Communicating my brand of values (If I can do it, you can too!)
What is your personal brand? Could you answer this question? Many of my coaching clients have shared their frustration at being asked this recently during job interviews. I suspect they aren’t the only ones being thrown for a loop by this. I am hearing this everywhere now – maybe because I have recently gone through a personal branding process and it’s on the top of my mind. And while I think this is a terrible interview question (because with so many definitions of “brand” how do we even know we are talking about the same thing?) it is an important, if not tricky thing to nail down.
My journey to define my personal brand
When I started my own business a few years ago, I thought – I need a brand. However, at the time, I didn’t fully know what that meant. As I reflect, although I did not associate the word “brand” with myself personally, I did live by a personal brand concept – my reputation. My professional or business “brand” or identity aligned with my corporation’s value of excellence, and I was proud of my company and the work that I did there.
I always felt comfortable because I believed in the company vision, goals, and principles. Looking back, I would have thought it strange to promote a personal brand – it would have felt like I was not committed to the company or looking for a new job. Although I didn’t cultivate “my brand,” I did pay attention to my reputation. I wanted to be known as a leader that was effective, caring, supported her team members, could do hard things, and get amazing results while still having fun. I was always a part of something bigger.
Looking outside in, you wouldn’t have noticed anything out of order. You would have seen a happy, hardworking, successful executive wearing her office “uniform” of dark suits and sensible heals. Nobody ever told me what to wear or do, but I didn’t want to look too feminine, or soft or to stand out wearing anything too fashionable because I perceived that as the wrong way to get attention and felt it could limit my career. I wanted to and did fit in well with the company’s brand.
Defining who you are IS important
When I started with my own business, I wanted to be seen as more than the corporate person I had been for 30 years. I realize now that I was always more than that, of course, but to fit in, be respected and heard, I subconsciously didn’t show up as my full authentic self.
Starting my own business, and the Seasons Leadership business with Debbie, was the catalyst that got me working on articulating who I was so that I could show up in a way where people could authentically connect with me. I didn’t want to settle for a simple slick new surface impression, I wanted to find a way for people to really get to know me as the person and coach that I am. But first I had to define that for myself with my personal brand.
Call in the experts to build a better brand
I suppose I could have done this work by myself, but it would have taken forever, and it wouldn’t have been as effective. Thinking partners help us see perspectives we can’t see on our own. It’s funny how it’s so easy to see something like “brand” in someone else but be at a complete loss when it comes to yourself!
So, over the past several years I have had my own coaches (business and life), as well as worked with an image consultant and web designer. I first worked on my personal brand because this is my foundation from where my business brand branches out. My team, as I like to refer to these important people in my life, all worked with me from the inside out - as I redefined my identity and brand for this new phase of my life.
This is an iterative process, and one that I will be continually evolving as I grow, learn and develop.
Key branding questions:
My brand from the inside out
If asked today what my personal brand is, this is my answer: I believe in the interconnectedness of life – that our unique value can positively impact others and the world around us. Because of this, I feel a deep responsibility to help others where I can.
This personal brand statement is deeply connected to my core values of wonder and awe – in the world around me and in others’ journeys. This personal brand informs my business brand. When clients work with me, I want them to expect their path will be honored and respected for the unique journey it is.
Next, I needed to figure out how to express my core values through imagery, color, design and other ways of communicating with people. Back to the job interview example, we are all familiar with how it is not just what is said by an applicant that is judged but also how it is said or what their body language is. Together that communicates something subconscious. Now, while I am an expert in helping my clients figure out their why and connect it to authentic actions they take as a leader, I am not an expert in visual branding so much of this work was done with my team of experts.
The key to unlocking your personal brand
This has been an exciting and transformative experience. And to be honest, not easy. My boundaries have been pushed and stretched. As a result of this work, from the inside, I feel more myself and I am more confident, bold and creative. From the outside, what you might notice, is that I am holding myself a little taller and maybe even with a bit of gravitas. You will not see a hint of a dark uniform suit or sensible heals! My outside now reflects the person I am inside – and with the help of my team soon my website will too.
I hope this summary of my personal brand journey helps you start to think about your journey and how you want to define – or redefine - your brand. I wish I would have realized that I was making myself smaller by fitting into cultural norms of a corporate culture that wasn’t fully me. I could have contributed even more with the confidence that comes from authentic self-assurance and acceptance, along with a bit of help. I also believe as leaders it is important we model and encourage authenticity. The pressure to code-switch to fit in harms the diversity of our workplaces and the individuals who are forced to conform. Showing up as our authentic selves is an important step to break down barriers and lift others up. It is also the key to unlocking a personal brand.
Need help defining your values, mission and vision to begin the work of creating your personal brand? Read more on these topics from the Seasons Leadership blog The Almanac: