Recently, a colleague walked into my office looking refreshed with a great tan, relaxed physical demeanor and big smile, yet he hadn’t gone on vacation. He started playing baseball in what he described as “an old men’s league.”
“When we were kids, we had many activities that we enjoyed, in addition to our job, which was going to school,” he said. “As you get older, you have more commitments. Work, travel, kids’ school and athletics and activities, time with your spouse, and others. You lose sight of yourself because you are focused on everyone else.”
As the creator of Brand You: A Strategy for Personal Leader Branding (helps individuals build their confidence in the value that they bring, and to align their walk and talk), I couldn’t help but reflect on whether typical personal leadership brands have become two dimensional – work and family?
I took an informal study of colleagues and professional friends, asking whether work and family are enough to bring your brand to life, differentiate you and enrich your brand? I heard things like:
“I get a lot of personal enjoyment from my job and my family. Being a parent and spouse is still work though, in a way.”
“Constantly being the ‘mom’ at work and at home is exhausting. Trying to make everyone else’s lives easier leaves nothing for you.”
“Being with the kids and having fun is great, and it adds dimension. But doing something for myself to continue learning, developing and evolving is important.”
“Having an escape from responsibility and feeling like you are a kid again is refreshing and it gives me a way to let go of the stress of work and family.”
Here are 5 ideas for how you can add dimension to your personal leader brand plan to make you more interesting, strengthen your storytelling, increase your own satisfaction and bring new perspectives to work. Choose one or two to get started.
- Develop a hobby: Consider what you loved to do as a child – soccer, baseball, tennis? Or something that you have always dreamed about doing. And don’t be guilty spending an hour away from your family or from work. Promise, it will add dimension. My daughter and I started taking a sign language class so that we can work with the hearing impaired to communicate. This has always been a dream of mine, and she wants to friend hearing impaired children. The class is 60 minutes, one day a week, an opportunity to practice with my daughter, and has been the topic of many business conversations (adding to my brand as a kind, empathetic professional).
- Don’t be Flat Stanley when you travel: Think about the children’s book character and community project, Flat Stanley. He travels and sees the world and has great adventures just as we as professionals do. Yet he is flat and travels in an envelope to the places that he goes. When you travel, do not spend all of your time in a conference room. Get out with employees and customers, listen and learn — understand culture, history and decision-making processes. Doing so expands your experiences and deepens your storytelling both with the people you work with and those that you network with. A colleague was in Chile for two days for an internal meeting. She had three hours and went to a super market to understand typical foods and spices, and then to the home of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize winning Chilean Poet.
- Enjoy fiction: Temporarily put down the business or self-help books and start reading or listening to fiction from the cities, states and countries you visit – or from authors of similar backgrounds to new people you meet. It is a wonderful way to build perspective, understand others and deepen your brand as someone well-read and empathetic to other cultures.
- Play a role in your community: Though it borders that fine line between work and play, community activism offers an opportunity to make an immediate difference and find a sense of purpose and belonging. There are plenty of needs in your community whether it is volunteering at the library, working a 5K race, teaching children how to ride bicycles or taking a role in local politics.Try a number of activities and don’t give up if your first choice isn’t the right one for you. One sales leader tried getting involved in local politics, only to find it slow-moving, bureaucratic and unsatisfying – he moved onto being a Boy Scouts pack leader. While an attorney volunteered for the environmental committee in her town and later ran for mayor.
- Make real friends: This was a tip that resonated with me from a 2012 Forbes article that I keep in a folder on my desk called “7 pillars of connecting with absolutely anyone.” Be human, be vulnerable, be genuinely interested, and be real. Spend time listening and learning from them; hear their points of view even if they differ from yours. Having real friends offers personal enjoyment and new perspectives that will inherently add dimension to your brand.One of my favorite friends has views that are polar opposite to mine. When we are in a group setting, she will share her thoughts and others will debate. I always say, “Seek to understand her, don’t debate. You won’t win.” I may never win the debate with her. I have won by learning and experiencing her culture; speaking her language; and appreciating her views on policy and government.
Whatever your choice, take the time to reflect upon what it means to you – what do you want to accomplish? What are your motivations? How do you know you are successful? What do these choices mean to your professional brand? And make sure that it is safe and won’t get you into trouble.