Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s not what you say…it’s what other people say about you that counts here. What others convey about you is what creates your reputation, and it stays around a long time.
You already have a brand whether you are aware of it or not. With every behavior you exhibit, you’re making impressions on others, from what you say or do to how you react and interact – all of which can be an asset or a liability as you engage in the tasks and roles of leadership. It’s important to get conscious about it and proactively shape and define how you most want to show up and be seen in the world, influence others, and get results. The bottom line is, you can’t just rely on your skillset and expertise to be effective and get the job done.
So, the question is: “Is your brand what you want it to be?” The good news is everyone has a chance to stand out. And this is your opportunity to learn, grow your skills, and present yourself as you most desire. As you work on your brand, keep in mind that it is not about faking anything. It’s about surfacing and polishing behaviors and skills that allow your authentic, true self to be seen and be most effective. Think of it as starting today – you are a brand. How and for what do you want to be known?
Crack open a sense of possibility without limits. Think of your brand as your unique promise of value. It is your vision of who you are being and what you can do, bring, and deliver. It is a message that distinguishes you from everyone else by expressing what makes you unique and memorable. What brand are you today? Would you change anything about it? What will your personal brand be in a year?
Fortunately, you can have a great deal of control over the image others have of you. Laura Morgan Roberts of Harvard Business School puts it this way:
“People manage impressions through their nonverbal behavior (appearance, demeanor), verbal cues (vocal pitch, tone, and rate of speech, grammar, and diction), and demonstrative acts (citizenship, job performance).”
Crafting your image, or brand, requires you first to gain a clear picture of the image people currently perceive of you, then to decide what brand you would like to portray, and finally to develop the skills to close the gap. Let’s get started by having you explore a few questions as you consider your brand.
- If your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room, what would your staff say? Consider peers, direct reports, and your boss. Don’t just stop at the office, but consider too what your spouse or partner would say. How about your children, siblings, and friends?
- What is the brand for which you think you are currently known? (List a few adjectives to describe you.)
- What is your unique offering, or what is it that you feel you uniquely deliver?
- What are your distinct quirks, characteristics, qualities, or gifts?
- What is the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of brand YOU? A fun thing to consider: If you were a dog, what breed of dog would you be? Or if you were a car, what brand or model?
- If you had a leadership brand tagline – think Nike and “Just Do It” – what would it be?
- Is there alignment between your perceptions of what others think and your impressions of yourself? Ask for feedback.
You are in charge of your leadership brand, so invest in your learning and development as a leader. Think about your current job and your career path – how does your leadership brand support your work today? What 1 or 2 things might you tweak to help you be more effective? What do you need to learn or change to improve your leadership skills and impact?
A leader’s brand is constantly being created. Once you have taken a close look at your brand, the best strategy for crafting your brand is to practice. An effective leadership brand that seems instinctive or unconscious is very likely not. It takes skill and practice to be comfortable in your leadership role and have a brand to match. Here are some opportunities that permit you to practice behaviors. Can you think of others?
- One-on-one meetings
- Public presentations
- Board meetings
- Media interviews
- Interacting in the hallway, cafeteria, or parking lot
- Traveling with others on business
- Events or locations outside of work
In closing, I challenge you to live your leadership brand. One of my life maxims is “Act As If.” Whatever you most desire your brand and image to be, go ahead and live into it. Eat as if, walk as if, sleep as if…you get the picture. Once you have defined that unique thing that is wholly YOU, integrate that uniqueness into all you do, say, write, and create. Don’t wait another minute to get started!
Resources and Suggested Reading
Criswell, C., & Campbell, D. (2008). Building an Authentic Leadership Image. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.
Peters, T. (1999). The Brand Called You. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.