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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 “inside-out”.

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 possible.

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 culture.

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 info@clearingthe90dayhurdle.com

* all names and identifying details have been changed to protect client confidentiality


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 http://www.clearingthe90dayhurdle.com/top10-report.shtml

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