Consulting Group LLC is dedicated to providing a practical hybrid of professional development training and diversity solutions. From speaking to consulting to programming and more, all services and resources are carefully tailored for each partner. Paula Edgar’s distinct expertise helps engage attendees and create lasting change for her clients.

To learn more about Paula and her services, go to or contact her at [email protected], and follow Paula Edgar and the PGE Consulting Group LLC on LinkedIn.

Paula Edgar: Hi everyone. I’m Paula Edgar, the host of Branding Room Only, where I feature industry leaders and influencers so I can learn about how they’re using their personal brands and their skills and their experiences to strengthen and amplify their personal brands. And I’m so excited because I have one of my favorite people here today, Michele Coleman Mayes, who is the Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of the New York Public Library, but just in general, she is a phenom. She is awesome. And what she says about herself is that she’s been general counsel for almost 20 years at three very different institutions and keeping perspective and being levelheaded are a must since rarely are things as bad as they seem, which is, that’s good.

It also helps to have been to the rodeo more than once and to have a sense of humor and I know you have a great sense of humor and so I’m very excited about our conversation today. Michele, welcome to the Branding Room.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Thank you. I thought you were describing yourself when you introduced me, Paula.

Paula Edgar: If only, if only. So, you know, this conversation that I have with leaders and industry influencers about their personal brands is really for me to be able to elicit for the audience what they need to know, in terms of how to differentiate themselves, amplify themselves.

And so I wonder if you can say to me, tell me what your definition of a personal brand is.

Michele Coleman Mayes: You made me think about this longer than I thought I should, and needed to, but I think a brand is who I think I am, and if not, it’s who I want to be, and that means that it’s something you have to continuously work on because you are always forming biases. Cannot avoid.

Paula Edgar: Indeed. Indeed. Who I want to be, who I think I am. Yes, and definitely another piece, right, of the other people and what they think you are, which we always talk about, which we’ll get into, I’m sure, shortly. So, okay. Next up, describe yourself in three words or short phrases.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Direct, empathetic, curious inquisitive.

Paula Edgar: Definitely direct. That first one I was like, yep. Mm-hmm.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Can I get an amen from you or what?

Paula Edgar: So the audience has the opportunity to go to my website and see all the background information. So your whole bio, so everything that you’ve provided. So I don’t like to read the bio cause I figure they can do that on their own.

But when I look at your bio, I’m like, oh my goodness, you have done so much. Does it feel like you’ve done this much?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Yeah. When you look at how old I am, it’s like, it’s like how many rodeos have I been to and how many horses have I fallen off of? In some ways I don’t think about it because it’s pretty much what everyone does every day.

You just get up, brush your teeth, and keep breathing. And then you look up and 20, 30, 40, 50 years have passed.

Paula Edgar: Wow. I mean, I think maybe this is just my bias because when I think of age and I look at people, especially Black women, I’m like, Hmm, but you know, we are, we’re maybe longer in our experiences, but we look good and that’s important. Okay. So what’s your favorite quote? And this is interesting because you work in the library. What’s your favorite quote?

Michele Coleman Mayes: It was hard for me to pick one, but I wanted to abide by your rules, so I did. I’m not going to violate them, at least not yet. And it’s by someone that was born, you know, many, many centuries ago. It says, “Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Paula Edgar: Now I’m going to have to sit and think about that. That’s gonna make everybody sit and think. Of course we’re gonna include the quote. What resonates about it for you?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Because very often you have to figure out where people are to meet them and not necessarily where you are. If you want to even try to find common ground. There’s a lot of give and take. And so rather than saying, I’m right, you are wrong.

I’m looking many times for the middle, even though I’ve also heard this quote, the middle is where it’s easiest to get run over.

