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NEW DELHI :

Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Apple Inc. and a brand in his own right, was variously described as demanding, charismatic, a perfectionist, inventor, designer and presenter.

A brand is a collage of the multiple impressions that people gather about a product, an organization or a person as a result of their experience—direct or vicarious. It is obvious that a strong brand is not shaped by accident, but is an outcome of a deliberate, disciplined and managed endeavour towards creating, maintaining and owning one. And the benefits, too, are obvious—the stronger the brand, the greater the person’s ability to influence decisions, obtain resources, be considered for career-enhancing opportunities, and most importantly, have a voice at the table.

But how can one create and then define one’s brand? Here are some pointers that can help create and polish a personal brand.

Professional competence

The first dimension of a brand is around a person’s propensity to deliver results. It encompasses her knowledge, expertise, initiative, and the aptitude for making decisions, solving problems and responding to change.

Global Novations, a Korn Ferry company specializing in talent optimization, identifies four stages in which people contribute in their careers—dependently, independently, through others, and strategically. It stands to reason then that as people progress in their careers, their perceived value should increase distinctly. However, research shows that unmindful of the subtle changes in the organization’s expectations of them, people typically struggle around mid-career, and their perceived value actually declines. While the organization expects people to take on broader roles in terms of understanding the business, seeing the big picture, developing their teams by playing coach and mentor, people tend to remain fiercely focused on delivery—individually or through the team—thus getting stuck in a career treadmill.

Recognizing and responding positively to these nuanced and understated expectations, by inculcating new skills, broadening one’s mindset and changing one’s approach along the way, is a hallmark of a strong brand.

Social competence

The second dimension, the social capital, refers to a person’s ability to forge constructive relationships and build strong networks, thus opening doors to opportunities, resources and information.

Linda Hill and Kent Lineback, in their book Being The Boss: The 3 Imperatives For Becoming A Great Leader, speak about the need for an operational network which encompasses one’s superiors, direct reports, peers and other internal players within the operation unit, as well as vital external players like customers, suppliers, regulators and distributors. This network is relatively straightforward, for it emerges naturally with the task as its focal point, but it is unlikely to deliver value beyond the accomplishment of the task at hand.

A strategic network, comprising people outside the operational circle, can help one scan the environment to identify potential threats as well as opportunities like new assignments, projects, experiences that are important for one’s learning and development.

A personal network—a sphere of casual acquaintances, the result of engaging with professional associations, alumni groups and clubs—could be a stepping stone for referrals.

What is the mantra for building relationships? First, donning a pleasant demeanour, an appreciative and helpful attitude, and asking yourself, “How can I contribute to this person’s success?" These will earn you goodwill. Second, develop a general interest in connecting with people, overcoming shyness and sharpening your conversational skills.

Look the part

The third dimension of a brand is the wrapping that you place around yourself, which can potentially either distract or direct attention to your strengths and intrinsic value. It represents your personal style, which evolves from the way you dress and accessorize, your flair for communication, writing and presentation, your body language, the way you carry yourself and engage on the social media. While there are no hard-and-fast rules on this, it is pretty much about being able to “stand out, while fitting in!" A case in point is the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, whose proclivity for casual shirts with rolled-up sleeves frequently invokes satirical comments both in the political and fashion worlds. This pointless noise does nothing more than distract attention from the substance.

Be visible

Just as a product brand derives its strength from active management and promotion, through marketing communication and advertisement, a personal brand draws it muscle from its substance as well as visibility. After all, what good is a pearl that sits on the seabed?

Dorie Clark, in a Harvard Business Review article, “How to Promote Yourself Without Looking Like A Jerk", outlines strategies for self-promotion. First, focus on facts and demonstrate your ability with stories. So, instead of saying, “I did a terrific job of bagging this high value deal", tell a story around the strategies you deployed in bringing a difficult customer around. Second, make the story relevant by tailoring it to the needs of the audience. For instance, a story outlining the intricacies of a difficult deal negotiation presents colleagues with an opportunity to learn a thing or two, besides giving the manager an important data point for an upcoming project. Third, be humble and conduct yourself responsibly, giving credit where it is due.

Believe in yourself

The strength of a brand derives most of all from your own sense of who you are. In the absence of this you would tend to play too safe, sell yourself short, and fail to seize the moment. If you don’t believe in yourself, don’t expect others to do so! As Susan Hodgkinson, author of The Leader’s Edge: Using Personal Branding To Drive Performance And Profit, has pointed out: “A brand begins in the soul and lands on the street!"

Charu Sabnavis is a learning and organizational development facilitator and founder director of Delta Learning.

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