When many people hear the question, “What’s your personal brand?” their hair stands on end. It can sound like you’re implying that a unique individual is reduced to the equivalent of a packaged product. The word “brand” isn’t typically associated with human qualities: Defining your brand requires you to take an objective, impersonal look at yourself to sift out what it is that you offer or what your usefulness is in today’s economy. The question is, how can you benefit by creating a personal brand and how can you develop it overtime to enhance your reputation?
The most widely used definition of a personal brand includes the answers to these questions: What is it that you do better than anyone else? What makes you special and what do you want the rest of the world to know about you? I’m proposing an additional question and that is, how can you make your personal brand stand out and create a stellar name (brand) for yourself?
To assuage anyone who is uncomfortable with the word “brand” I’d like to suggest another way of looking at this term. How about calling it your personal legacy? Have you ever stopped to qualify what you want to be known for in life and how that message could tie into your business strategy?
Here’s an example of how your legacy could be tied to the work you do: I recently interviewed Bo Burlingham, the Editor-At-Large for Inc. magazine. After talking with him, I got the sense that his work isn’t merely a job but it’s a part of a larger personal mission. I think it’s fair to say that a part of Bo’s legacy will be tied to the topics he chooses to write about. In his recent book Small Giants, Bo showcases businesses that chose to be great and not big. He shines a light on a handful of business practices that he admires, and which he believes are the reason some companies consistently do better than others. His research in spotlighting businesses that give back to their employees, suppliers and their community reflects his personal values. He’s not simply telling a story for a story’s sake but he has a personal agenda that’s attached to a higher purpose: He wants other businesses to take notice of these businesses so they model them in some way.
After reading Bo’s books it’s likely that you’ll associate his name with the stories he tells and the values he espouses in them. From reading Small Giants one can deduce that he’s a wonderful storyteller who delivers a profound message! Bo’s overriding view is that great businesses are both financially successful and serve as a vehicle to improve the world. The focus of Bo’s work at Inc. and the books he writes reflect his core values which are the basis for his personal brand: Bo is known as a writer and editor who cares about making the world a better place and does so by writing about topics that will impact his readers to reconsider the way they conduct their businesses. In this way his brand and his legacy are synonymous. Whether you’re in business, law, medicine, accounting, media, technology, or any other field, it’s possible to find ways to have an impact. You just need to be creative and thoughtful in how to do it.
Your personal brand leads to your legacy!
I was asked to write the eulogy for a wonderful man, a retired Pediatrician and naval officer who had MS. At age 30, with a wife, three children and another on the way, this highly trained medical doctor, who was top in his medical school class and a respected medical resident, was forced to relinquish his career due to his diminished physical strength. I learned a tremendous amount from writing his eulogy. First off, it’s relatively easy to write a eulogy when someone has overcome huge obstacles in their life and has done it with positivity, grace and dignity. This physician had an incredibly refined character and had made a huge impression on many people based on his having a positive demeanor in the face of a debilitating disease.
Not everyone has the ability to impact people in the ways he did, but everyone can try to find some area that they become great at. Everyone can try to be a bit more positive and proactive when faced with challenges or a failure in life. And everyone can try to find ways to have a positive affect in the world.
A great legacy is based on having great character traits. The ideas people talk about in a eulogy typically are ones that should inspire the living! The qualities and ideals a person is remembered for was their brand identity. I’ve never heard a eulogy that talks about how rich someone was or about his or her beautiful home.
I have heard beautiful eulogies about how a successful CEO took a personal interest in his employees and changed their lives; how a physician refused to charge certain patients as he feared they wouldn’t return when they were really sick, and how a chronically ill person managed to stay positive and enjoyed simple pleasures in life that many of us take for granted. These are the stories people draw strength from and are remembered for.
What do you really want to be remembered for? Who have you helped along the way? What value do you add to your business and to your community? Are you concerned with making a positive difference somewhere? How do you treat the people you work with and do you have a vision for what matters in terms of your reputation?
Are you generally a positive person? Do you try to uplift others or are you a frequent complainer. Do you take pleasure in small things? Do you compliment others when they’ve done a good job? Have you ever tried to help someone else get a job or introduced someone just because they could use your help expecting nothing in return? Do you volunteer your time somewhere to lighten someone else’s load? In short, are you concerned about improving the world? These are great things to think about early in your career, as now is the time when the choices you make and the people you help will build your personal brand into something you can be proud of.
Some of the greatest pleasures in life come from knowing you’ve had a positive impact somewhere. Your personal brand has the potential to be a statement about yourself that you’d be proud to pass on to your children and grandchildren someday. Take the time to think about both what you’re doing today and how you’re doing it! Who do you associate with? How do you treat people? What are you grateful for? How do you express your gratitude?
When you do this on a regular basis you will become a happier, more fully self-actualized person. Your personal brand won’t be a gimmick for attracting attention to yourself. Instead it will become an authentic description of your vision and your accomplishments. If you care about developing it properly, it could be a strong motivator for self-improvement and over time help you achieve a higher purpose in life.