‘Personal branding?’, I thought. ‘That sounds a bit like gearing myself up for the next series of the Apprentice.’
All the old-school misconceptions about personal branding came to mind: endless networking, spin, inauthenticity.
However, thinking back into the early days of the Future Leaders course, I realised that the leadership tactics we all use to take people along with us – consultation, personal appeals, social proof and authority – rely on authenticity. If people don’t trust our values, how can we lead?
So, surely, personal branding has to be authentic too?
Here’s what I learned from two fantastic comms professionals in our final Future Leaders session.
Helen Reynolds started her career in a newsagent, before working in public sector comms, starting Comms Creatives and drawing excellent cartoons.
Early on in her career, she experienced Tiara syndrome, a term used by Sheryl Sandberg in her book ‘Lean in’. Tiara syndrome is the notion that good work speaks for itself and career progression will follow.
Not true, according to Helen, as there will always be others that shout louder about their achievements. But, as someone who confessed to being shy, and wasn’t an “interview person”, how did she begin to carve out a personal brand?
Simple steps, like noting down achievements to prepare for meetings with senior leaders, or thinking about issues in the profession, led Helen to start a blog.
Crucially, this wasn’t shouting about achievements, but offering perspective on the work, in a way that Helen wanted to be known.
This was an authentic step-by-step development of a personal brand, which got the attention of those around her and led to conference invitations (“Accept every speaking opportunity”, says Helen, no matter how nervous you feel) and the training sessions we know her so well for.
For Olivia McMillan, Corporate Communications Manager at the R&G, the governing body for golf, personal branding is also about authenticity, although we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate our success, she says.
Olivia’s personal brand is about focus, commitment, and using the opportunities you have to showcase good work.
Opportunities to progress can so often arise when we’re talking to those from other organisations – that’s how Olivia got her current job.
But networking has got to have limits too: “I don’t use LinkedIn, but when I’m at work events I’m 100% dedicated to being there and being present.” This is the way to be a top professional and get noticed, Olivia feels.
Reflection is also important, because it can give you the confidence to talk about your work: “Often our work isn’t right or wrong. We operate and live in the grey. Don’t be afraid to reflect and change and pivot.”
Having approached this session thinking I’d soon be wargaming my grilling from Nick and Margaret (the definitive Apprentice duo), I’m relieved to say that I have some more sensible reflections.
Personal branding is about focussing on an authentic version of yourself, asking yourself what you want to be known for, and using these to realise your ambitions, whatever they are.
Here are five key reflections about personal branding from my course mates:
- Be authentic
- A strong personal brand can help you lead a team – think about your credo memo
- All contributions are important – authentic opinions don’t have to be groundbreaking to make someone think
- Take opportunities to speak
- Take time to reflect and review your successes. This will help you feel more confident