Is there a more overworked word in the business lexicon than “personal brand”? Brand this, brand that, brand yourself, blah-blah-blah. The whole concept has officially entered the Social and Career Cliché Hall of Fame, right?
Not so fast.
Like all clichés, branding became one because there’s truth in it. So let’s all get a little Zen here and assume Shoshin or beginner’s mind. This is a powerful practice — a brilliant business thinker and local social friend of mine by the name of (1997 anyone? This is not a new concept ) Tom Peters – mentioned this means clearing our minds of preconceptions and approaching a subject as if for the first time. I like this concept and try to put into practice whenever I can.
The simple truth: you branding is real and imperative. It is positive, passionate, and powerful. It is a road that leads to our best career and leadership selves.
And it’s not complicated.
Let’s get back to basics with these five essentials steps:
1) Listen to Shakespeare
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” With these nine simple words, the Bard has gotten to the heart of branding. Your brand must start with you — and stay true to you. It’s not a B-school concept or some trending social media fad that will burn out in six months. Your brand is you – heart, soul, and head. Never forget that fact. Make it the foundation of all that follows your career and leadership skills.
2) Take a personal inventory
We all think we know ourselves pretty well, but a personal inventory is an essential step in building Brand You. It’s an objective look at our strengths, our weaknesses and our personality. Start with your passions — what makes you leap out of bed in the morning, makes you want to dig deep and deliver? What are your talents? What areas just don’t grab you? Where are you weak? Remember, no one is good at everything, and nobody hires you to be perfect. Understand what Brand You is best at — this your career calling card.
3) Be honest
In our culture there’s bias towards extroverts, people who are positive, outgoing, cheerful. Guess what? Not all of us are like that. In fact, some of the most amazingly gifted and productive people on the planet are introverts, serious, distracted, even socially awkward. Most of us fall somewhere in between. But if you are an introvert, own it, share it, and be proud because it’s part of Brand You. Don’t force yourself to be someone you’re not. This rule also applies to social media. Maybe you’re a natural at blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, etc. and maybe you’re not. If you’re not, then it shouldn’t be a crucial part of Brand You. (Caveat – these days at least a passable aptitude with social media is pretty much sine qua non. So at least master the social media basics) The key, again and always, is to be true to yourself.
4) Don’t over (or under) sell yourself – Think Reality TV
It sometimes seems like the most aggressive (even arrogant) people get noticed, hired and rewarded. You might call it the Donald Trump Syndrome. The fact is, for every Donald, there are a dozen people who oversold themselves, weren’t able to deliver, and stalled their careers. Be confident, of course, but don’t promise what Brand You can’t deliver. It’s a mistake HR people and leaders see all the time. Yes, shoot for the stars on every project, but let your results speak for themselves. On the other hand, do make sure that your friends, recruiters, hiring managers and leaders know about your successes and that you get credit where due. Don’t hide your light under a talent, let it shine!
5) Bring your best self
Our work lives are very important to all of us. Let’s not forget …. They can be a source of fulfillment, challenge, excitement, and financial, social rewards — and give real meaning to our lives. Brand You is about making that happen for you. It’s about understanding yourself – your best self – and then sharing it with the world of work and your social communities of interest. It’s about bringing your heart, soul and head, your passions and promise to your career. Build a Brand You that reflects all that and great things will happen.
A version of this post was first published on Forbes on 2/24/13.