“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s…
1. How the World Sees You: Personal Branding (Part One)
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.”
Take a moment to think of a few people who know you at different levels, in both personal and professional contexts—perhaps a close friend, a direct manager, a cross-functional colleague, and a distant connection who follows you on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Imagine asking each of those people the following questions:
● What do I feel strongly about?
● What am I an expert on?
● What makes me stand out?
● What do you rely on me for?
● How would you describe my leadership style? My communication style?
Would their answers be clear and specific? Would they be reasonably consistent? Would they resonate with the way you see and describe yourself?
If not, it may be time to put some thought into your personal brand.
Personal branding is a big topic, and worth taking the time to appreciate and understand. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of posts about personal branding—starting with a high-level overview, and then progressing into concrete tips for designing, building, and maintaining your brand.
First, let’s address the fundamental question: What is a “personal brand”?
To me, the term “personal brand” is just shorthand for “the way others perceive you”. Those perceptions are based on your image (how you present yourself now), your reputation (your past presentation and conduct), and your impact (the things you do that affect others). Your brand is the complete picture that comes into focus when all three factors—image, reputation, and impact—are combined.
Just like a company’s brand sets it apart from the competition, your personal brand sets you apart from other professionals. A strong brand will help you build an emotional connection with people who share your values and appreciate your expertise; that connection, in turn, will help you get jobs, recruit talent, and gain recognition for your work. Thoughtful attention to your brand will also help you make smart, efficient decisions that are consistent with the way you want to be perceived.
Here’s an example. Early in my career, I met a young engineer named Charlie. Charlie had decided that he wanted responsiveness to be one of the primary attributes of his personal brand. Every time Charlie’s phone rang, he picked it up, even if only to say “I’m in a meeting, can I call you back?” or “George can get that for you right now, or I can call you back at 4pm .”
Yes, Charlie interrupted some meetings. But because he’d made a conscious decision to prioritize responsiveness, he was able to do so in a respectful, consistent way, reinforcing his brand each time. When you were in a meeting with Charlie, and he answered the phone, you immediately recognized that he’d also answered your calls in meetings. You knew exactly what to expect—a quick hello, acknowledgement that he was busy, and an offer to follow up later.
As Charlie’s reputation for responsiveness grew, more and more people called him for help. His network expanded, and he forged strong connections with other responsive, effective professionals. It was a self-reinforcing cycle: Charlie answered calls, made connections, and found solutions; more people called; Charlie knew more people who could help him find solutions; Charlie answered even more calls, more effectively.
Charlie’s extensive network benefited enormously from his responsiveness. In return, many of the people Charlie connected with supported his career advancement. And Charlie never questioned whether he would answer a call; he built his day-to-day routine around the assumption that he would always pick up his phone.
Your personal brand doesn’t have to be based on responsiveness, as Charlie’s was. You might want to be known for your attention to detail, poise under pressure, or expertise in a particular professional area (or all three). The important thing is that you, like Charlie, approach development of your brand with intentionality and focus.
In the next post, we’ll talk about how to get started—by designing your a personal brand based on your core values, central promise, and unique personality.