When we are successful we ascribe it to our wonderful team, support of our parents, god’s blessings, luck, fortunate timing, the better half, amazing kids, loving dog. Anyone in fact, other than us. We fear that saying “I did a great job” will invite bad luck. Many of us have had it instilled in us since childhood to not boast. So I wasn’t surprised with my Pro Reader’s choice of topic for this week’s newsletter was whether it is possible to build a personal brand and still be modest.
First off, let me assure you that everyone has a personal brand. Your choice is whether you passively accept what is being created for you, or actively work on shaping it. So someone may be well-known in their family for amazing cakes. In an organization you may be known as “high achiever” or “enthusiastic” or, perhaps, “high maintenance”. If you are able to expand the circle of people who are aware of your reputation you would become ‘famous’ in the commonly accepted sense of the word.
Personal branding has just two axes – (1) Control how people perceive you (2) Amplify your reputation.
That doesn’t sound so difficult, right?
Now we come to the thorny question of modesty. Do you have to ‘boast’ of your achievements? Won’t your work speak for itself?
A year ago, I was invited to talk about personal branding to two groups of people in the same organisation. One group was the identified high potential performers. The other group were people who were not ANY fast-track or high performer list. After doing both the sessions, I came to the realization that one of the key differences was the effort that the first group put into their appraisals – they detailed their achievements and backed it up with proof by applying for internal awards and recognitions. The so-called low potentials said that their boss would know about their work and take care accordingly. Look at the huge difference active and passive management of your brand can make!
You don’t have to boast, but you do have to share your achievements or skills in a factual manner. Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Kiran Majumdar Shaw, Girish Mathrubootham, PC Musthafa, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, N Chandra, Y C Deveshwar, Rekha Menon – they all are well known names, and when you read their names you identify with their work. They come across as likeable, authentic people.
Your personal brand has only two goals (a) to be seen as a trusted individual (b) to be known for your skills. Trust in the professional context means that you can be relied upon to deliver whatever you promise or claim. This does not mean that you have to pretend to be infallible – that’s when it sounds like you are boasting. You have to also share your mistakes and what you learned from it. If you read interviews with any of the people above you will see that they share quite openly about their mistakes and how they got to where they are.
It would be useful also to prove your value in a credible way. You should be able to share data, or endorsements from trusted people, or awards and certifications. I created an infographic about this in the context of your recruitment brand, and the 6 steps you have to do to be credible.
Now that you have created a trusted brand, you would like to “launch” it right? We all need to be a little bit famous. You define how big your circle should be – what’s your target audience? You can define it as internal to your organization, in your professional circle, in your city, country, global. You could be happy to be “world famous in Bangalore” or be, er, world famous in the entire world. It depends entirely on what you wish to achieve with your little bit of fame. If you’re an entrepreneur you’d want to be world famous amongst your potential customers and investors. If you’re a teacher, world-famous amongst parents of kids you’d like to tutor. Maybe being world famous on Reddit is great for some, and others want to be known to 20,000 potential employers on LinkedIn. But whatever it is that you aim for, define your target audience accordingly.
Amplification is actually the part that is hardest to do without coming across as being boastful. How does one say “I’m awesome” in public without sounding crass? Well, one is to get a 3rd party to say it, by winning an award or a certificate. Great. But how will your target audience know about it unless you put it up on LinkedIn or Facebook or whatever is your medium of choice? You could potentially get your organization to post it and then share it. Or get a friend, spouse, parent to post it. As you can see, amplification is challenging if you are not willing to just get out there and talk.
But all is not lost! Interviews are great opportunities to share your story with a wider audience, as are speaking opportunities, workshops, articles and books. Or more simply, use thought leadership as your primary marketing tool for your personal brand.
Lastly, some of you may be wondering why you should do this. Corona has forced a shift to a more distributed work culture. It is inevitable that there will be more output-based payment models and that duration of employment contracts will shrink. Already we have moved from the lifetime employment of my dad’s generation to lifetime employability. In this enviroment we will constantly have to ‘market’ ourselves. It is already there – there are tech companies where if you are released from a project you have to find your next project on your own by pitching your skillsets in the internal marketplace. If you are an entrepreneur being trusted and widely known is the best possible asset to growth.
The best investment for the future is a strong, credible brand.