How to Build Your Personal Brand

Putting some thought into your personal brand can help you show up as your best self in every business situation.

Bill was a senior accountant for a multinational company in the hospitality industry.* Although he enjoyed his job, Bill was unsettled and longed for “more.” His attempts at earning promotions to manager ended in disappointment when he was passed over in favor of his peers. Bill felt stuck, like he had hit a plateau in his job. And while he was tempted to start answering calls from recruiters who regularly contacted him with opportunities at other companies, he was uneasy about making a move. After all, he liked his company and still had hope that there was a brighter future ahead.

When I asked what “more” might entail, Bill said he had to do something that would him get noticed. As Bill shared his dilemma in our coaching session, I asked how he was perceived in the workplace. “I’m known for quality work,” he said. “My reports are accurate and always on time.” He then conceded it would take more than that to get the promotion he desired.

Defining Your Brand

I suggested Bill build a personal brand to elevate his performance, add value to the company, and draw the attention of superiors who make promotion decisions. I invited him to perform an exercise often used to help people develop their personal brands: Identify three words that describe you when you show up as your best self. This is important because, when you show up as your best self, you deliver your best value and get noticed in the process.

In our next coaching session, Bill announced that he had come up with just one word for his personal brand. “Firestarter,” he said. “I want to be known as a firestarter.” Bill went on to explain that anyone in his role could generate unending data, reports, and analyses. But the thing that would set him apart was the ability to ask pertinent questions and start conversations about how the data could be used to manage the business better.

Bill jumped in diligently to establish his new brand. He developed a new perspective on his work, going beyond merely reporting data to generating insights that improved business results. He was proactive in pursuing strategic conversations at a higher leadership level. Within weeks, Bill’s superiors noticed a change in him. Within months, he received the promotion that had eluded him in the past.

Now, what about you? How can you benefit from designing a personal brand that inspires you to show up as your best self? What three words describe you when you show up as your best self?

Don’t overthink it. Now is not the time for in-depth analysis. You can always make changes later—although your first impressions may stick. I first learned of this exercise while listening to a leadership podcast in my car. Three words came to my mind: insightful, confident, and engaging. They’ve been my three-word brand ever since.

It’s okay to be aspirational, stretching for an even better self than who you are right now. You need to make these words descriptive of how you can deliver your best value to your company or clients. Choose words that help you stand out and get noticed; choose words that will open new opportunities for growth and advancement.

Next, take the exercise a step further by seeking input from people who know you well. Dorie Clark, author of “Stand Out” and “Reinventing You,” suggests asking a half-dozen friends and colleagues to answer the three-word question for you. Their responses will help you identify how others perceive you, and you can incorporate the emerging pattern into your self-impression.

Be Your Brand

Every presentation, meeting, and interaction is an opportunity to express and advance your personal brand and professional leadership. Yet, we often fail to carry a leadership presence into these situations. Instead, we go into them unprepared and later regret that we fell short of our true potential.

If you’ve ever left a meeting or conversation thinking, “I didn’t come across very well,” or, “I didn’t add much value to that discussion,” you know what I am talking about.

Turning your three-word personal brand into positive self-talk will implant it in your mind. Rehearsing it as you enter critical situations is essential to showing up as your best self. This could be as simple as looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating your three-word mantra. “I am insightful, confident, and engaging,” are the words I often recite before going on stage for a speaking event or heading into a critical meeting.

Be mindful of the fact that developing and truly living your personal brand takes time. Like any consumer brand, it takes focused, consistent effort to build a brand that others recognize you for. It also requires your willingness to monitor progress and make adjustments along the way. I encourage you to build time into your schedule for self-reflection. Pretend you were a fly on the wall during your most recent interactions and ask the following questions:

Did I show up as my best self?

What words and actions reflected my best self?

What things kept me from being my best self?

What can I do differently in the future?

I also encourage you to seek honest feedback from others who see you in action. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to answer the four questions above. You can also engage a mentor or coach to provide additional insights. Your goal is to identify the appropriate changes in behavior you need to make to achieve the personal brand you designed.

While you may not experience performance results as quickly as Bill, I can tell you this exercise is worth it. When you consistently display your personal brand, you build trust with your colleagues and clients. When you consistently show up as your best self, you deliver your best value!

*The name and some facts in this example have been changed to preserve confidentiality.

This article was first published in my Leadership Matters column for the Illinois Society of CPAs Insight magazine.


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