Paula Edgar: Yes. You can’t please everybody. I can’t. That definitely resonates in terms of, for me, in terms of hearing that, that last part, but I wanna sit and think about that quote because it’s not like the regular sort of, oh, here’s da, da, da. It’s something to really make me reflect and I’m, and I hope all of you will, who are listening and watching will be reflecting on it. On the flip side, and it’s currently Black Music Month. It’s June. What’s your hype song? And I’ll give you a little definition of a hype song, which is if you wanna go into a room and have them know that you’re gonna, you know, sort of take over, be that director, what song is playing in your head, or what song do you need to play in your head to kind of get you in a right space? It can be either one of those.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I don’t think of getting in the right space by music. But nonetheless, I do know two songs I picked, I’m violating your rule, I’m gonna name two, not one. But I like Happy by Pharrell Williams and Proud Mary by Tina Turner.

Paula Edgar: Oh, I love it. And they’re all escalating – those are escalating ones. So that, you know, brings you, it’s not just here that takes you up on, takes you up on crescendo. So, I like it. I like it. I like it. I like it. Okay, so when you think about your brand and what you, who you say you are, what you, what you want, when you think about how you have done that in all the different places that you have trailblazed what are some of the ways that you have built your personal brand?

What kind of platforms? What kind of, what are some of the strategies that you have used that we should know about?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Well, the one thing that it wasn’t my idea several years ago, because the book has been out now, how many years? 12 this year is Courageous Counsel, because that was a way to, and I co-authored it with another lawyer.

And that was a way to communicate lots of lessons learned, knees scraped so that people could realize you can blaze your own path. There’s no cookie cutter answer to how you do this stuff. So that’s one way that I’m very proud of I’ve been able to do, and I have folks coming over to me even all these years later.

Saying that they reread certain sections, and that was the whole point that if there was a woman’s, it’s all women in the book – or people if you wanna be more gender neutral – that shared their stories. And stories resonate with people, you know, rather than just saying, here’s my bio, I’ve had this job for 10 years, I did this before.

It’s the story that catch people’s attention. And the second thing that I guess I would call out is I speak in a lot of different settings, not unlike you Paula, and they’re very diverse. It could be a law firm, it could be a law school, it could be a high school. It doesn’t matter.

And that’s a way for people to see you and realize there’s a person there, as imperfect as they may be, that has lessons they wanna share to maybe make your journey a little easier.

Paula Edgar: Yeah, we’re not looking for perfection because that’s not how you learn. Right. I think it’s intimidating to find perfection generally, because it’s a standard that you really can’t hit.

Michele Coleman Mayes: You can’t, you can’t meet unless you’re delusional.

Paula Edgar: It is true. It is true. Okay. So thinking about the three organizations that you have worked for in terms of at the general counsel level, what has been the difference in how you have had to interact with the business side, the leadership as you move from one to one, to one, has there been any shift for you, because of maybe the content or anything else? Was that a strategy or is it just, this is who I am and everybody floats around me? How does it work?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Right. It’s not like the sun, right? It doesn’t work that way. I think my approach has evolved because I’m mature. And as a result of that, things that I might have cared deeply about at some point are not as high on that list.

They’ve shifted, they’ve even fallen off. And so I have no doubt that things that I would’ve gone to battle for or things that I said were extremely important to me – as your world changes, so do those priorities, and as a result, your brand follows it. The one constant, and you probably know this because you laughed when I said it earlier, is I’ve always been direct.

That doesn’t mean I always open my mouth. I’ve learned that’s one of the things I’ve also learned, that it is probably prudent on occasion to be silent, which can also be a powerful tool.

Paula Edgar: I mean that we definitely gonna pull that out of the clip because people need to hear that. I think that folks think the loudest person in the room is the most commanding, and sometimes that silence can totally fill a space to say…

I mean, for me, if I’m quiet, I’m not happy. Everyone knows, if she’s silent…. It’s telling you that I’m not okay. So there’s communication happening and being self-aware and having enough EQ to understand that silence as a tool is a perfect, I love that as a lesson. So I’m glad that you said it.

