It is not uncommon for people to feel a sense of resistance around personal branding. Some clients in my executive coaching practice tell me that thinking about their personal brand feels egotistical and selfish. Others have said that it feels dehumanizing to consider themselves in the same light as a product.
In recent interviews I conducted with 20 senior executives, more than one-third of them told me that they had, at some point in their careers, shied away from personal branding considerations out of distaste for the concept.
But here’s the rub. You already have a personal brand, whether you’ve thought about it or not. Is that brand the one that you want? Will it enable you to create the greatest value for your career and your organization? And in the wake of COVID-19 and the massive damage to the job market, will your current brand serve you well?
Consider the following two leaders, both senior directors at the same tech company where I was brought in on consultation. Petra’s positive reputation preceded her. She was a highly regarded leader, one whom people enjoyed working for and with, and her career trajectory reflected her popularity. Marcus, on the other hand, unfortunately had a negative reputation for his controlling and abrasive style. He struggled to retain strong performers, and others within the company objected to collaborating with him or his team.
Both Petra and Marcus are undoubtedly smart, hardworking individuals. Petra, however, was highly aware of and actively managed her brand within the company while Marcus did not. While he had achieved much, he operated under the faulty assumptions that results were everything and managing his brand at the company was an irrelevant nuisance.
If you’re a professional who works with others, or whose success is to any degree dependent on others, it is imperative that you understand and manage your brand. Otherwise, you are inadvertently running some risks. Here are three common misunderstandings about personal branding, and alternative perspectives to adopt.
Personal branding is superficial
Thinking about your brand is not an exercise in creating sizzle over substance. Rather, it’s about considering your major stakeholders and what value you can deliver. And it’s also about ensuring the impact you have on others is the one you want to have. Ultimately, developing and evolving your brand is about developing as a person and a professional.
Conceptualizing your desired brand requires focusing on the service and value you offer to others, but it will also help clarify what matters most to you. This increased self-awareness supports a feeling of purpose, which yields both mental and physical benefits.
Personal branding is about self-promotion
This misconception falls into the same bucket as the notion that “my results will speak for themselves.” It is true that clear results matter, but if you operate under the assumption that others will naturally see your great outcomes, you’ll find yourself falling short.
Thinking about your personal brand does not equate to self-centered self-promotion, but the promise of your brand must be known to be capitalized on. As described in Harvard Business Review, “A strong personal leadership brand allows all that’s powerful and effective about your leadership to become known to your colleagues, enabling you to generate maximum value.”
Being known for the value you deliver has a huge upside for your career success. From having a seat at the table, to accessing opportunities, to being able to attract and hire great people, your brand matters. A strong, positive brand acts as a lever for accomplishing more, creating meaningful results, and achieving greater impact. It enables you to generate maximum value, not just for yourself but for others and your company. It’s a win-win.
Personal branding is egotistical and selfish
Developing your brand is also important because of its connection to and reflection on your team and organization. The higher you go and the greater your scope, the greater the impact your brand will have on others—for better or worse. We need only think of Enron or Uber to understand how a few unprincipled and corrupt leaders can tarnish the brand of an entire company.
The notion of using your brand to benefit others can extend beyond your team and organization. As one CEO I interviewed explained, “At first it felt egocentric and selfish. [Then,] I realized that things personally meaningful to me could form part of my brand—I could use my position to achieve change . . . I care about in the world.”
To clarify your desired personal brand, ask yourself these straightforward, though not necessarily easy, questions:
- What do I want to be known for?
- What value or results do I want to deliver through my efforts?
- How do I want colleagues to describe me?
Petra, the senior director, continues to enjoy the benefits of her positive brand at the company. She benefits from access to career-enhancing opportunities, the loyalty and support of her team, and the ability to impact and influence the company agenda. Marcus has found himself increasingly marginalized, with reduced scope and impact and ongoing retention issues on his team as his employees seek to advance their careers elsewhere in the company.
Developing your personal brand is about delivering value, generating meaningful results, and impacting others in the best way possible. It requires reflection, awareness, and choices that align with your desired brand. But with a cascade of benefits for you, your team, and your organization, it’s worth the effort.
Therefore, really consider this final question: How will my personal brand reflect who I am and who I want to be?
Dina Smith is the owner of Cognitas, a leadership development firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.