There are plenty of reasons to care about your brand, and high among them should be to make your voice heard: your unique voice. Voice is the contribution made to something larger than oneself. It’s the medium for sharing one’s purpose, values, talents and vision for the future. Yes, there are plenty of examples in contemporary society of people creating a shallow brand seemingly for the sole purpose of increasing the number of social media followers. But, before you too hastily follow that line of thinking, consider the bigger picture—and your values. Where do you want your name and legacy to appear in people’s minds and hearts?
Some of the most fundamental elements of a value-rich personal brand are reflected in the 4Cs of brand management:
1. Conviction. How do your values show themselves in your life? In the way you carry yourself? In your conversations, friendships, choices? How do others know what you stand for? People with strong brands—those who are most influential and apt to attract followers and allies—are mission-driven. Their words and deeds are predictably consistent with their values. Conviction is more than a noble concept; it’s about having an unimpeachable character that is, and is understood by others to be, working in the service of something greater than yourself. Again, what is the “greater good” that you are striving for, and is it known to others through the large and small behavioral choices you make on a regular basis?
2. Caring. Managing your brand means caring enough about how you are perceived to invest time and be open to behavioral modifications. Captain Ronald Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, brought in to turnaround the riots in Ferguson, MO, personified caring at the press conference held on August 15, following the shooting of Michael Brown. Media from around the country were carefully positioned to record his every word, yet the locals standing 20 feet in front of him could not hear his remarks. Brown walked away from the staged microphone and into the crowd because, as he stated, “my concern is that the members of our community hear me and be heard.”
People who are most in control of their brand are able to keep small the gap between how they see themselves and how others see them. Research shows that with ascension in titular leadership this becomes more difficult, particularly because there is less access to the unfettered truth. Simply, the higher one goes up the proverbial ladder, the smaller the peer group becomes. Fewer peers means there are less people willing (often because of fear of reprisal) to share honest perspectives about the behaviors that need to stop or be changed. Without access to this feedback, and with ascension, it is easy to only pay attention to the limited, and affirmative, feedback received. Over time, and as people are expected to perform in increasingly sophisticated and politically nuanced environments, the higher the probability that past strengths will become weaknesses. A classic example of this is people who move from #2 to #1 positions in an organization. The operational strengths that helped them move through their career are no longer considered as relevant when one is expected to perform as a strategy-savvy CEO.
Caring is also—and perhaps appropriately weighted—being concerned about the impact you are having on others.
3. Class. “Keep it classy” is a mantra for those who sometimes forget that brand is shaped with every choice made, every word uttered. Whether choosing to act or not act a choice is being made. Even thoughts are choices—choosing to focus mental and emotional energy on certain things over others.
Classiness requires intentionality. Think of your life as a story to be displayed on a television show. You are one of several cast members, each requiring a clear identity that contributes to the overall theme of the show. Who are you relative to the other members of the cast? Are you the Protagonist? Hero? Victim? Underdog?
Create a personal narrative; psychologists call it self-authoring. You decide the story line, then position yourself in the role that is most desirable for you and others. Writing the story forces you to explore the needs and motivations of others; to develop the characters and your relationship to them—your colleagues, boss, clients, children, spouse or partner and friends.
This desire to understand what motivates others is a key to fully fleshing out your character’s role and behaviors in enacting the story. It is also the essence of building a strong personal identity—understanding yourself in relation to the needs and motives of others is one of the most effective ways to create a credible brand, a brand powerful enough to positively influence others.
4. Confidence. Confidence is the toughest of the Cs in this list. It can’t be taught or bought; it has to be earned. There are people who are full of shallow entitlement that comes across as smug confidence. Don’t pay attention to them, and certainly don’t let yourself become one of them. It’s transparent. They’re hiding something, which will be discovered in time.
Earned confidence is beautiful to observe. It shows itself as an effortless comfort in one’s being, requiring no airs. People with a deep sense of personal confidence often have many relationships, varied interests and deep passions, make an effort to stretch their boundaries and are comfortable saying no. Confidence is built through experience and relationships, and wise people invest—on an ongoing basis—in the nurturing and acquisition of both.
Here’s the simple truth: perception does count. People make split-second judgments all the time. Taking control of your brand means that you are putting yourself in the driver’s seat, making a conscious choice to intentionally reflect behaviors and choices that allow the best of you to shine.
DeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate and author. She has more than 20 years of experience working with individual leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. For more information, visit http://www.deettajones.com.