Michele Coleman Mayes: And Paula, I would say this – as lawyers, we sell our advice. That’s part of who we are. That’s in our DNA. And of course typically that means you’re communicating in some way, whether it’s written or oral or whatever. And the idea that you would shut your mouth or put your pen down sometimes escapes people, and yet it is true that you are not necessarily at your best if you’re always the one taking oxygen out.

Paula Edgar: And it’s such an interesting, I think balancing act because they’re, you know, when you’re in a space, people wanna hear from you because you have expertise. And on the flip side particularly when you’re in house, you need to make sure that you are balancing all of the different perspectives and needs and providing them with what they need while not taking out all the air out of the room. And I have seen a lot of people take air out of rooms. Trust me. Mm-hmm.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I won’t have you give names.

Paula Edgar: No, no names, no names. No. Never that, that’s not good for our branding. So tell me this, how do you differentiate personal branding from your reputation?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Well, that’s easy to me because brand, go back to my definition.

It’s who I think I am, who I want to be. Reputation is what comes back after you put out who you think you are. It’s what you then hear people have received. And if the two align, that’s nirvana. But if the two are in conflict, you need to look in the mirror because what you’re putting out there is not what’s being accepted.

Paula Edgar: I love it. I do. So we have this conversation often. So we don’t disagree. We just align a little differently. And I mean, I love exactly how you laid it out because it’s true, especially that if you don’t hit that nirvana piece, there’s a challenge either way, whether you call it branding or you call it reputation, or you’re combining both because there’s a disconnect, right?

We want there to be alignment in what you’re putting out and what is being received. So to that end, you talked a little bit about what your words were, what do you think your reputation is? If someone was gonna say, this is Michele, what’s your reputation?

Michele Coleman Mayes: I would say that I’m a seasoned leader who partners, and that’s a very important word, partners to identify creative ways to achieve measurable results, and who believes in this quote – it’s actually by Nelson Mandela – I never lose. I either win or I learn.

Paula Edgar: I love that every time we talk, you teach. I recall seeing you speak at MCCA, I don’t know, maybe four or five years ago, and you were telling the story of, oh gosh, now I’m gonna forget her name. I should have written this down.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Charlotte E. Ray? Is that the one?

Paula Edgar: Yes. And you talked about how she was buried in Brooklyn.

And I remember after your speech was over, you know, as somebody who also does this, you want the takeaways to be ones that resonate. And I’m sitting here, I’m like, five years later, I’m like, it resonated like that. That’s what you want. You want the teaching, the pullout, the takeaways and the importance to be reflected back.

And so I would say in terms of your reputation, is that you are direct and you also are… what’s the word? Sustaining is the word that comes to me. Like I feel like I know exactly what I’m gonna get when I come to you, that consistency – but I also feel like I’m gonna get what I need and that is important.

So to that end, you think about leadership positions that you’ve held, not just in your, sort of the work you had, but also boards, et cetera. Is there a shift or is there any sort of difference in how you interact when it comes to board or civic leadership and putting out your brand versus work?

Michele Coleman Mayes: I think the context matters. That you’ve got to know who your audience is and what they need. Again, trying to meet them where they are. So I would never approach, let’s say a person who’s younger in career the same way I would a CEO. That would be tone deaf. And so you do have to moderate enough to appreciate what that person brings to the party, what it is they’re seeking, what value you bring to the equation.

And as a result, you are not going to communicate the same way. I learned a long time ago from an executive coach who talks about how do people learn, for example. And everybody doesn’t learn the same way. Some are auditory, some are visual, and I have to adjust what I’m doing because I’m trying to figure out how does that person make decisions.

And so a student would be very, they’re like a sponge, right? They think they, I’ve gotta figure out who I am. I don’t know what I want to do. And so you’re trying to give them exposure to so many different things that you feel you have credibility to do. But when I walk into a CEO, don’t take this in a pejorative way, you know, I’m probably gonna assume the smartest person is in the room.

