Java with Joe

Think less about your personal brand…and more about being a person.

It’s a new year and many of us are thinking about what we might like to do differently in 2017. Many self-improvement gurus—folks like Tom Peters—would suggest that one step we absolutely must take if we want to succeed in life is to create a powerful “personal brand.” Writing in Fast Company way back in 1997, Peters wrote:

Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.

Google “personal brand” today and you’ll come up with over 68 Million hits; check out Amazon and you’ll find over 300,000 books promising to help you craft or improve your personal brand.

I can’t say that I’m crazy about the term personal brand itself, because contrary to what Mr. Peters and others say, I find it hard to think about people the same way I think of laundry detergent or running shoes or any other product. I also have a problem with much of what’s written about “personal branding” because so much of it is about crafting an image of yourself and getting maximum visibility for that image in the market place. It’s like selling Tide detergent or Nike shoes.

In other words, personal branding strikes me as being more about style, image, and connections than it is about being a person of substance.

What others think about you is certainly important. Your personal reputation (my preferred term) walks in the room ahead of you, and often shapes whether or not people in that room are willing to listen to you, trust you, or follow you. But that’s not about image. No—you build a reputation that inspires trust not by worrying about your image, but by treating others with the respect and dignity they deserve, by helping them succeed, by delivering on the promises you make. You build a reputation that inspires trust by not focusing first on yourself.

So let me suggest that this year, instead of working on your personal brand, you work on yourself as a person. We could all benefit from asking ourselves questions like these:

  • What are my personal core values?
  • What values motivate me to do the work I’m doing?
  • Do I consistently live my values, in the actions I take and the decisions I make?
  • Do I listen to others more than I talk about myself? Am I viewed as a person who has “warmth”?
  • Do I consistently look for ways to help others succeed?

I think the best way to succeed in life—which certainly includes succeeding in your career—is to consistently live your values and consistently help others succeed. Do that and people will perceive you as someone they can count on to make the right decisions in difficult situations. Do that and they’ll view you as a values-driven person—someone driven by a higher sense of purpose rather than a desire to polish your “brand.” Do that and you’ll be respected because you respect others, because you take the time to really listen to them, instead of just looking for ways to advance your own opinions. Do that and you’ll build a personal reputation and a presence that inspires others to believe in you, trust you, and follow you.

Do that and you won’t have to worry about your personal brand. It will take care of itself. 

That’s what I think. As always, please let me know what you think.

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