Most leaders go through their careers trying to get ahead, working hard to move up the ladder. Most entrepreneurs start enterprises with visions of building their idea into something bigger, something sustainable. They are basically building their career. At the same time, whether they are thinking about it or not, they are building their individual brands.
Personal brand is an interesting topic. Some folks allow the brand of their organization to stand in for their own individual statement. If they work for a powerful law firm that is known for its “take no prisoners” reputation, they may be more than willing to bask in that identification, especially if they do not quite measure up to it individually. The same may hold true for someone working for a company known for corporate social responsibility and a caring attitude. He may shoulder that image, even if he doesn’t fit it.
The individuals discussed above may survive faking their individual brand for a while, at least as far as the external world can see. But internally, those in contact with those individuals know they don’t fit the brand they are trying to adopt. It ultimately will not work.
At the same time there are those who have never given personal brand any thought at all. They just act the way they choose to act or according to their company’s norms without philosophizing about it. Upon retirement or at a point when they achieve an “AHA!” moment, they may try to piece together a story about who they were. Wouldn’t it have been better to have thought about it in advance and acted accordingly? Better, but not easier.
There are a few simple questions one can ask oneself early in a business career to begin the process of building a personal brand. They include:
- When I retire or die, what do I want my colleagues, employees, bosses, customers, vendors and community to say about me? Or put another way, how do I want to be remembered?
- What unshakeable values do I want to embody? Have I thought about the behaviors that exemplify those values and my absolute willingness to act in alignment with those values?
- What group of skills, knowledge and competencies make me different, special and of value?
- Based on my values and skill set, how would I describe my personal brand?
- Based on being around me, could those groups of individuals mentioned in the first question currently identify my personal brand?
Let’s just take a single value, integrity. Many people say they want to be known as having integrity. But integrity is a very broad, nebulous concept. Some would say having integrity means being honest and open, some might say ethical, others might say it means always doing what you say you are going to do. To satisfy everyone that integrity is a core value, Joyce really has to meet everyone’s definition- she has to be honest in her dealings with everyone, win or lose. That means no sneaking, spying, corporate espionage, etc. It means not using informers to find out what employees are up to, not showing favoritism, etc. It means always doing the right thing, no matter how painful or costly. And it means always following through on promises. You say you are going to get back to someone- you do. You promise to return a phone call, you do- always. You say you will follow up- you will. You will and you must if you want everyone to believe that you have integrity. You believing it is not enough.
There are some amazing numbers that come out of a recent survey. Seventy percent of professionals believe that they have defined their personal brand and fifty percent believe they are consistently living that brand. In actuality, only 15% have truly defined their personal brand and only 5% are consistently living it. So clearly, most are not doing a good job.
Nike has a big brand, as does Tom’s Shoes and Zappos. They all sell lots of shoes, but they all have very different brands. In the same sense, individuals should develop their own individual brands that make them stand out from others.
Smart leaders want to have an impact on others and to influence events. They must develop the personal brand that tells others that those leaders are the right people to trust and to follow. This is not a small thing. One looking back at the end of a career can see a winding path with lots of odd stops along the way, but can still view that career as a success if they had a strong brand that defined them and their actions. Those that exhibited “elastic” values and justified behaviors that were not aligned have rendered their brand useless, or worse, have defined themselves as someone who could justify any action to achieve a desired end. Now, there’s a brand.
Personal brand is a big deal. It is a unifying concept that gathers data from, friends, family, colleagues, employees, customers, vendors and the community and distills it into a single description of an individual and what it is like to interact with him or her. It can range from something simple like “He is a mensch”, which says a lot; to “Count your fingers after shaking hands with him”, which also says a lot.
Building a personal brand is very consistent with the 720thinking methodology that applies values and behaviors to skills and competencies across individuals and organizations.