Paula Edgar: Right. It’s one of you…

Michele Coleman Mayes: Right. I didn’t say which one, but one of them. And so how I’m gonna communicate with that person better be different. And that’s one of the things that this executive coach talked about. What it is that you think they need? And how do they make decisions? Are you bringing what you need to bring in order for that to happen?

Paula Edgar: I love that you brought up executive coaches because not often do my guests talk about sort of support structures that they have that can also help them with their brand management and leveraging their lessons and also how they communicate.

I think it’s important for us to be able to access and utilize resources to level up, like Michael Jordan used a coach, right? There’s a lot of people who are at the top of their game who use coaches, and so I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about accessing resources, the importance to do so to build your brand and also to build your skillset.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Exactly. I think that can come in so many different ways. I don’t even know where to begin, Paula. But certainly I’ve talked about the executive coach. And my coach, this goes back decades ago. I’m not talking about anything recent. But he was extremely useful to me.

And this isn’t gonna be seen like a contradiction. Go back to how, what is your reputation or what’s coming back at you. He would tell me, well, this is how people see you. And I’d go really? But at the same time, when he would say that, on occasion, I’d say, well, I need to modify that. That’s not how I wanna show up.

I didn’t realize that that’s how people were interpreting my behavior or my words. And so there were things that I consciously worked on changing, but there were other things he pointed out at which point I looked at him and said, not negotiable. And you ought to convey that when you go back to talk to somebody, ’cause I’m not changing.

Paula Edgar: Which brings us to one of my favorite words as we talk about in every one of these podcasts, which is authenticity.

Michele Coleman Mayes: But Paula, let me go back before you go there… so when I talk about executive coach, that can be expensive, but I’ve seen people actually invest their own funds if their organizations will not do it because they realize the return on investment is so high.

The other thing is what we call your personal board of directors. There are people that you respect that have insights that you don’t necessarily share, that you literally are like a magnet trying to find them and glom onto them. The other thing you can obviously do is look at mentors, sponsors or even organizations you can join. I mean, that’s why I said there’s so many different tentacles that would allow you to do that.

Paula Edgar: 100%. And what challenges me often to just be very clear, is like your first point, which is when people are like, oh, well my firm or my organization won’t pay for it, so I’m not gonna do it.

And I’m like, It’s you, you are your investment. And what you put into it, you get out of it. And so, yes, you, of course you would love to have that as a benefit, you know, so that you’re getting back some of the resources that you’re putting through. But you should still, all of you should be still be thinking about how to invest in yourself and your career and your brands on your own as a part of your own strategy with your board of directors, all of those things are important and cannot be segmented even if somebody else is not paying for it. So figure that out. There’s a lot of free resources and there’s also ones that you can pay for differently and that’s something that we should be prioritizing.

I believe that a hundred percent. I’m glad you brought that up.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I absolutely agree with you. You know, one of the, when I said there were certain things I had to change, go back to how we talk about, I’m direct. I have a tendency to do that no matter who you are. And so a CEO with whom I had many encounters, he noticed how direct I was. This is before I became a general counsel. And he was reticent as to whether that directness would play well in the board. I modified my behavior significantly ’cause of that.

Paula Edgar: So, you do that in order to get into the boardroom and get a space at the table, and then you’re like, tada, I’m here.

Michele Coleman Mayes: A little bit. In moderation. I don’t do it all at once.

Paula Edgar: And I think that sometimes when people, you know, we talk a lot about the intersection of these areas of soft skills as well as diversity and inclusion, and there are times when people in their conversations will talk about fit. And, you know, that’s biased, and you know that that’s how it’s showing up. And particularly when you’re thinking about women and for us, you know, women of color and specifically Black women how we’ll show up are we able to be those authentic selves? And I’m working through my own sort of theory about the authenticity and whether we have access to it or not, but I wonder what your thoughts are.

Do you feel as if authenticity is something available to all of us or we have to earn it or, or any other sort of perspective on how authenticity shows up.

