About a year ago I received a promotion at work. The new position was an absolutely amazing opportunity and one that could teach me a lot and help me build many connections throughout my industry. It was also a position that I did not have all the ideal “qualifications” for. In other words, my boss took a bit of a risk in promoting me. I needed to prove that I had a strong personal brand.
The key reason I was promoted
Through the interview process, I had to prove that I could handle the position by putting together analyses and conducting research on an area that I was not well versed in. While I did impress my new boss at each interviewing stage, he later explained to me that there was one key thing that led him to pull the trigger in hiring me.
Before giving me the offer he did his homework. To this day I am not sure who all he spoke with, but he asked numerous people throughout my company, who I had worked for and with, about me as a candidate. He noted that typically in the process a “reference” would taut the great qualities of a candidate only to transition into a negative statement saying something like, “he is great, but sometimes he is not responsive we I contact him,” or “he always meets deadlines, but is very disorganized.”
In his investigation of me, my boss said there were no “buts.” He continued to explain that because of this he was convinced that the reputation I had built through multiple positions in various departments was a strong one. He had wanted someone who had branded themselves as a leader that worked hard and was able to collaborate with others and maintain strong relationships.
While I took this as quite a compliment, prior to hearing his rationale I had never really thought about the power (both positive and negative) of the brand that others build for you in their own mind and how it can directly affect your career.
“Buts” can work both ways
Having or not having “buts,” however, can work both ways.
I once had a salesperson who worked for me that was one of the top salespeople in the company.
She always found a way to be at the top of the stack rankings, even through org changes and new product launches
As time went on, she desperately wanted to move up to work with larger enterprise customers, but time after time she failed to get hired into these position. In the midst of her frustration, she couldn’t see why she was constantly passed over. Despite her stellar results, she had too many “buts.”
Her strategies for being the best came at the expense of her relationships with her co-workers. She schemed, finding ways to get involved in other people’s deals, only to look for ways to steal them away. She would then use fear by threatening to go to human resources, claiming foul play, for anyone who threatened her position at the top.
Unbeknownst to her, the true intentions behind her actions were transparent to everyone. When potential hiring managers asked about what she was like to manage, I was upfront about her shortcomings (since I had my own reputation to uphold and didn’t want to lie to get her off my team, only to have her new manager find out about things I withheld). Ultimately, the brand she created of being a consistently top performing salesperson was tarnished by her “buts.” She did not have a strong personal brand.
The Strong Personal Brand Lesson
The lesson here is simple. While building your reputation, remember that the brand you create is not just based on the good things that you do. There is a whole other side to the coin. It is important to minimize the negative traits people attribute to us. Focus on building healthy relationships with bosses, peers and direct reports because you never know how their feedback and recommendations (either positive or negative) will affect your career in the future.
Don’t give anyone a reason not to want to work with you; make sure the strong personal brand you build has no “buts.”