Building and managing your personal brand

If you’ve built a professional reputation that has fueled your career and your lifestyle, then you likely have created a personal brand that’s served you well. The question is, was it intentional or happenstance? And are you managing your personal brand for the next level? Okay, that’s two questions, but equally important.

A personal brand has been defined many ways. Some say it’s the “essence” of who you are. Others describe it as the collection of traits and characteristics that you display in a particular setting. We’re focusing on the professional career setting, but your personal brand could potentially be different at work, with friends, at church or in volunteer organizations.

Basically, your personal brand is what others think (and say) about you when you’re not around. It’s the immediate response others have when they hear you’ll be leading the project. You influence and control your personal brand, but you don’t own it. Because it resides in the minds of others.

Don’t believe it? Here’s a quick check. Think of a public figure, maybe President Barack Obama (we miss you!). Many people think of him as a smart, high-integrity, effective leader. Others may consider him to be ineffective and unresponsive. These are two opposing views of the same person, based on the same body of work. But when his actions are viewed through our personal filters, biases and individual expectations, Barack Obama’s personal brand may appear differently to different audiences.

So if someone like Barack Obama can’t completely control others’ perceptions of his personal brand, how do the rest of us stand a chance? That question has 2 answers. 

The first answer is that in the workplace, you’re not going to be everyone’s best friend–nor do you want to. Your goal is to build or further a career that is fulfilling and supports your lifestyle. You can make friends on your own time.

The second answer is that developing and managing your personal brand should be an ongoing effort for everyone, not just those who are new in their careers. Whether you’re in senior leadership, a physician or business owner, you have an expanded scope of responsibility that potentially impacts your entire organization. You’re also more visible than junior staffers. Personal branding should be on everyone’s radar.

So where do you start and how do you prioritize? Here are 5 tips to help you manage your personal brand, at any level of your career.

1. Assess your brand characteristics.

This critical first step will help you understand how others perceive you, build on those positive perceptions and reshape those that are negative. A great resource for this is StrengthFinder 2.0, by Tom Rath. This classic leadership book compiles data from the Gallup organization and provides a personalized quiz that outlines your key strengths and opportunities for growth. Another easy option (if you’re prepared for a reality check) is to send trusted colleagues a brief survey asking about your strengths, weaknesses and professional traits. 

2. Be authentic and consistent. 

No matter how hard you try, you can’t fake the brand. It’s easy to spot someone who isn’t authentic, and that fact is often worse than whatever was beneath the act. Consistency is also important. In order to build a reliable brand, your professional demeanor and execution can’t be unpredictable. 

3. Stay relevant.

As your industry changes–as they all do–you want to maintain your seat at the table. To do that you have to keep abreast of industry trends and developments, including advances related to technology. This doesn’t mean you have to know how to do it all, you just have to understand the impact these changes are having on your organization so you can be included in strategic conversations. When change is coming, be a change agent.

4. Understand what’s valued at your organization.

If you lead a social services organization, compassion may be a highly valued trait. That may not be the case at a financial services firm, where the focus is more on accuracy and time management. Each company has a culture and every industry has key traits that are valued across most organizations. To identify these, review your company’s brand statement and website content. Observe traits displayed by those who are successful at your organization or across your industry. And if you have the opportunity, ask senior leaders at your organization which traits are sought after for C-level positions at your company. The answers might surprise you.

5. Say yes to relevant opportunities (or volunteer!)

On the surface this sounds like a no-brainer. An opportunity comes up and you jump on it. Who wouldn’t? But opportunities present themselves in many different ways, and most of them include more work. Join a committee to launch a new product. Partner with a colleague to draft a new policy. Lead the crisis management team. These are all opportunities that increase your visibility and potentially give you access to colleagues you don’t typically work with. But don’t be fooled, it’s more work. While you’re leveraging these opportunities as a way to build your personal brand, you still have to get your everyday work done. Your plate will be extremely full. But no worries, you got this.

Looking for more tips? See this great list of resources

We’d love to hear your suggestions! How have you built your personal brand? Share below.

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