Michele Coleman Mayes: That’s a very complex question, Paula, which is why you’re still working through it. I would hope that you can show up authentically most of the time because if you’re not, let me tell you what my theory is.

You’re spending a lot of energy hiding yourself. And if you’re taking that much energy to mask what you believe, what you do, then you’re not applying that to other things that truly need your creativity. Because you’ve gotta watch whether, do I say that my partner is a male, then they’re gonna know I’m gay.

Or do I say that my partner is a woman, then they’re gonna know I’m gay or that indeed I’m trans. You know, whatever the case may be. I’ve watched people who are in the closet, and that’s a lot of turmoil, which doesn’t say they don’t have a reason for doing it. I am the last one to pass judgment on that.

What I can pass judgment on is how much effort that takes. The covering. And that’s why I say you hope you can authentically show up. I also believe there’s certain things even your mama doesn’t want to know about, so you know, it’s not everything that needs to show up.

Paula Edgar: We don’t need to see you all the way over here on the lever. We want to see you some place over at the…

Michele Coleman Mayes: Exactly.

Paula Edgar: And, it’s how I describe it too, authenticity is not an on and off button. It’s a scale. Yes. And you have to really think about how, where you are, what the different perspectives are, what your perspective is and what you’re trying to get out of the situation when you’re thinking about it.

And most people that they don’t walk into an organization and think, okay, I’m authentic. Right? You gotta figure out the lay of the land. You do. And what is authenticity there. What’s the culture there? And, so it’s important to really reflect on that before you come in saying like, I can’t be here if I can’t be authentic. You don’t even know what authenticity is in the space until you dove in a little bit more.

Michele Coleman Mayes: But go back to your term fit, which can be a code word for you’re not in the in crowd, you’re an “other”. That is something, again, when you talk about how bias shows up and why you’ve gotta constantly work to see which one is bleeding through you is trying to, and I have an acronym and you’ve heard me say it – SAL, which is slow down, ask questions, listen – that you really do have to do that in order to figure out, I had no idea that’s what you were going through or that’s what you’ve experienced. Yep. So I don’t want to make it sound as though, you know, there’s an easy answer for this.

There isn’t. But I firmly believe, and I just can’t stress this enough, that you’ve gotta be comfortable enough in your own skin that you can thrive in any environment.

Paula Edgar: We’re all working on it.

Michele Coleman Mayes: It’s a work in progress. It always is.

Paula Edgar: We are all working on it. So when you were in the process of doing Courageous Counsel, the book, was there anything that sort of surprised you about the process? Was there anything that came out of that for you, that was not what you expected.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Yeah. One of the things that surprised me, a great deal, in fact, I went back and talked to some of the folks after the interviews were transcribed and we were writing the text. How honest some people, they did not gild the lily and I actually went… the one comment in particular because the firm, I think was identified, where a woman relayed the story that a partner said, They’re letting women in. Next they’ll let dogs in. It was something equivalent to that. It was pretty derogatory. And when I said, you do understand what this text is going to be and I’m just confirming with you that you do not want to rethink that. She said Absolutely not. So the honesty, including failures, I think you know, the gift of failure, which sounds like an oxymoron, you know, we talked a little bit about who you are and the fact that you’ve got scraped knees, but nobody can see ’cause you got your pants on. So I don’t think the women felt they had to hide themselves because they wanted to be as genuine and as authentic, even though they knew it was permanent record.

The other thing that I was a little surprised about, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. Some people simply declined. They didn’t wanna be in the book. You know, why do you wanna highlight women? You know, I’m just a really good lawyer. Why do you have to put the gender lens on it? And I was like, fine. It’s nice chatting with you. Have a nice life.

Paula Edgar: And those are two, like the difference there, right? Like you’re giving ’cause you wanna make sure people have the experience and understand what they’ve gone through. And the flip side is like, leave me alone. It’s kind of like you have people who are like, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, so should you, and I’m just like, why? Why? There’s better shoes now. We can do this differently. We don’t have to do this.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Exactly. So those are the two things that stuck out in my mind.

