“Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”
– Jeff Bezos
Do you know what people say about you when you are not in the room? When asked about your leadership style and working habits, do you know what they say? Do you like what they say?
Cause the way others see you and describe you can be simplistically defined as your personal brand.
And why do you care? As Gary Vaynerchuk put it: “It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have.”
A personal brand is not given to us; it doesn’t “just happen”. Building a brand is a conscious and intentional effort to influence others’ perceptions of us. The brand is essentially an impression, how others see us based on our experience, expertise, and actions.
What is Your brand?
There are a few things to think about when building, maintaining, or rebuilding your brand, and the first important question is: Do you know what your brand is right now?
Or do you think you know? Sometimes we think, believe or assume what others say about us, yet the best way to know for sure is to ask. Simple but effective – ask for feedback.
A solid personal brand is a combination of reputation, trust and effectiveness. People see you through the prism of their experiences working with or for you, yet they also listen to others and gather insights about you. I am sure you experienced the power of the office grapevine.
So ask yourself – do your people trust you or are afraid to ask for your help? Are you a go-to person in your company? Or are you a reliable yet fun colleague who is always by his desk? Or maybe you are seen as a person who is losing his temper too much and is perhaps slightly disorganised?
Whatever your brand is right now – is it what you want it to be and what you need it to be?
What do you want your brand to be?
The second important question is – what is the brand that you want to have. If you never thought about it, take your time now and answer a few questions:
What is your natural tendency and character when interacting with others? You might be tempted to build a picture of how you want to be, ignoring that it is totally not how you operate. Do not try to pretend to be someone else than you are – people will sense it and not buy it.
What makes you stand out from the others? Use it smartly to create a differentiator.
What do you want your leadership style to be, and how will you show it to others?
What does your role require of you? How does it fit your natural style and values?
Once you define your brand, the most crucial question comes – How will you show it to others?
Remember that your brand is a perception of you, not what you say and want it to be. So when you define that you want to be seen as a creative and supportive boss – how will your team observe and experience it? What will be your actions? Keep in mind that what might seem supportive for you might be considered micromanagement for others, so be wise to adjust your actions to your audience.
What to keep in mind when building your brand?
At all times when building your brand, keep in mind what you want it to be. You want your manager, peers, and team members to have the same perception of you, so keep your guards up and consistently build your brand.
Be clear and define which actions and behaviours fit the image and which do not – be conscious and consistent about the message you want to convey about yourself.
It is tough to change your brand once it is established. So keep in mind what Warren Buffet said – “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
However, if you have already managed to get a reputation you don’t like – say you are “the one who never listens” (while you think you are a great listener) – there are a few steps you can take:
find out how you got this badge – ask for feedback, understand specifics and details about actions that earned you this reputation (maybe you tend to interrupt others when they talk?)
calmly take the feedback and think about how you can change the behaviour in question (the tricky part will be if you already changed the behaviour, yet nobody noticed)
make a list of actions you want to try to change your reputation (say: I will wait until the speaker finishes; I will note my questions down instead of blurting them out… you get the idea)
implement the new behaviour!
let others know you are trying – be very open about your efforts and get others to watch you AND HELP YOU. At the end of the day, you are trying to influence their perception; make sure they pay attention. This point is essential, do not skip it. Let others know you are trying to change, ask them to support your effort and keep reminding them about it (asking their feedback after meetings – how did I do with listening this time?). What you achieve is that they will notice your effort, cheer for you, and defend you when others repeat the old “he never listens”.