What Buzz Are You Creating? Mastering Your Personal Brand

Picture yourself in a meeting with one other person you have never met before. You were each selected from different offices and departments to co-chair a committee at your company. After an hour of intense dialogue with this “new to you” colleague, you each return to your respective locations. Eager to share the experience of the meeting with you, your co-chair takes a moment to talk about you with two of your mutual colleagues. How do you think your new co-chair would describe you in three to five adjectives? Would the first thing that comes to your co-chair’s mind be your strategic thinking ability, your easy collaboration style, being knowledgeable about building high-performance teams, or…?

There is no right or wrong answer to this exercise, but ask yourself this: is the impression I am creating with my daily interactions the one I want to create? It’s important to think about this carefully since each day and with every interaction, you are either intentionally or inadvertently sowing the seeds for a trickle-down “buzz” about you that in essence becomes your personal brand. These conversations about you happen in all kinds of key forums that can influence your career success, from executive conversations and talent reviews to presentations, job interviews, speaking engagements, panels, emails, and social media. That’s a lot of potential influence, so you don’t want to leave it to chance.

Who Are You?

Knowing the importance of these professional perceptions, how well do people know and manage their personal brand? You might expect that almost everyone would prioritize this area, yet the statistics—which are quite consistent—may surprise you. At SHAMBAUGH, we track leaders in our programs and over 88 percent of attendees don’t really have a specific brand at all—which in most cases means there may be several different brands circulating out there about them, some of which may be inaccurate. Among those who do have a brand, many fail to manage it intentionally for the purpose of long- and short-term career navigation.

As a leader, a personal brand is pivotal to your success as it differentiates you from others. Your brand can also influence your professional reputation and thereby open up new career opportunities. I’ve found that the statistics above hold true in my audiences at speaking engagements as well. When I ask people at these events to tell me about their brand, over half have not taken the time to identify their brand—or if they do have a brand, they are not intentional about promoting it to key stakeholders. A common misperception that many people have about their personal brand is that if they do a good job at work, people will automatically know this and associate them with hard work, but this is not necessarily true. In fact, this is a significant sticky floor for both men and women that if not addressed can sabotage their career and limit their overall potential as a leader.

With this in mind, let’s do a personal audit to see how well you are managing your brand:

  • How well do you know your own value?
  • What key differentiators set you apart from others?
  • How comfortable are you sharing your brand with others?
  • Are you aware of the perception others have of you?
  • How well do you tap into your network for help in promoting your brand?

Here are four simple questions to ask yourself that can help you create and promote your personal brand:

What do you care most deeply about? Think about which activities, interests, situations, and challenges fascinate, excite, and energize you. Your passions—things you can’t wait to get to each day and feel cheated when you don’t get the opportunity to do them—help point toward your purpose, which should be a key component of your personal brand. How do your passions and purpose converge with what you are best at doing and the value you offer at work?

What are your greatest strengths? Think of three to five top motivated skills (things you love doing) that have benefitted your employers. As you try to hone in on your strengths, consider what you want people to say about you when they are describing you to others: what differentiates you from your competition for your next job? What can you offer that no one else does? This could be anything from identifying problems or collaborating across the enterprise to delegating, having a strategic mindset, crunching numbers, anticipating risk, leading teams, mentoring, innovating, or managing conflict.

What does your brand create? Think above and beyond your day-to-day job and think about the key outcomes you’d like to see from your personal brand—in other words, your bottom line. What kinds of business challenges do you like to solve? What kind of disruptive ideas have you provided? What key victories or accomplishments of yours have supported your organization’s overarching strategic goals?

How can you strategically grow and leverage your brand? Think about the trends, opportunities, and challenges that your organization and/or clients are facing and where you might add value. What do you aspire to be doing in the next two to three years? What are key actions and steps you can take to support your brand strategy? As your career aspirations and goals evolve, so does your brand. In most cases, what got you to your current level of success won’t work for you in the future, so it’s important to reinvent or refresh your brand along the way.

Lastly, remember to request feedback on the perception people have of you. If you aren’t satisfied with the brand that you’re creating in people’s minds, ask questions that will help you understand which of your actions have created those perceptions in order to determine what you need to do to change them. Seek out people you trust to coach you through this process. Another best practice for personal branding is to watch people who are projecting the qualities that you want to be known for. What do they say? How do they carry themselves? What tone do they use? By modeling leadership traits that you admire and working to intentionally create and reinforce your preferred impressions, you’ll soon have a personal brand that really speaks to you—and to others.

To learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s Executive Coaching, Leadership Development Solutions, and our Inclusive Leadership—Women’s Leadership offerings, visit www.shambaughleadership.com.

Hear Rebecca Shambaugh’s new keynote on “All Voices on Deck: The Power of Inclusive Leadership” by contacting Becky at rshambaugh@shambaughleadership.com

Rebecca Shambaugh is a contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and blogger for the Huffington Post, read Rebecca’s most recent article To Sound Like a Leader, Think About What You Say, and How and When You Say ItShe is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

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