I am a director in a small company. My boss (a boomer) keeps mentioning that I need to develop my brand. I really don’t understand what she means.
The more I learn about personal branding, the more it feels like something that can limit me. It also feels like kind of an old, tired idea. What do you think?
I think your first step is to ask your boss what she means by it. Do you need to increase your visibility in the organization? Do you need to somehow distinguish yourself from others? Her answer may clarify her suggestion and help you make up your mind. In the meantime, let’s examine the whole concept of personal branding.
I have a clear memory of a Fast Company cover from 1997 with a big article by Tom Peters. (Tom Peters isn’t even technically a boomer; he was born in 1942.) I even remember at the time thinking Wow, that’s a little gross.
If you Google Fast Company and branding, the next link is a piece from 2019 titled You Are Not a Brand, which expresses feelings much like yours. Gross.
And so, the pendulum swings. But. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Wikipedia defines personal branding as “the conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition, to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”
Now seriously, how could that be bad? Do you want to advance your career? Do you want to increase your circle of influence? Do you want to make a larger impact? Maybe you don’t. That’s fine, I’m not judging. But here’s the thing. Contrary to common sense, the reward for excellent work is not promotion, a killer reputation, or rewards. The reward for excellent work is more work. It is a confounding truth. So if you want the reward for your excellent work to be something other than just more work, you’re going to have to engage in a little bit of personal public relations. Is that different from branding? Maybe. I’m not sure. Maybe it’s a mashup of branding and building a strong network of relationships.
Brand is only a dirty word if it means cooking up a bunch of lies about yourself and trying to get others to believe them. That is gross. And it just isn’t going to fly, because it is unsustainable in the long term. Brand can be used as an umbrella word to express the concept that you know who you are and the value you bring to the table. But it also must be aligned with what you want to achieve. So you’re going to have a bunch of interesting strengths, but the ones you highlight will depend on your goals. You might think of your brand as simply what you want to be known for.
You may not even know, and that’s OK. You can find out. Ask trusted friends or family what they think makes you special. Ask your boss what special value you add. Take the Standout Assessment https://www.marcusbuckingham.com/—it’s free right now! The cool thing about Standout is that it takes your top strengths and puts them together to form a unique and powerful combination. And take the Values in Action assessment (also free!) to pinpoint your top character strengths. It’s so positive, it’s sure to make you smile.
If you are aiming for a leadership position, you can start working on your Leadership Point of View right now. This is a written outline of your beliefs and attitudes about leadership, your leadership values, your standards for yourself, and what you expect of others. It is utterly and completely about you. No holds barred, no baloney, totally truthful.
If you tell the truth, it can never limit you. The truth will change and your brand will evolve with you as you grow, so you have to keep your eye on it.
You can easily outgrow your idea of yourself without realizing it. I keep a written credo pasted into my journal. (I, too, am a boomer and I’m hopelessly addicted to paper and writing by hand.) When I recently started a new journal, I had to change a phrase in my credo. I used to say “I practice brutal realism and reckless optimism” and I had to change the word reckless to tireless. As it turns out, I have had the recklessness beaten out of me. It was true for a long time, just not anymore.
Here’s another possible way to go about it. A professional speaking coach once taught me that to show up authentically and powerfully, you have to be able to answer three questions. (I added a fourth.)
- How do you see yourself?
- How do others see you?
- How do want to be seen?
- How must you be seen to achieve your goals?
If there is a gap between #1 and #2, it needs to be reflected upon. If there is a gap between #2 and #3, that is data about how you’re showing up that you can take under advisement. And finally, #4 is a choice—but you can only amplify or leverage something that is already true about you to be successful. You have wonderful qualities that you can cultivate and showcase. You just have to decide which ones are going to be most useful.
The idea of personal branding may be dead, but if my LinkedIn feed hawking the services of countless personal branding experts is any indication, maybe not. Regardless, it won’t hurt you to get a clear picture of the value you bring and what makes you special—what makes you uniquely you. Nobody ever really succeeds at trying to be something they’re not.
Eventually, people will catch on and won’t trust you. You can decide what qualities to reveal and amplify, but ultimately people will see the real you.
Oscar Wilde famously said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” For purposes of branding, I might amend it to: “Be the best version of yourself.”
About the Author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team. Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 16,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.