Paula Edgar: Okay. Love that. I’m, I just got a thought in my head and it just ran out. So I kind of brought up the board piece, because I do think it’s a difference in terms of how you interact, like I was saying with folks because work and then the separate part about doing board engagement. Forget about board engagement, just thinking civic engagement. Cause I know you’re involved with a lot of different organizations.

And there’s some that are very, particularly, very close to you. So do you wanna highlight any that I think especially recently, that are ones that you just feel like are integral to your trajectory at this time?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Well, one area that goes without saying is, the effort I’ve spent when I talk about speaking engagement many times is before female audiences or folks that can have babies, if you wanna describe it that way.

And as a result, I think the fact that I chaired the Commission on Women from 2014 to 2017, that really gave me a big platform to work on some issues that were extremely important to me. One is bias and the other is the tension between white women and women of color. Both of those. The thing that I’m doing right this minute, but that was several years ago now, but what I’m doing right now is I’m the Vice Chair of the Board for the Center for Reproductive Rights.

And that is one busy board. For those who may not know that center, is the one who argued the Dobbs case, which is a year plus this month when they overturned Roe versus Wade. And now they’re in the good fight to prove to people that reproductive health, reproductive rights are human rights. So that takes a lot of my time.

Paula Edgar: Speaking of your time you are planning on retiring from your current role.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I got a different word for it. Retooling or reimagining.

Paula Edgar: So, okay. Retool-magine. Reimagine tool. However you’d like to discuss it. Tell me about this, your next steps in your mind, and what that’s gonna be and how you’re planning to launch, when? Gimme some deets.

Michele Coleman Mayes: So, you know, you have conflicting emotions when you’re saying, I’m walking out the door and nobody’s gonna send me an email and ask me to do anything anymore. I don’t have to check my emails. Like, what will I do if I’m not on my iPhone? And so they’re mixed emotions, somewhat like separation anxiety, if you wanna call it that.

But I also believe, you know, that one door closes another opens. And so some of that I’m working on making sure the door is there. But the other thing is I’m open to possibilities. So for example, one area that I wanna explore, I’m sure you’re familiar or not, The HistoryMakers. So I know Julieanna Richardson really well, and as a consequence, I told her that when I leave, I want her to train me – everybody’s trainable, right? – to learn how to interview people that have done noteworthy things. Love that. So I wanna go around the country interviewing these people that she’s identified. And you know, I always like the fact that it’s not necessarily famous people. That’s why I said it’s folks that have done something noteworthy in their world or in the broad world.

And so she said, oh, that would be great. I should have never told her ’cause she thought I was leaving sooner. I said, Julieanna, keep your gunpowder dry. I’m not gone yet. So that’s one thing I’m doing. I’m on one public company board and I’m in the throes of potentially joining another. Okay. And then I’ve got the Center for Reproductive Rights and I’m also on the board of the American College of Governance Counsel. So those are my four boards. I have three right now.

Paula Edgar: So you’re busy no matter what? I hope so. Which is why I said this is my one summertime assignment. I’m like, no matter what, I’m gonna get Michele ’cause she is busy. And I know this for sure, so when I think about that, and you said leaving your space open for what other things could be.

Are there any sort of shoot for the stars, I really, really want this, that you’re thinking of that’s in there, other than The HistoryMakers. I could see you doing a TED Talk.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I’ve done one, but it was many years ago at Allstate. I did it. I hadn’t thought about that, Paula, but that’s why I’m saying I’m open to the opportunities. ‘Cause as you and I both know, sometimes opportunities come to you and sometimes you create them, but both can be fulfilling.

Paula Edgar: Yes, yes, yes, yes. And thankfully so. I’m smiling because I’m like, this is, you know, you think of things as a sun setting, and then you think what’s gonna happen? But everybody, for the most part, who I know who has gone on to retirement has been like, and now I have this business, or I’ve started this thing, or I have this garden, or whatever it is.

