The Seven Deadly Sins of Personal Branding by Roz Usheroff
In a recent interview that I did for a magazine article regarding my 11 Power Branding Truths – I will share the link here once it is published – I talked about the essential elements that go into building a memorable brand.
Of course when I talked about being memorable, I was using the term in a positive sense.
Unfortunately, and when combined with the exacerbating reach of the Internet, some have made a memorable impression for all the wrong reasons, casting an undesired shadow over their personal brand.
One example in particular stands out.
This individual had just landed a new job and tweeted that while he was happy to have won the position, he considered it to be a temporary move until his dream job became available. Unfortunately, his new boss was also on Twitter, and after reading the post he immediately retracted his offer of employment.
On the flip side, an absence or lack of brand presence may shield some people from the criticism of an unfavorable limelight, but this is only because no one is talking about them because they don’t know that they are even there.
Within the context of the above, the following are what I consider to be the Seven Deadly Sins of Personal Branding.
1. Forgetting that we are all in The Big Brother House
The reference I made to what I will call the “dream job Tweet” is one of many to which I could have used as an example of how indiscretion in the new age of social media can turn your fortunes for the worst in the blink of an eye – or mouse click. I am sure that you also have many stories of similar missteps.
In the first meeting I had with a new client, she talked about how she had lost a promotion because of a blog post she had written several years earlier.
In recounting her disappointment, she had indicated that the president of her company had championed her for a position to head up their operations in China. She was without a doubt fully qualified to assume such a responsibility and it seemed that her ascension was going to be certain and fast.
Unfortunately, during a routine Google search of her name, it was discovered that she had written a post on her personal blog that criticized the Chinese government’s handling of a political situation. As a result, the company was concerned that her opinions would potentially hurt their relationship with the Chinese government and so she was passed over in favor of a “less controversial” candidate.
While there is of course nothing wrong with having or expressing an honest opinion, being mindful of how it might impact your career aspirations – especially if it is controversial – is something you should always consider before sharing it with the world.
When I asked the client if she knew then what she knows now, would she have still written the post, her answer said it all . . . no.
Going forward, the important thing to remember is that in the Internet world someone, somewhere is always watching. You don’t know where or to whom your connections ultimately lead, so be mindful of what you put out there for the world to see be it a Tweet, status update or even a profile picture.
2. Avoiding the elephant in the room
A senior executive by the name of Sheila shared with me her story in which despite her successful track record with the company, she was fired from her position when a new boss took the helm.
How could this have happened? How could a smart, savvy executive who delivered extraordinary results suddenly be fired?
In her initial assessment of the situation, Sheila believed that the first meeting with her new boss was, in her words, “one of the worst first meetings” that one could imagine. In a follow-up call, and just prior to their second meeting, Sheila shared these feelings with this individual. Could Sheila’s straight-forward dialogue have been at the root of her termination? Apparently, at least with this new boss, such frankness was not only viewed in a negative light, it formed the basis for the dismissal of a top-notch executive.
There was of course another reason for Sheila’s termination. The boss wanted to create a new executive team, which included individuals with whom he had previously worked.
As a result, had Sheila been less open and honest in her dealings with the new boss in terms of expressing her dissatisfaction with their first meeting, she might very well have held on to her position . . . for a time. However her boss, whose plans obviously did not include her, would likely have done everything he could to undermine her authority and ultimately her effectiveness and credibility. This would have been a far more destructive path as it would have gradually damaged her reputation and personal brand.
Whether good or bad, events beyond your control will sometimes impact your career. Hiding in the shadows of obscurity or ignoring the elephant in the room only prolongs the inevitable, and in the process erodes both your reputation and motivation. As a result it is better to face challenges as Shiela did, head on, and let the chips fall where they may. Certainly this will take courage, but the outcome – including the preservation of your personal brand – will be in your hands rather than in someone else’s.
Sheila by the way landed on her feet with a better job at a competitor’s company.
3. Not admitting your mistakes
In my book I make reference to the personal mission statement of Merlin Olsen.
For those of you who are football fans, you will undoubtedly remember Olsen as part of the daunting Los Angeles Rams’ formidable defensive line that included Deacon Jones and Rosie Greer. Everyone else will likely remember Olsen from his television roles on the hit series Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.
What impressed me the most about Olsen was the fact that over the years he wrote a personal mission statement, which in 2010 was unveiled as part of a statue dedicated in his honor at his alma mater, Utah State University.
