Being authentic in the workplace is recognised as key to delivering great results especially where collaboration with others is imperative. Positive personal brand is about knowing who we are and making this accessible to others in everything we are, everything we say and everything we do.
In this article, we will explore the similarities between corporate branding and personal branding and provide practical tips to work out how we add value by being ourselves and how this can be communicated to others in a consistent way.
Brand in the marketplace
We tend to think of brand in connection with the marketplace. What are the big brands we immediately think of? Perhaps its MacDonalds, Coca Cola, Rolls Royce, Virgin. These organisations have spent a great deal of time and money working out who they are, what they stand for, what they want to be famous for and how best to portray that in the marketplace.
When organisations get it right, their brand becomes compelling. We may sense in them some personal alignment with our own situation and may feel drawn to the brand to boost our own sense of self. In a similar way, notice how “brands of a feather hang out together”. Do you recognise any of the following connections: MacDonalds and Pepsi and Disney; Rolls Royce and Mayfair Hotels; Carlsberg and football; Cobra beer and the Raj Put restaurant; Harry Ramsdens, Yorkshire Tea and Bettys; Mzuzu Coffee and Lake Malawi?
Richard Richardson and John Barnes touch on the power of brand magnetism (although they don’t call it that) in their book Marketing Judo (November 2002). They show how a small brand can gain market credibility by being associated with bigger brands or even occasions. In the UK, the Harry Ramsdens fish and chips chain launched their Blackpool restaurant on the back of the Labour Party Conference and got many times more press coverage as a result. Modern train companies in the UK entice their customers with the aroma of their favourite coffee, flaunt the brand and sometimes even replicate the feel of the coffee bar in their buffet car.
Back to you and me
What has all this got to do with us? Well the truth is, “Everything!”
Who or what we associate with and how we look, act and communicate is all part of our personal brand. In 2008, I spoke on the power of a Positive Personal Brand at the National Internal Auditors Conference in the UK. Imagine being a manager in a bank and the auditor turns up dressed like a farmer, talking like a stand-up comic, carrying a tatty haversack and riding a Harley. OK, some of us would be pleasantly surprised and well-entertained. But I suspect at least a handful of clients would be suspicious to say the least.
So who are we?
We are unique and complex creatures set in the context of our world with a history of experiences and a myriad of personal characteristics and attributes. We have values, beliefs, commitments, talents, passions and ambitions. The more we understand what these are about, the more we will feel drawn to a better future for ourselves and those around us. To put it another way, it is from this understanding that we derive our sense of purpose.
As we take stock of who we are we can also begin to question whether we are accurately reflecting this in a tangible, positive and visible way. In other words we would be wise to be conscious about we how communicate through behaviours, actions, words, possessions and image. How we are perceived by others will determine the impact we have on them, how they respond and therefore our capacity to add value. That’s the power of a positive personal brand.
So, I guess that’s enough background. Let’s explore.
A value is something we feel strongly about, something that is important to us. Businesses use corporate values in order to signpost the behaviours that will be most helpful in delivering their objectives.
What values are important to you?
Understanding our values is a key part of understanding who we are. However, we need to remember that the power of a positive personal brand is about making who we are visible to others. One of the ways to translate values (which are essentially invisible to others) is to make them visible. Values become visible when they are lived out in the form of behaviours. So let’s build on that.
If behaviours are the visible manifestation of our values, we should take stock again.
For each of the values you listed above, begin to identify a handful of behaviours to describe what others would see you doing when you are putting the value into practice.
Knowing the behaviours we will demonstrate to others is the first practical step we can take to developing a visible and positive personal brand. Let’s do a bit more stocktaking on the invisible.
Whether we formally take stock or not, we also all carry a set of personal beliefs about the way the world or universe works. These can be simple personal rules or sayings we buy into or something we find particularly profound about our faith or culture.
Values and beliefs are closely linked phenomena. In fact we could say they are related. In getting our heads around the difference between values and beliefs we could consider values as the aspects of life that we hold dear and precious. For me, words like service and adventure fall into this category and are two personal values I hold particularly dear. I also know what these words (as labels) mean to me and the way they play out in what I do (descriptions of behaviours). Beliefs are different. These are the big rules that we consider to be profound or important about how the world operates.
