The importance of believability and your personal brand

By Brian Eagar, CEO of TowerStone Leadership Centre

Brian Eagar_TowerStoneLeadership.jpg

Have you ever Googled yourself? Try it – type in your name and surname, press enter, sit back and see what the World Wide Web knows about you. Here’s the thing: every result that appears in relation to you is evidence of your personal brand.

Every person on the planet has a brand that precedes them. Before you engage others, they have already assigned certain qualities – attributes and characteristics that people associate with you when they think about you – to you. Just as the smell of perfume or cologne lingers after the wearer leaves the room, so too your brand leaves something – a footprint if you will – behind. This mark is in the form of what people say about you after you have left the proverbial room.

Why should you care about this? Because you yourself are a brand and what is out there and what you display on a day-to-day basis can either build or taint that brand.

Let’s unpack how a personal brand develops and look at examples of how your personal brand and that of the organisation impacts each other.

You are a brand

Whether you are intentional or unintentional about it, the truth is that you are constantly building your brand. Viewing yourself as a brand is immensely personal and is strongly linked to your identity. It is your reputation. It is how you communicate and express yourself to others and it is a reflection of your values.

Your personal brand must support your reason for waking up in the morning as harmony between your brand and your purpose is what gives meaning to your existence. Simply put, your brand is how you show up. Your purpose is why you get up. Therefore, you get up to show up. Ultimately, this is what defines you as a person and as a leader. 

Virgin CEO Richard Branson has spent considered time and effort building a believable personal brand that portrays him as a fun-loving, yet caring individual. This perception is supported by his actions – he is known for going to great lengths to generate publicity for the Virgin brand (e.g. dressing up as a flight attendant to honour a bet). He also travels to the site of airline challenges to comfort passengers and express gratitude to his staff.

Branson is a good example of someone who is intentional about building an authentic and believable personal brand. Another lesson learnt from his example is this: it is important to live in a way that honours your brand. Ultimately, there must be congruence between what people see you do when they are in your company and what you do when people are not watching you. Remember, you get up to show up. Your reason for waking up in the morning and your actions must align with how you want to show up.

Reputation is a fragile thing 

Thanks to social media and technologically savvy millennials, the topics of believability and trust have become a critical consideration for leaders, especially relating to their personal brands. Today’s consumers are increasingly sceptical, suspicious and vocal about their experiences and want to associate themselves with believable, authentic brands that can be trusted. The knock-on effect of a leader who has a believable personal brand is that the organisation’s brand itself is also seen as trustworthy and credible. 

As an executive leader, what you do and what you say affects both your personal brand and your organisation’s brand. Consider Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. As a native from India, he openly shares his strong views regarding immigration and the opportunities it presents. He is also a caring advocate for the people who work at Microsoft.

Nadella is also a very good example of a leader who cared enough to make incremental changes to build a better future. By going back to basics and rediscovering what made Microsoft so successful in the first place, bit by bit Nadella has succeeded in transforming a passion-killing business culture to a culture that attracts employees with one purpose in mind: to make others look cool. Never underestimate the impact that making the little changes to a brand has on overall contribution and influence. 

A believable brand is developed through trust and consistency

To be an inspiring leader, you need to put your weight behind your voice. You need to be believable so that your team will have faith in you, value your input and follow your example. It is vital to realise that your believability impacts both your personal brand and that of the organisation.

At this point, you might be asking: how do I intentionally craft a more believable personal brand?

Although there might well be other attributes, The Purposeful Leadership Company defines believability as being a combination of Conviction, Action, Authenticity and Consistency. To be believable, you need to display and communicate true Conviction supported by purposeful Action. However, if you don’t do this with Authenticity and Consistency, it will be diluted. Consider how the following examples, known for their strong personal brands, became believable:

  • Magic happened when Martin Luther King emotionally connected with his purpose, thereby fuelling his conviction to speak about his vision of a better world when he delivered his infamous I have a dream speech.
  • Johnson & Johnson Chairman James Burke realised the incredible value of putting actions behind his words when tragedy struck the well-loved Johnson & Johnson brand in 1982. Upon receiving the reports that seven people had died after ingesting cyanide-laced Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson responded from a values-based viewpoint to prioritise the safety of all stakeholders. They acted by immediately recalling the nation’s most popular over-the-counter pain killer.
  • Despite authenticity being one of the most difficult attributes for a leader to display consistently, Warren Buffett nourishes leadership from the inside out: when faced with challenges, he says that the first person he turns to is the person in the mirror.
  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos understands the value of being a consistent leader, as he is known for establishing a believable and values-driven culture.

Ultimately, leaders who have successful and believable personal brands are those who place a high premium on honesty and authenticity.

Central to building a believable and consistent personal brand is enhancing the congruence between the qualities that precede you and what you leave people with.

If you are intentional about changing your brand and how you show up, start by focusing on changing what precedes you and enhance those aspects that work for you. Moreover, if you want to be believable, be clear about what you want your brand to be.

There is no finish line to cross to signal the end of the journey of building your personal brand. Building a believable personal brand is definitely a marathon and not a sprint – it is an ongoing journey that takes time and develops with you as you develop as a person.

Think about this: if you had to Google yourself in three years’ time, what will you find? Will the results be the same as what you see currently, or are you willing to put in the effort to make the small changes now in order to see a different (and better) you?

*Brian Eagar is a founder and the CEO of TowerStone Leadership Centre. Visit http://www.towerstone-global.com/

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