We’re told in business school and the corporate hands-on school called work that it’s all about your personal brand. How do you behave in meetings? How do you behave at work? Essentially, what do other people think of you? As Jeff Bezos puts it, “your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
And how can you ensure that they say the right things so that you can move your career in the direction you want it to go toward.
For example, it doesn’t work if you want to be part of top management and most people don’t see you as strategic but as an operational person who can execute the shit out of stuff (personal problem in one job) – and vice versa.
But what if you are not strategic and you want to be in top management – ah, isn’t that the sticky point and is this where you need to start faking it; big time?
Case Story – Even Steven
So I used to know this guy. We will call him Even Steven – because that was his brand. He started at this company as a student trainee and worked his way up in a decade to become a Vice President of something or the other. But his personal brand was always the guy who doesn’t say much and doesn’t feel all that much. This was considered to be a good thing. A director actually told me, “Amulya, you’re a person with lots of energy and passion; which is great but you need to be more like Even Steven – now he doesn’t say much and doesn’t show his emotions. He keeps it all under control.”
Now unless I had a lobotomy or was on drugs I can’t be the person who doesn’t show emotions. I wear it all on my sleeves…arms, face what you have it. If I don’t like something it shows. I have loud body language they say even though I assure you I’m not taking my clothes off and dancing on top of meeting room tables – but having loud body language is almost as bad. And this organization I worked for was all about the stoic and they weren’t even British.
They wanted everyone to be like Even Steven.
I used to tell Even Steven that he was going to bust something sometime soon because he was constantly exercising an immense amount of control on how he behaved and what he showed. He agreed that one day he was going to go postal but in the meantime he wasn’t sure what was mask and what was the real Even Steven. But the tic in his eye was real and he wondered if a vein was gonna pop anytime soon.
He had a strong personal brand – however, I also heard people say, “Can’t trust Even, he shows nothing.” But it worked out for Even Steven and good for him.
I changed jobs.
Case Story – Party Dude
I met Party Dude through my husband. They used to be good friends and now they are just acquaintances. Now Party Dude exuded an image to us of being a professional executive. He started his own company with some friends and it went on to become a roaring success, making them all rich. I always thought of Party Dude as the Even Steven type with a dash of arrogance (can you be Even Steven without arrogance?).
Then I met someone who worked in Party Dude’s company and I told him I knew one of the partners and the guy says, “Oh, Party Dude? He’s fun. At our last summer party he got up on this table and did ten tequila shots one after the other.” And another person who worked in the company said, “Crazy stuff is always happening around him. He’s one fun dude.”
Now, I don’t mind having a personal brand of being someone fun – but that can’t be all that is. I was surprised that Party Dude’s personal brand was such a fluffy one. But he’s filthy rich and a partner at a top firm so who am I to say that his personal brand doesn’t work out.
Case Story – Ambitious Bitch
When a man is driven they say he’s ambitious and strategic and blah blah. When a woman (especially in Denmark) is all those things, she’s an ambitious bitch. And she has to dress like a man. No dangly earrings and short skirts and crazy stilettos. Keep to the formal wear. Dress shirts, dress pants, a pencil skirt (below the knee is preferable) and no dangly earrings for god’s sake – and yes, no funky bracelets either. My maroon purple fuck-me booties with a bow are also not appropriate I’m sure.
So this woman I knew always seemed to have her shit together – no hair out of place. She doesn’t say good morning or stop by and chit-chat et cetera. She’s always too busy to get back to your work-related queries and all in all has created a person brand of being ambitious but no one knows if she’s any good at what she does. She apparently manages up – though there are risks of doing that – it’s good to be careful about who you step on your way up because sometimes they can thwack you to size when they’re up and you’re not as high up. It happens all the time.
Ambitious Bitch has no friends at work, which means she has no advocates at all. She’s pushing and pushing and I’m afraid that she’s not going to make it to wherever she thinks she wants to go simply because her personal brand doesn’t say “ambitious and really smart” but just “ambitious…and alas arrogant bitch.”
So now you ask, what kind of a personal brand should you have? Well, depends upon who you are and what you want to do with your life.
Some important questions:
- Can you fake it like Even Steven?
- Can you be the joker and panderer if needed?
- Can you manage up and not have any friends on the side and below?
On the other hand, I think and this is based only on personal experience – be who you are. It’s like wearing clothes as a woman after you are a certain age and have had kids. Accentuate the parts that are good and hide the dodgy areas.
So if you’re driven – show that off; but if you’re driven with a touch of the bulldozer that no one likes – temper the bulldozer.
Ultimately, everyone will tell you that branding only works if it’s authentic. And in the long run you also need to wake up each morning and look yourself in the mirror and like what you see.
But don’t kid yourself and say that personal brand isn’t important and happens all by itself. You need to control it – no matter where you work, what you do and how you do it. Like Gary Vaynerchuk, Author of Crush it! says, “It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.”
What’s your personal brand? And do you know for sure that’s your personal brand? Do a 360 degree assessment if you can and see if it all matches up and adjust as needed. Sometimes you think you’re a great dancer like Elaine from Seinfeld and that’s just not matching up with reality.