Reconciling Personal Branding with Authenticity
If you’ve always thought of a “brand” as essentially something that’s created
by marketers to enable them to charge more for a product or and have it stand
out in a crowd, then the notion of “personal branding” would seem to be
completely out of alignment with a philosophy that values authenticity and being
the real you.
Yet personal branding experts advise that the strongest brands are those that
are based on authenticity. In essence, they are established from the
In the words of personal branding guru, William Arruda …
Branding is all about authenticity. Volvo couldn’t communicate safety is
their brand if their cars exploded every time they were in an accident. The
same is true for personal branding. Your personal brand is based in what is
real, true and genuine. Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said “the most exhausting
thing you can be is inauthentic.” Great advice when you are building your
personal brand. Personal branding is permission to be you.
Coach’s Question #1:
How would other people describe your brand?
How is this aligned with your own view of yourself?
Bill* is a Toronto-based sales executive who had been looking for a new role
for over a year since his company relocated to Ireland. While he had been paid a
generous severance, there was a lot riding on the success of his candidacy for
this position. Bill and his wife are supporting three university-aged children
and his wife is on disability. Needless to say, landing the position was
important to Bill.
In the process of interviewing for the role, Bill essentially “sold himself in”
to the position. There were many aspects of the job that were unappealing for
Bill and didn’t play to his strengths. He felt that once he was hired, however,
he could start to make changes in the role.
Unfortunately, Bill’s approach is a recipe for disappointment and
frustration—both for himself and the hiring organization. (It’s almost like
marrying someone and thinking that you’ll change them after the wedding.)
When working with coaching clients hired into a new organization, one of the
first questions I ask is “How well-aligned is the image you presented through
the hiring process with who you really are?” In the pressure to perform and
be successful in the hiring process, it is not uncommon for candidates to
emphasize characteristics that are not truly their own.
In the Clearing the 90-Day Hurdle™ coaching-plus-consulting process, we go
through a process of clarifying strengths and development needs, so that new
hires can present themselves to their new organization as authentically as
When I conducted intensive interviews with line executives, human resources
leaders and executive search consultants, they all advised of the importance of
“being yourself” when entering a new organization.
This may seem to be a very simplistic and obvious piece of advice, yet the
pressure of meeting the expectations of a new role, new boss and new
organization can lead many new hires to try so hard that they end up “acting a
part”. This persona can be very difficult to maintain over time and can get in
the way of developing strong relationships with others in the new environment.
Today’s organizations expect people at all levels to be honest about whom they
are and authentic in how they interact with others. Best-selling leadership
books are addressing the topics of “authentic leadership”, “leadership from the
inside-out”, integrity and humility.
Coach’s Question #2
What genuine personal strengths could you demonstrate more powerfully to
reinforce your brand?
A personal brand that is in essence a facade will negatively impact self
confidence due to the internal disconnect. The person feels like an impostor and
others will sense the lack of authenticity and confidence. Branding is not about
projecting a false image for the outside world.
In my work with women executives and visible minority leaders, I particularly
notice the impact of being inauthentic on personal branding. Sadly, in an effort
to “blend in” and follow the leadership of senior role models available in their
organizations (typically white male executives), it is quite common for women
and minority leaders to put on a cloak of inauthentic behaviours in an effort to
be accepted and to achieve success. Often the pressures are so ever-present that
this adjusting is completely unconscious. Strengths and unique characteristics
are hidden in order to fit into a traditional, male-dominated, homogeneous
As a result, these leaders are perceived to be quite different from who they
know themselves to be. Overtime this can become very disillusioning. In mid-life
or later in their careers, such leaders often come to executive coaching with
the feeling that “something’s not right” or “something’s missing”. Others
check-out of the organization or corporate life altogether because they feel so
trapped by a personal brand that is not consistent with who they are and they
have no idea how to resolve the situation.
Coach’s Question #3
How are you adapting your behaviour to fit into your understanding of what’s
important to be successful in your organization?
How does this align with who you are?
Thus, your personal brand is deeply rooted in your authentic personal
identity. The true goal of personal branding is to be known for who you are and
what you value. Your personal brand plan can become your own compass, guiding
your behaviours and communications so that you demonstrate clarity and
consistency in all your interactions.
Your personal brand captures what is unique about YOU; it’s not about
differentiating a commodity.
I’m interested in hearing your stories about ways you have looked at your own
personal branding. Send me an email with your feedback or questions to
* all names and identifying details have been changed to protect client
Sue Edwards is a Leadership and Business coach who specializes in working
with leaders in transition to new roles and new organizations. To download a
free copy of Sue’s report: “Top Ten Success Factors (and Seven Deadly Sins) for
Leaders Transitioning into Organizations”, click here