And it’s like a renaissance, right? It’s not… I like that as a new word. Instead of retirement. I have my renaissance.

Michele Coleman Mayes: They all start with R, right? Reimagining. Retooling. Yes. Renaissancing.

Paula Edgar: Yes. I think that that sits well because it is and gives people something to look forward, like what’s gonna be that next thing. ’cause a renaissance is like a shift. I love it. Anything that you can’t do now that you’re looking forward to doing in your retirement?

Michele Coleman Mayes: I don’t know, just probably having more time to just reflect, more reading. Sometimes you’re only reading what you have to read in this place, and even though I’m in a library, that sounds like heresy, but I do think I’ll have more opportunity to experiment stuff that’s way outside the practice of law. I do that now, but I think it’ll give me more possibility.

Paula Edgar: I love it. Okay. Let’s see if there’s something else I kind of weaved this into. All right. Just generally when you think about personal branding and think about all the things we just talked about, kind of shifting through your career and what you’ve learned and who you interacted with.

Have you identified either any mistakes that people have made or that you yourself have made that you think, I gotta tell people to really think about this when it comes to building their brand or reputation that they shouldn’t do or that they should do more of, either one.

Michele Coleman Mayes: We’ll look at the networking sense. I know that’s a big issue for you, which is why you’re always posting your pictures and talking about where you’re speaking. One mistake people make when it comes to networking is only doing it when they need help. People become very resentful whether they know it or not. When I’ve not heard from you, but the minute you got laid off or the minute you want to go for a big opportunity, that’s the only time I hear from you.

Never ask how I’m doing. What’s going on in my role? It’s all about you. And the other thing is making networking or – tending to your garden – that you do it in a way that makes it sound like some profound effort, other than would you have water and fertilizer?

Paula Edgar: You got sunlight and you got all the other stuff, and you gotta do it. I mean, you’re right, ’cause people and relationships, they’re the heart of our profession. Any profession.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Any profession. And you have to tend to them. And that doesn’t mean it has to be, oh, I gotta have dinner with you. Sometimes I just drop an email that said, thinking about you, wanted you to know that.

Paula Edgar: And sometimes that’s all that’s needed.

Michele Coleman Mayes: They don’t wanna have a two hour conversation.

Paula Edgar: Correct. I’m definitely sitting with that. It’s so much now where people are like, can we have lunch? I’m like, lunch seems like a really long…

Michele Coleman Mayes: A real commitment.

Paula Edgar: I’d rather not. Okay. What are the fun things that you like to do? What are the fun things that are part of your brand? Either activities or just things that people wouldn’t expect to hear that you consider fun or interesting.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I don’t know if it’s anything people wouldn’t think of. There’s nothing that’s lurking in the closet, but I’m an avid art collector. That’s something no matter where I go or travel or whatever, I just am always looking at the art that’s unique to that location. So I’ve been collecting art since I was in college. Wow. My sister’s an artist. I can’t draw a straight line, but I think she’s .. and we’re as different as night and day, Paula. But I think being around her, she’s two years younger. I was always around art. Even when she was taking art lessons, my mother would drop me at the art institute and I would spend an hour and a half cruising the museum because she was in her art class.

Paula Edgar: I hear that. I’ve recently said out loud, that I have to just admit that I’m not a art museum person. I just have to say it like I’m that person who’s like, that’s nice, that’s nice. And I’m walking, I’m going fast. I’m not sitting there looking at it. I’m walking. I’m like, that’s great. I am a natural history museum person, I studied anthropology. I have to just acknowledge that that’s not who I am. That’s part of my brand. It’s all good. But the collection of art is, all the people who I know who do so are still they themselves and I would say this about you too, also can like, hold themselves out as artwork.

Like you wear things that are already, like, it’s a part of who you are. It’s not just like what you collect. And so I think about that as a part of your authenticity as well as your sort of hobbies too. So I like it. I like it. So that’s what I would highlight. Okay. All right. So we have two questions that we ask everybody before we let them go, which is the Stand by Your Brand moment.

