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Cultivate your personal brand

GLOBAL icons like Apple and Nike aren’t the only ones to benefit from a strong brand. Just as corporate giants leverage their reputation to stand out in a competitive market, we can reap great rewards from nurturing our own personal brand.

Your brand is the most concise, easily communicated summary of who you are. It’s that sentence at the top of your LinkedIn profile that goes beyond your work history and experience to encapsulate the essence of who you are and how you work. More importantly, your brand is what you do to make that sentence come to life every day. Even if you haven’t given a second thought to your personal brand, chances are, you already have one.

In the words of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room. An exercise I find particularly valuable in my leadership development workshops is to ask participants what three words their colleagues and associates would use to describe them. I then send them off to do a personal brand survey with a number of stakeholders. It’s a fascinating assignment that often leaves participants surprised at the positive feedback they receive. For one former participant, Jodi Wadling, a senior leader at NAB, the feedback helped her recognise her strengths as a creative problem-solver who gets things done. Colleagues identified her high standards, but also her sense of humour in everything she does. Another participant came to an understanding of of her brand as being a well-considered, experienced banker with a high level of integrity.

Both these women have developed a strong personal brand which is also congruent with their career aspirations. The challenge in getting to this point is that a personal brand evolves over time – it isn’t something you can engineer. To take control of your personal brand, keep it front of mind in your daily work and dealings with people, and look at ways to reinforce it. Social media can be a powerful tool for you if utilised thoughtfully. It can be as simple as finessing your LinkedIn profile, occasionally sharing articles that support your view of the world, and connecting with people who allign with what you want to stand for.

A weak personal brand can be just as limiting as a negative one. It’s like a like an unknown startup going up against the likes of Apple. This is something I learnt the hard way. When I left corporate life to start my own leadership consultancy, I disregarded the notion of personal brand; trusting that my good work would speak for itself. A turning-point came when we pitched for a major piece of business. We thought we were the perfect fit for the job, and prepared an excellent proposal, but the business was awarded to another provider. It took me months to work out why, and finally, I realised it was because our brand wasn’t strong enough. I assumed people knew more about us and were more invested than they actually were. Our competitor’s

reputation and brand were simply more compelling. This became a powerful and humbling lesson, and more than a decade on, I’m still committed to sharing insights on branding to help women in their career advancement.

With massive restructures happening across the corporate world, branding is becoming all the more pertinent. Consider what would happen if all your sponsors or champions disappeared in one restructure. Your reputation is your greatest asset in these disruptive times and it’s worth considering how you cultivate your brand to stay relevant and contemporary in a changing landscape.

Beyond helping others understand what you’re all about, your personal brand is an invaluable tool in directing your own career path. Having a clear understanding of your capabilities will help you identify suitable new opportunities, and give you the confidence to pursue them.