Here is what it reads:
The focus of my life begins at home with family, loved ones and friends. I want to use my resources to create a secure environment that fosters love, learning, laughter and mutual success. I will protect and value integrity. I will admit and quickly correct my mistakes. I will be a self-starter. I will be a caring person. I will be a good listener with an open mind. I will continue to grow and learn. I will facilitate and celebrate the success of others.
While everything in Olsen’s statement is both laudable and worthy of admiration, it his reference to admitting and quickly correcting his mistakes that stands out the most in terms of one’s personal brand.
No one expects us to be perfect, however when we fail to take ownership for the mistakes we make, it tells the world that we cannot be trusted to make things right when they inevitably go wrong.
4. Throwing a pity party
When British Petroleum’s CEO Tony Hayward apologized to the Gulf Coast residents for the worst oil spill in US history, he shamelessly commented on the toll that the spill was taking on “his life”! In fact, he was quoted as saying, “I’d like my life back.”
I could not help but wonder, What was Hayward thinking?
Here we are dealing with what the US Department of Justice referred to as being “an act of gross negligence” on the part of BP, and the CEO of the company is holding a pity party saying that he just wants his life back. Sadly, rather than focusing his attention on the best interests of those upon whom his company’s actions had a negative effect, he chose to publicly whine about his own situation.
Even though most of us are unlikely to find ourselves at the center of an international crisis, there will be times when we will be forced to deal with unpleasant circumstances that may not be of our own making. How you respond will either elevate your brand to a whole new level or cause people to tune you out as a complainer. The choice is ultimately yours.
5. A lack of consistency
One of the most important ways to manage the perception of your brand is by being consistent.
I have seen firsthand managers who treat their colleagues one way, their direct reports another way, and their senior leadership differently yet again. Have you ever worked with someone like that? People who do this are sometimes described as being good at “managing up,” but that is rarely a compliment. What they are really doing is damaging their brand.
When someone observes you treating people differently based on perceived status, the first seeds of mistrust are sewn. They immediately start to wonder which one is the real you. As a result, you quickly become a brand they cannot trust. And you can’t build loyalty or a good reputation without trust. Or to put it another way, what you need to do is to adopt brand discipline, which simply means that everything you do or say must remain consistent.
Think of brand discipline as being a “what you see is what you get” authenticity that isn’t situationally based, but is constantly representing your values to those with whom you interact. Projecting a consistent persona creates a high degree of certainty and confidence in both co-workers and management.
6. Letting others define your brand
I have always said that your personal brand is the sum of every experience others have had with you.
However, people cannot experience you, or more specifically how you can add value to their personal goals and aspirations, if they don’t see you.
“Many of us have been conditioned since childhood to think that self-promotion is bad and should be avoided at all costs. But tooting your own horn is no longer an option. Building a reputation for making things happen and being able to talk about it are critical to your personal brand.”
I have found that people who remain in the background suffer a high degree of uneasiness as they are always looking for someone to both notice and acknowledge their efforts. This kind of strategy is more often than not a futile and self-defeating proposition, as they are leaving it up to someone other than themselves to define their brand.
In other words, if you are not seen, you will not be recognized for what you bring to the table. This latter position leaves you more vulnerable to being passed over for a promotion or, worse yet, seen as someone who lacks a genuine interest in the job and the company.
7. Having a false sense of humility
Have you ever noticed how people like to cheer for the underdog until they become a champion.
Perhaps this suggests that people can better relate to someone who, while facing the same daily struggles they do, are able to do so with warmth, humor and a commitment to persevere against the odds. There is a quiet yet determined humility in what they say and do that rallies our collective inner spirit. There is also the realization that the success they seek is not for themselves but is instead focused on the service of others.
Unfortunately, and as alluded to earlier, personal branding is often seen as a selfish as opposed to selfless exercise. This means that many people shy away from promoting their value because they do not want to risk being seen as either self-centered or pompous. This fear is what I refer to has having a false sense of humility. Or to put it another way, it is not in the words you say, but the intention with which you say them that matters most.
If you are simply standing up on a soapbox to gain attention and to garner accolades as to how great you think you are, that is being pompous.
However, if you have walked the talk and delivered results you have reason to feel proud and to share your story. The key is to do so with both confidence and humility.
When I, for example, want to talk about my value to a prospect, I always say that I have the privilege to work with top talent internationally and feel a sense of pride when I see my clients rise to the top of their profession. Because my focus is always on what the client has accomplished through their association with me, I am getting my message out without sounding as though I am bigger than life.
In the end, prevention is the best medicine. Recognizing and avoiding the above branding sins is always the preferred route to take. However if you find yourself in one of these situations, take heart as redemption is possible – provided you learn from them and take the necessary action to not repeat them.