So what is the authentic aspect of your professional personal brand that you will never compromise on?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Your integrity. It’s just something you can’t compromise and striving for fairness. And it doesn’t mean you necessarily will agree with everyone, but are you striving to do what you think is fair? Those are two things that are non-negotiable.

Paula Edgar: The answers to this are always so, like interesting because one of mine is like red lipstick.

Michele Coleman Mayes: I don’t think I would recognize you if you didn’t have red lipstick on. Okay. Okay. Short hair, that’s my other one. Right. That’s not negotiable. I’m not growing hair because you think I wanna look more feminine or something.

Paula Edgar: Got it, got it, got it. Okay, so your Branding Room Only moment. So the name of the podcast is a spinoff of like standing room only. Where you’re going to an event where you’re standing ’cause you wanna see this artist so bad. What is your, what are people going to gather for, for your magic whatever that is. If you were on the stage or in the middle of the room, what would that be?

Michele Coleman Mayes: I don’t look like the usual suspect. When people look at general counsels or folks that are in the C-suite, particularly when you combine that with my directness. And so I think they’re curious. How did I do that from the inside without being pushed to the outside?

Paula Edgar: What’s the answer?

Michele Coleman Mayes: All the things that we’ve talked about this morning. That’s the answer.

Paula Edgar: I am sure that people are looking for what the sweet sauce is for that.

Michele Coleman Mayes: But go back to something you said and something that I talked about, fairness. Everybody has a BS scale, even children. They know when they’re being sold a bill of goods. And I think people believe I’m being honest and authentic when I say this is what I… That’s why I think I’m able to say some of the things that I say, but I’m also willing to do this Paula, which, go back to this point. You’ve gotta work to listen to people. You cannot just assume because you’re facing them and your two ears are on that you are hearing what they say.

And so one of the things that I try to do when you talk about meeting people where they are is to listen to where they are, so that I know how to meet them in the middle. Go back to the rightdoing and wrongdoing, where’s your middle? And if I can do that, I can probably break through a lot of the clutter.

Paula Edgar: Which also means you have to be able to be prepared to ask.

You have to be prepared to hear from them. Like not just wait for them to say it, but that you have to be able to be prepared to ask. You know, when you were talking earlier about modulating your communication style, it’s so true. Like there’s so many people who are leaders who are like, this is how I lead.

But truly, in order to lead effectively, you have to say, you need this from me. You need this from me, you need this. And I am modulating in order to get number one what I need, but also for you to be able to hear me. And communication is so challenging because of that. But I think that folks who do it well understand that it can’t just be the same for everybody.

So I’m glad that you brought that up. Okay. So, I mean, tell me, is there anything else that you wanna share with our audience before we go? Any last minute words of advice? Anything before I close this?

Michele Coleman Mayes: Well, there’s a quote that I love and I’ve used this quote a lot so other people have heard it, bear with me, by Roxane Gay on Bad Feminist. I think you’ve heard me quote it, Paula. “I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I’m just trying – trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world.”

Paula Edgar: Wonderful quote, awesome book. If you haven’t read it, you guys check it out. Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay. Thank you so much for joining me on Branding Room Only today. It was a fantastic conversation as I knew it would be, so many things to pull out. So folks can reach you on LinkedIn.

Michele Coleman Mayes: That’s it. I’m not on any other platform and I’m not apologizing for that.

Paula Edgar: If you need to reach Michele, you’re gonna reach her on LinkedIn and you know, as you end this chapter and go to the next part of your renaissance, I wish you the best of luck, and I can’t wait to see what you do next and how you change the world because you definitely personally as well as professionally have shifted the lives of so many people and I thank you for it. And so, thanks for your time.

Michele Coleman Mayes: Thank you Paula, and thank you for being in the game.

Paula Edgar: It’s all good.

Michele Coleman Mayes: It’s all good. Bye-bye.