Personal Branding: A Powerful Tool For Leadership


We have heard the term “personal branding” a lot in the last five years. Many people dislike the term as it seems to convert people into a ‘branded’ product with features, unique value proposition and a marketing perspective. Is this concept something that is just a fad or a powerful tool that corporate leaders can use to become more effective? Let us examine what ‘personal branding’ is and how it can be used.b219

The need for personal branding

When we look at some of the more effective and successful leaders around us, we find that they are usually “known” for something. It might be their working style, knowledge, preferences or the results that they have produced. In other words, they have a reputation and often the reputation helps them become more effective. It also helps them achieve an aura of consistency. Let’s see a few short cases (names changed):

• Victor is a global senior executive in a US-headquartered financial services company. He is known for his quantitative thinking and is frequently called upon to execute complex, large-scale, organization-wide projects that focus on optimization, outsourcing, cost reduction or legal entanglements. His name is synonymous with “metrics” and “lean”.

• Ramesh is a dynamic CEO who has helped the India unit of a US-based MNC in consumer internet space to achieve 100% annual growth in the last five years. He is fast-paced, aggressive and has a reputation for quick thinking, getting things done and strong sales focus. His name is associated with being a “business grower” and achiever”.

• Jayanth is the CEO of a large Indian IT Services Company. In a long career, he has built a reputation for value-based business practices although his critics say he is risk-averse, traditional and soft. His company puts employees’ interests first, has long-term relationships with customers who value knowledge and deep expertise. Jayanth’s name is associated with steadfast and “value-based” growth.

In each of the cases above, we see that there is a reputation that has been built. This reputation is a net result of values, behaviors displayed with consistency, and passion reflected through expertise. In each case, the reputation is not just a passive element but a dynamic image that helps the leader to connect better with employees, partners, customers and stakeholders. Importantly, it is not necessary that the person is limited only to their image – they may have a range of other skills and values as well. These are examples of “personal branding”.

Need for a strong personal brand

Personal brand is the core of leadership style and leaders who do not have a well-defined and presented personal brand may suffer from:

• Conveying their message with consistency, power and effectiveness

• Aligning employees and stakeholders to their vision

• Getting their expertise and knowledge utilized in an effective manner

Discovering and developing your personal brand

Discovering personal brand is an exercise in deep inner reflection, introspection and using feedback effectively. It is strange but true that most of us often do not know our own strengths well. We might have personality angles, undeveloped talents and gifts that can contribute to success. Similarly we may not know which of our strengths are more important than others.
Effective personal brands can be discovered and developed at a cross-section of:

• Our core values: strongly held principles and beliefs that we consider extremely important

• Our passions: abilities and activities that we repeatedly do and care about

• Our expertise: core knowledge and ability areas in which we acquire excellence and can shine

A combination of values, passions and expertise is a potent mix that can result in recognition of an effective personal brand. This can then be translated into concrete actions for career success.

This exercise needs to be done carefully, with sufficient thought and guidance from an experienced coach or expert can be very helpful. Various tools exist for discovering our inner core – personality profilers, feedback tools, reflection methods, dream analysis, value sorting guides – these are useful windows to our inner being and provide valuable insights.

Translating your brand into action

Just defining and discovering your personal brand is just half the work. Translating your brand and developing its identity is equally important. Here are few suggested actions to effective present your brand into external world:

• Developing language and vocabulary appropriate to your values

• Using design elements such as font, color etc in presentations and communication

• Networking with people in your expertise area

• Identifying mentors and coaches who can be helpful

• Attending conferences

• Writing research papers

• Developing advanced skills

• Offering and attending training in your expertise area

• Coaching and developing others

• Developing your social media presence consistent with your brand identity

Focused actions in all these areas helps to develop, grow and build a momentum around your brand and results in long-term career advantage.

– Sharad Verma

Sharad Verma is currently Global Head

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