I had a conversation with my son recently regarding his work as a salesman. He stated that one of his “big beliefs” is “what goes around comes around”. It is very clear that this profoundly affects what he does. For me I have a set of beliefs that describe where I think we all come from, what our lives are about and what happens when we’re through. They are very personal and spiritual and the more I understand them, the more they affect what I do with my life.
Take this opportunity to make a note of your key beliefs.
Our beliefs will shine through in the way we live our lives. Like values they may manifest as behaviours. They are likely to determine how we respond to situations verbally or physically. They may even be reflected in our possessions or dress sense. We may choose to keep the details of our beliefs invisible or subtle: this is a matter of personal choice. And in order to choose wisely it helps to think about it.
How do your beliefs become visible to others?
Often neglected in the “equation of ambition” are our commitments. Everyone has them and the key here is honesty and thought. There is no point taking on challenges or responsibilities, however well-intentioned, in one aspect of our life if they conflict with our commitments in another aspect. If we fail to take our commitments into account in our lives we are likely to make unwise choices, especially regarding career and work.
For example, I feel a strong commitment to my family and whilst I have a love of travel and a desire to serve in places like Africa which are a long way from home, I have to balance these desires with my commitment to my wife, five children and others in my family. I am also committed to supporting the Open Arms Infant Home in Malawi and to my business in the UK. Lots of things to balance and I actually have fun in the process.
Name your top commitments and describe how you live these out
My top personal passion is talent. Clearly it isn’t our only defining attribute and our brand is more than just how we show our talent. But talent is uniquely important in the world of work. It is through the best use of our talent that we add the most value in the work we do. That is why I have dedicated my life to the topic I call “talent liberation”. I have summed up the talent liberation philosophy in the following statement (which for me is also a key belief).
Organisations reach prime performance when they recognise, value, develop and use the unique talents of all their people in the delivery of their objectives..
For now let’s briefly consider talents in the context of positive personal brand. Like most of the attributes we are taking stock of, we can’t see talent if it isn’t used. And we won’t be using it well unless we recognise, value and develop it.
Let’s begin a talent liberation journey with the following questions:
What are your top talents? (recognise)
How do your talents add value? (value)
For example, does your leadership translate into team productivity; does your relationship building grow sales; or your craftsmanship produce beautiful objects that people will buy?
What are you doing to develop your talents further? (develop)
How could you use your talents more wisely – to add greater value to others, your employer or to you and your family? (use)
In terms of branding, how much of your talent is visible to others or reflected in what they might see or hear?
Even though our passions are essentially invisible, if we are consciously in touch with them we can provide very clear signposts to others. They will hear our enthusiasm, see the books we read, note the meetings we attend. The more in touch we are with our passions and how they become manifest in our lives the more people will understand what we’re about and work with us to make “the right things” happen.
What are you passionate about?
And how does it show?
Not everyone would describe themselves as “ambitious”. The word conjures up thoughts of goals, targets and plans. However, as we come to understand who we are and the needs of those around us, it is natural that we will feel drawn to make things happen for ourselves and others. The way we define this will depend largely on our values, beliefs and personal preferences.
Again, our ambitions are invisible but the things we do and say and the way we look will all provide clues. And these clues will affect the responses of others and consequently our ability to add value.
How would you articulate your ambitions?
Would they be goals, targets, ambitions, intentions, or a vision?
Under your chosen label, make a note of the things you want to accomplish.
How would others know what your ambitions are?
Putting it all together
We’ve really only just begun. In the exercises above, we’ve explored our values, beliefs, commitments, talents, passions and ambitions. We’ve touched on ways we might make these visible to others. I hope this journey has proved useful and as a final stock-take, I encourage you to consider the following:
Reflecting on your answers to the questions posed in this paper, what else can you do to make who you are visible and meaningful to others?
Consider the following:
Your artefacts (possessions and items you place around you)
What actions do you need to take in the coming week?
Developing a positive personal brand may seem a bit like blowing our own trumpet and that’s not something most of us feel naturally inclined to do. However, by taking action to make who we really are clearer to those around us, we are simply being straight forward and authentic. We are presenting our true selves in a manner that allows others to easily understand what we have to offer and to tap into that in an efficient way.