How to Develop Your Personal Brand (And Live Up to It)

What adjectives would you use to describe yourself? Would your coworkers, friends and families use the same terms?

Pamela Stepp, who teaches leadership assessment at Cornell’s ILR School, joined eCornell’s Chris Wofford for a WebCast focusing on how to develop a personal leadership brand and ensure that you continue to live up it.

Wofford: I’m very excited to have you here with us, Pamela.

Stepp: Thank you Chris, and thanks to everyone who is tuning in. This is all about you.

I want to start by asking everyone watching to think about who you are as a professional and who you want to be.

I’m going to walk you through the steps to create your own personal leadership brand and then help you come up with a story that you can tell that will demonstrate that brand.

Wofford: That sounds great. I think our audience will really get something out of this. Where should we start?

Stepp: Power is very important to consider when you are developing your personal leadership brand. You need to think about how you present yourself powerfully in an organization and how to recognize if someone is powerful or powerless. A good way to start thinking about this is to choose a person—this could be anybody in the world—who you think is powerful. Think about the characteristics of that person and what helps them be powerful and write down this person’s leadership brand in one sentence.

Chris, let’s use you for an example. Who did you think of?

Wofford: The first person that came to my mind was Bob Dylan. And the adjectives I used to describe him were mysterious, direct, and honest.

Stepp: Isn’t that amazing how fast you could come up with these clear traits? Let’s turn to the audience members. Someone has chosen Oprah Winfrey, saying she is credible, empathetic, driven, and relatable. Does that sound like Oprah? I certainly think so. Another has chosen Barack Obama and described him as gentle, straightforward, and clear-speaking. So we can see that it’s quite easy to identify the personal brands of well-known leaders.

Now let’s move on to thinking about our own personal branding. What makes you different? What adjectives would you choose to describe this brand called “you”?

Wofford: Wow, the answers from our viewers are coming in very quickly. Maureen says she’s organized. Darius, passionate. Marcelo, accountable. Rebeka says she’s driven and has great attention to detail. Carol says she leads and inspires.

Stepp: I can see more results are still coming in, but now I want you to come up with your most noteworthy traits and values. It’s important to remember that your values change at different stages in your life, so I want you to come up with examples of your current value, either personal or professional.

Wofford: Some of the answers coming in include curiosity, family, integrity, honesty, kindness, empathy. These are great examples from our audience.

Stepp: Yes they are. Now I’m going to give you an example of two short descriptions of the leadership brand that I use. I teach at universities and business schools all over the world and one of the brands that I use—and I want people to let me know if I’m living up to this —is that I want to be known for being a knowledgeable and inclusive leadership educator who demonstrates her passion for the subject and genuinely cares about helping her participants or students to grow into the best leaders that they can be.

So that’s the personal brand I have when I’m giving these sorts of talks. I had a different brand when I was a full time businesswoman as the managing director at the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies. There, I wanted to be known for being a knowledgeable and open-minded business leader who used her confidence, determination, and networking ability to help the center grow into a more global organization.

So that’s how I’ve used my values to create personal branding.

Wofford: Pamela, I’m just going to play devil’s advocate for a moment and ask what the point is in using these words to describe yourself. In your case, you say you’re inclusive, knowledgeable, and dedicated to making sure that people get results out of your talks. Isn’t this just an example of putting your best foot forward? Does it really help one’s leadership ability to go through this sort of exercise?

Stepp: It does, and that’s because once you’ve established your leadership brand, you want to live up to it. It helps keep things clear in your mind and remind you whether or not you’re living up to the way you’ve described yourself and the way you want others to see you. Does that answer your question?

Wofford: It does. You’re saying we’re always a work in progress and that developing a personal brand helps bring focus to our careers and our professional lives.

Stepp: That’s right. It helps us focus on the traits that we want to be known for. Some examples coming in from the audience include inspirational, politically savvy, collaborative, innovative, results driven, strategic.

Then you start to refine those and work toward finding your identity by combining those descriptors. For example, “I’m a strategic innovator who gets things done.” You want to construct your leadership brand statement by putting everything together, all those adjectives and values.

Then you need to start asking other people what they think your brand is because it will surprise you. Make your brand identity real by checking in with others around you. Are you living up to that brand? That’s the beauty of having a defined leadership brand. You can always check in to make sure you are living up to it.

Wofford: So is your recommendation to go to other people and ask them how they’d describe you?

Stepp: Absolutely. You’ve got to keep reminding yourself of your brand and keep asking others if you’re living up to it. For example, I teach undergrads at the university because I want to prepare 20 year olds for leadership and because I want to know that generation. I started writing about being an inclusive leader and when I get evaluations back at the end of the semester, I can see that inclusion is my highest score. That really inspires me to keep working on that and to make sure everybody participates, to make sure I’m including international students who maybe aren’t speaking English all that well, making sure that there aren’t gender imbalances in who I reach. The point is, you can gain confidence if you learn that you are living up to your brand. And if you’re not living up to it, you have to know that. My brand is the yardstick by which I measure myself.

Wofford: We invite you to take a minute and see if you can come up with your own personal brand statement. Don’t overthink it. This is just an exercise and something that hopefully you’ll continue to work on.

OK, we have some responses. Deborah says “I’m a mentor. Helping others is what I enjoy best.” Steve has a great one: “I’m an innovator who pushes the creative envelope by inspiring others to do the same.” Crystal says, “I’m an innovative, compassionate, and knowledgeable leader with a desire to help others become the best that they can possibly be.” I think people are getting there, right Pamela?

Stepp: Yes, you are all doing a great job. These are good examples of leadership brand statements. You can refine and change them, but they shouldn’t be long diatribes. It should just be a paragraph, so these are really well done.

Once you have that brand, it’s time to think about storytelling. It’s always helpful to demonstrate your brand through stories, whether you’re standing up in front of an audience or if you’re at a cocktail party or even just with your friends. When done well, a compelling story can inspire our beliefs and our motivation to reach a goal. So I recommend that you all think of a story that you enjoy telling and think about how you can use that in the workplace.

I also want you to think about nonverbal power. When you walk into a room, you want to stand up straight and have good eye contact.With nonverbal power, you want to express competence. You want to express trustworthiness, dynamism, energy. When you talk, you want to be sure to think about using a proper voice, making eye contact and scanning the whole room.

Another huge thing is that when you are speaking with someone, you need to take the effort to learn their name, maintain eye contact, and make them feel you are focused on them. I’ve always found that amongst the people that I admire, their leadership ability is to make you feel like you’re the only person in the room.

Wofford: Pamela, thanks so much for joining us. I’m excited to get my storytelling ability dialed in and I hope that those in the audience will start working on their personal leadership brand one-sentence mantras as well.

Stepp: Thanks so much for having me.

 

Want to hear more? This interview is based on Pamela Stepp’s live eCornell WebSeries event, How to Develop a Personal Leadership Brand. Subscribe now to gain access to a recording of this event and other Women in Leadership topics. 

Christopher Wofford is Digital Media Producer and host of WebSeries at eCornell.
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