Today, I spoke to Mary C. Gentile, who is a Senior Research Scholar at Babson College and author of Giving Voice To Values: How To Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right. In this interview, Mary talks about brand integrity, the benefits of having a personal brand, personal branding risks, and more.
What do you mean by “Brand Integrity”?
Usually when people talk about “brand integrity“, they are talking about creating and maintaining a product identity that is consistent...so people know what they’re getting when they invest in it. But what if your personal brand WAS integrity? That is, what if people knew that when they worked with you, they would really hear what you thought; that you would bring your best gifts to any situation; that although you spoke with tact, you would not hold back if you thought there was a problem – practically and/or ethically – with the strategy or decision you were pursuing?
It is this kind of personal reputation for having the courage of your convictions that I mean when I talk about “Brand Integrity.”
What are the benefits of such a personal brand?
To begin with, it’s a more comfortable and natural way to live your life. Rather than always trying to second guess your colleagues, your boss, or your customers, you can be yourself. I find that people are attracted to this kind of relaxed lack of affectation.
But beyond that, the fact that you are not worrying about pretending to believe something you do not or to be someone that you are not, frees you up to really focus on what the other person has to say and wants/needs – enabling you to better address their concerns. And you can therefore focus your energy on helping them to see how your position can fit with their concerns.
And finally, in a time when trust is at a premium in the business world, not to mention the rest of society, a reputation for integrity can be a real asset, both for those you deal with and for your own peace of mind.
So what does it take to build personal “Brand Integrity”?
Often when we talk about integrity and values, we focus on preaching about why we should behave in an ethical fashion, or we focus on the “moral courage” needed to do so. But instead, if we think of integrity as part of our identity, as our personal brand, then what’s needed is neither some Herculean store of bravery nor some sanctimonious self-sacrifice. Instead, we simply need to focus on what our own values truly are, and to think about how to be more of who we already want to be.
The approach I take, which I call “Giving Voice To Values”, is all about recognizing and playing to our strengths; anticipating the kinds of challenges we are likely to encounter in our chosen profession and industry; and then literally practicing crafting and delivering the “scripts” that we can use to respond to those values challenges.
So for example, if I like to take risks and enjoy being assertive, then I am not going to be very comfortable with the idea that I may need to be more cautious and conservative. So for me then, I would want to frame my values positions as bold and creative. It can take nerve to be ethical!
But on the other hand, if I see myself as more shy, more fearful in my interpersonal dealings, then I will want to frame an ethical position as the safer route.
But regardless of how I frame and pursue the challenge, I will be seen as the person who walks her own talk…That’s personal “Brand Integrity.”
Are there risks to this kind of personal branding?
If you present your positions in self-righteous little speeches, you are not only less likely to make the impact on a decision that you hope for, you are also more likely to antagonize the very folks whom you want to influence. But is this really any different from any other position that you might want to take?
So if you don’t want to give the “self-righteous little speech,” what can you do?
Just as you will benefit from playing to your own strengths and finding ways to use your best gifts in the service of your values – whether that’s story-telling or financial analysis—you will also want to consider what kinds of approaches have been more impactful on your target audience in the past.
When have you ever seen this person change his or her mind? What made the difference? Does she or he tend to listen to certain people? If so, perhaps you should approach them first?
Does your target audience respond well to visual arguments? If so, perhaps you can work to develop a graphic representation of the position you wish to take. And if that is not your strength, reach out to someone for whom this is easy!
Just because you are taking a values-based position, that does not excuse you from using all the talents and tactics that you would use when making any other business case.
In the end, developing this kind of personal “Brand Integrity” will enable you to take a stand and make an argument more effectively, because you will be acting from your center and freeing yourself to be who you really are at work.
Mary C. Gentile, Ph.D. is Director of an innovative curriculum, Giving Voice to Values, launched by Aspen Institute and Yale SOM, now supported by Babson College . This pioneering approach to values-driven leadership has been featured in New York Times, Financial Times and Harvard Business Review and is being piloted in well over 100 business schools and organizations globally. Her book, Giving Voice To Values: How To Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right, is forthcoming from Yale University Press in August 2010. Gentile, educational consultant and faculty at Babson College, was previously at Harvard Business School. She is author of numerous books and articles, with her B.A. from College of William and Mary and Ph.D. from State University of New York-Buffalo.