As part of our approach to helping leaders develop their personal brands, we have our clients send out a five-question brand perception survey to 15 to 20 people in their circles of influence. Similar to 360 surveys, our survey helps provides data and insights on how a person is perceived by others. A new client recently sent her survey out and received this response from a friend: “What?? You’re a brand??”
While somewhat humorous, this reaction highlights a growing awareness gap of the definition of a brand, and the essential role of personal branding for leaders and entrepreneurs. Traditional leaders tend to view a brand as an organizational entity defined by a logo or outside perceptions. They also tend to view personal branding as self-promotion—even as an act of disloyalty to the greater organization. While both views are reflective of the well-intentioned team-first view of a good leader, they also reflect a 20th century view that the organization is more powerful than the individual. However, in the Social Age of business, the people who interact with an organization become the faces of the brand: the leaders, the employees, the customers, the shareholders. In short, leading is branding and leaders must take ownership of this fact.
To begin to understand your personal brand as a leader, let’s start with a core definition of a brand. Our definition of a brand is this: a brand is your presence when you’re not present. With that definition as the foundation, you’ll begin to see that your brand as a leader follows the same rules of engagement as the organizational brand you are leading. Here are five core similarities:
- You have something to offer. If you have something of value you are offering to the world, then you have a brand. At a minimum, these are your natural gifts, learned skills and visual appeal, all presented in the package of you.
- You have competition. One of the primary purposes of branding is to create differentiation from your competition. Whether you are a solo entrepreneur, a small business owner or a corporate executive, you have plenty of competition! For time, resources, attention.
- You make an impression. Unless you are a hermit or are Tom Hanks’ character on “Cast Away,” you are leaving first impressions wherever you go. The best first impressions start on the inside with self-awareness and empathy, and are presented with a unique sense of style worn confidently.
- You have something to say. A brand emits a signal. As a solo brand, this signal is your message the world. Whether this is expressed in the form of a belief or value, an original thought or a new idea, it all contributes to your brand. Especially when it comes to presentation skills.
- You want to start a movement. Every movement needs a face. Whether this is promoting a new strategic initiative inside of a company or creating a social movement, your personal brand is the driving force. Sometimes referred to as “political capital,” this is about leveraging your influence to make things happen.
All of the above elements are essential in today’s Social Age because they are amplified in how you interact with others in real life and on social media. Each interaction is a chance to show others what you believe in, what you value and how you lead. When you don’t work on your personal brand at the root level, you acquiesce to toiling in obscurity and remaining a “best kept secret.” Often under the mistaken intention of humility, you allow others to define your brand, giving up one of the very few things you have actual control over. For company leaders, this means coming out from behind the logo and accepting the role of being one of the “faces.” For solo entrepreneurs, it means becoming a thought-leader and moving beyond the business model of trading time for dollars.