Branding is crucial to succeed in today's business world; strong parallels can be drawn between how corporations and individuals create them. The measures by which we judge a company, such as quality, service, reputation, etc., are also relevant on a personal level. In other words, it's no longer just the product -- your skills or your job title -- that count. Having a strong brand means standing apart from the crowd because of other attributes.
A personal brand may sound like a foreign concept; however the underlying truths should strike a chord with all budding professionals. At the core is the strength of your product, and how you continue to hone the skills and talent that comprise it. Amplifying your personal brand is a process by which you overlay it with other attributes that attract positive attention, including the way you dress, your impact on others, and stepping up to and out into opportunities that present themselves.
So how do you start building a brand in the first place?
On the most basic level, it is about your skills and domain knowledge. You'll need a deep understanding of your industry and the challenges that face it. To me the critical driver of that is curiosity, and that practice is crucial to building your personal brand. It helps you stay on top of what's happening in your field, gain insight into future developments (and opportunities), and let others hear about your success stories. Curiosity motivates you to become an expert in your company's products and services, as well as how they function in the broader market. Curiosity means asking interesting questions (perhaps ones your boss isn't asking) and bringing compelling answers to the table.
From this foundation you can begin to create a ripple effect, and create buzz. The process involves managing five core qualities, each of which is important individually but which together create the amplification we're looking for. Mastering them will help you generate the kind of influence than can give your career a major boost.
Quality No. 1: Presence
This isn't a matter of being the loudest or most visible, but something subtler, a combination of your demeanor, style, and confidence. It also relates to participating in meetings. There are times when great leaders may say only one or two things in a meeting, but they do it with gravitas. They also allow other people to speak and express ideas. I have a personal rule: "Speak third." I try to let at least two people speak before me. By waiting to be "third," I demonstrate I'm thoughtful, open, and am interested in hearing a range of viewpoints. Not always easy for an extrovert--but important.
Quality No. 2: Integrity
A person without integrity is building a brand on a house of cards. At the end of the day, it won't matter what you try to adorn it with, the edifice will crumble. Integrity shows up most optimally when you make a decision against your self-interest to further the interest of others or your company. Think of it as working for the greater good. You give up resources for the company's benefit or reduce your personal gain for the better of those working for you. Integrity demands courage, since it often means going against popular opinion to stand on principle.
Quality No. 3: Reliability
One of the frequent complaints I hear about people (and one of my true pet peeves) is that they never return calls or e-mails, and sometimes don't even show up for meetings. Not being dependable is completely detrimental to your brand and in fact becomes part of your brand. People expect reliability, it's not an option. Unreliable people project selfishness and disorganization. I always try to get back to anyone who contacts me, including cold-call emails, even if it is to say I'm not interested. Do yourself a favor: answer your e-mails and return your calls. Do what you say you will do.
Quality No. 4: Demonstrating Knowledge & Skill
Knowing how to do your job well is, of course, crucial. But if you are a shrinking violet, you will fail to demonstrate your knowledge and skill, and you won't get ahead. Make sure you're reading the publications that cover your industry to stay on top of trends and issues. A small insight you glean from a trade publication could be just what your boss needs one day, and if you're able to present it in a meeting it will make both of you look good. Opportunity favors the bold and brave. Don't shy away when given the option to present your knowledge or demonstrate your prowess.
Quality No. 5: Generosity breathes influence
Generosity may seem like an odd term here, but it remains a key part of the puzzle. There are people who won't help others because there is nothing in it for them. That's a mistake. Take the time to help your colleagues without looking for credit. You will find that peers and even those senior to you will seek you out if you provide helpful and unencumbered insight.
The result of inculcating these five qualities will be a growing influence in your company and in your field. Others will seek you out and ultimately evoke your name as a supporter, and you will increasingly widen your followership as your personal brand amplifies--and your career takes off.