Being you is enough
This blog is inspired by two recent conversations. The first conversation involved a group of leaders who, as part of a leadership development programme I was delivering, were surprised when I revealed the secret magic leadership ingredient was “being you”. The second conversation took place at a conference with a couple of delegates who were curious to learn “how do you develop your own brand?”
The whole you
Rewind the clock 25 years and leadership and management rhetoric would talk about strength in character, controlled emotions and autocratic decision making. Emotional openness would have been frowned upon, ever deemed career limiting. There was often a work persona and the ‘true self’ would be kept to the privacy of an individual’s personal life. Fast forward to the present day and authenticity, being the true you, is not only seen as acceptable but desirable and a key differentiator in leadership. So, knowing yourself and your personal brand is as important as having a CV!
A personal brand is unique to you. There is only one you. Your brand tells people who you are, what you do and what you offer (your purpose). It clearly communicates your skills, personality and values.
Why personal brand matters today
Our global world today is changing faster than ever before. Technological development, knowledge production and the demographic shift is continuing to create seismic shifts in our work and personal lives. Change is the new ‘norm’. To remain agile, innovative and operate in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world individuals, teams and organisations need to leverage cognitive, cultural and demographic diversity of perspectives. This means individuals confidently bringing their real unique self to work.
Globally trust in organisations, NGOs and governments is declining and trust in the media is at an all- time low. “For the first time, “a person like yourself” is as credible a source for information about a company as a technical or academic expert...” (Edelman Trust Barometer 2017).
Here’s the thing, whether you have consciously created your personal brand or haven’t thought about it, it nonetheless exists. And if you don’t develop your own personal brand then others will do it for you. Think about it for a moment, in your personal or work life how many labels do you (or others) attach to people? She’s the one who ‘delivers’, he’s the ‘mood hoover’, he’s so ‘dynamic’, she’s ‘methodical’ etc. Knowing and living your personal brand allows you to proactively influence in all aspects of your life.
Navigating choppy waters
Most people go through life without thinking about who they are… they just are. When coaching individuals (especially those in senior positions) I often hear the term imposter syndrome, “How did I get here? I’m only me!”
The other thing I frequently come across is fear. Fear of standing out, being different, looking stupid. Conformity is well researched and documented, with patterns of behaviour often dominated by homogeneity and groupthink. Maybe you are one of these people …. Wishing you had contributed that idea at that last meeting. Challenged the team decision. Regretting not having that difficult conversation because you saw or heard something that didn’t align with your values etc.
In a world which tells us we need to be more productive, more engaging, more creative, more agile, more innovative, demonstrate more emotional intelligence (and so the list goes on) we have a lot to live up to. We are also bombarded with images of perfection from social media, the internet, magazines and TV, often filtered and heavily engineered to create a specific image (usually a far cry from reality). At the same time, authenticity is liberally sprinkled everywhere.
On the one hand, we are told it’s OK to be you and on the other, we are part of a global world where we are scrutinised more closely than ever. No wonder we sometimes feel afraid of being ‘you’. To be you, to be authentic, is to put yourself out there. To be vulnerable. Often that inner voice, your critic, can take on a powerful role suppressing the real you in favour of a perceived ‘acceptable’ you. It takes energy being a different you. It takes courage to be the real you.
Developing your personal brand
Marketing experts have known for a long time the power of a personal story or narrative. Tesco ‘food love stories’ share recipe ideas around individual customers lives; the John Lewis Christmas adverts have storytelling at the heart of their brand and notice how social media loves a post with a human story. Time to create your story?
To develop your brand, you need to know what being you means? It is about knowing yourself and this takes time to consider, to reflect and to develop. As a start point ask yourself:
- What are my values? What do you feel really strongly about? A quick exercise – imagine you are a spectator at your own funeral and listening to the eulogy, what would you like to be hearing. Don’t spend longer than 2 minutes thinking, this is gut reaction stuff!
- What are my strengths? What activities do you feel good about and excel in? What’s been your best day(s) and what were you doing? What things are you naturally drawn towards? Ask those who know you for feedback, “what are my leading attributes”. Ask them for the first thing that springs to mind.
- What are my priorities? What’s your personal vision and mission? What do you want to achieve? Where is your focus? What and how do I want to learn?
In answering these questions be honest. Without honesty your brand will not be authentic. Being you requires you to accept yourself (warts and all) as you are and to recognise that you are not perfect, nor are you fixed and as you grow your brand will evolve. This is good news as I would not wish to be with my 16-year old self at the age of 43!
Being you requires a holistic approach to life. By this I mean the you at work should be the you at home too. Whilst work-life balance is still discussed today, I find this an unhelpful distinction. For me, it is about integrating these two aspects of life and living in congruence. Ok so you may have to make some minor modifications (e.g. dress code, behaviours to your environment) but the essence of you should still be you.
When you have developed your brand, it should act as your compass, guiding and providing direction. Make it visible and accessible to others, love and live being you!! This is how you create influence. Recognise that everything you do affects your personal brand e.g. how you deliver on promises, how you communicate, how you conduct yourself, how you interact with others etc.
You may often read and hear about being the best version of you, and I fully subscribe to this. It’s not about being someone else, it’s about building on your strengths, recognising how you contribute and enabling others to be the best versions of themselves too.