Leadership Matters | Winter 2019
How to Build Your Personal Brand
Putting some thought into your personal brand can help you show up as your best self in every business situation.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, ACC
Executive Leadership Coach, Lokhorst Consulting
Amy was a senior accountant for a multinational company in the hospitality industry.*
Although she enjoyed her job, Amy was unsettled and longed for “more.” Her attempts at
earning promotions to manager ended in disappointment when she was passed over
several times in favor of her peers. Amy felt stuck, like she had hit a plateau in her job. And
while she was tempted to start answering calls from recruiters who regularly contacted her
with outside opportunities, she was uneasy about making a move. After all, she liked her
company and still had hope that there was a brighter future ahead.
When I asked what “more” might entail, Amy said she had to do something to help her get
noticed. As Amy shared her dilemma in our coaching session, I asked how she was
perceived in the workplace. “I’m known for quality work,” she said. “My reports are accurate
and always on time.” She then conceded it would take more than that to get the promotion
DEFINING YOUR BRAND
I suggested Amy build a personal brand to elevate her performance, add value to the
company, and draw the attention of superiors who make promotion decisions. I invited her
to perform an exercise often used to help people develop a basis for their personal brands:
Identify three words that describe you when you show up as your best self. This is an
important exercise because, when you show up as your best self, you deliver your best
value and get noticed in the process.
In our next coaching session, Amy announced that she had come up with just one word for
her personal brand. “Firestarter,” she said. “I want to be known as a firestarter.” I thought
that was an unusual word for a finance leader to choose and was curious to hear more.
Amy explained that anyone in her role could generate unending data, reports, and analyses.
But the thing that would set her apart was the ability to ask pertinent questions and start
conversations about how the data could be used to manage the business better.
Amy jumped in diligently to establish her new brand. She developed a new perspective
on her work, going beyond merely reporting data to generating insights that improved
business results. She was proactive in pursuing strategic conversations at a higher
leadership level. Within weeks, Amy’s superiors noticed a change in her. Within months,
she received the promotion that had eluded her in the past.
Now, what about you? How can you benefit from building a personal brand that inspires
you to show up as your best self? What three words describe you when you show up as
your best self?
Don’t overthink it. Now is not the time for in-depth analysis. You can
always make changes later—although your first impressions may
stick. For example, when I first learned of this exercise while
listening to a leadership podcast in my car, three words came to
my mind: insightful, confident, and engaging. They’ve been my
three-word brand ever since.
It’s okay to be aspirational with your words, stretching for an even
better self than who you are right now—these words need to
be descriptive of how you can deliver your best value to your
company or clients. Choose words that help you stand out and get
noticed; choose words that will open new opportunities for growth
Next, take the exercise a step further by seeking input from people
who know you well. Dorie Clark, author of “Stand Out” and
“Reinventing You,” suggests asking a half-dozen friends and
colleagues to answer the three-word question for you. Their
responses will help you identify how others perceive you, and you
can incorporate the emerging pattern into your self-impression.
BE YOUR BRAND
Every presentation, meeting, and interaction is an opportunity to
express and advance your personal brand and professional
leadership. Yet, we often fail to carry a leadership presence into
these situations. Instead, we go into them unprepared and later
regret that we fell short of our true potential.
If you’ve ever left a meeting or conversation thinking, “I didn’t come
across very well,” or, “I didn’t add much value to that discussion,”
you know what I am talking about.
Turning your three-word personal brand into positive self-talk will
implant it in your mind. Rehearsing it as you enter critical situations is
essential to showing up as your best self. This could be as simple as
looking at yourself in the mirror and repeating your three-word mantra.
I often recite “I am insightful, confident, and engaging” before going
on stage for a speaking event or heading into a critical meeting.
Be mindful of the fact that developing and truly living your personal
brand takes time. Like any consumer brand, it takes focused,
consistent effort to build a brand that others recognize you for. It also
requires your willingness to monitor progress and make adjustments
along the way. I encourage you to build time into your schedule for
self-reflection. Pretend you were a fly on the wall during your most
recent interactions and ask the following questions:
Did I show up as my best self?
What words and actions reflected my best self?
What things kept me from being my best self?
What can I do differently in the future?
I also encourage you to seek honest feedback from others who
see you in action. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to answer the
four questions above. You can also engage a mentor or coach to
provide additional insights. Your goal is to identify the appropriate
changes in behavior you need to make to achieve the personal
brand you designed.
While you may not experience performance results as quickly as
Amy, I can tell you this exercise is worth it. When you consistently
display your personal brand, you build trust with your colleagues
and clients. When you consistently show up as your best self, you
deliver your best value!
*The name and some facts have been changed to preserve confidentiality.