I do personal branding for a living. I “brand” people and their businesses. I work for business and not for showbiz, as I believe the need for branding is a vital – and a more honest need after all – in the entrepreneurial world where the capacity of branding to articulate identities can be effectively put to work.
People who fall under these 4 categories usually contact me:
- corporate people tired of being employed with a more or less clear idea of what they would like to do next, in search for career advice and a sort of fulcrum;
- young entrepreneurs with a freelancer profile and an already established little business in search for a clearer positioning and a better defined role of themselves in their field;
- business professionals in lifestyle entrepreneurships – from coaches, psychologists and actors to medical doctors and technology geeks;
- CEOs of their own established entrepreneurial business with a clear structure in business but maybe with a poor or inexistent public profile as well as CEOs that need to reconnect the entire organization to a core ideology and vertebrate employer branding processes and …themselves along the way.
Irrespective of how different they are in life and professional stages, there is something that links all the up-mentioned profiles: what springs to their minds when they approach the need for branding is an irrepressible penchant towards being present, visible around the “me”, the “self”, the “ego” that others “need” to see, to perceive to monetize in a way or another. Nothing catastrophically wrong so far. The issue starts when we only remain to the “me” stage.
What is the “me” stage?
It is true that personal branding is about promoting a person, putting a human identity in some sort of social light as it is about ultimately taking sane pride in what you are and what you do. What is key instead is that stakeholders can effectively see value in that light. What is put forth, what is playing under the spotlight? Personal branding cannot substantiate anything unless… substance is on stage and a “supportive” person behind a valuable and relevant promise. Did I say “supportive”, “in the backstage”, in the “support staff” of their valuable promise in business or else? Oops! So it is not about being ubiquitous as a person? It is not about “me”?
There is a quite incipient – I dare to say – talking these days about humility in business. What seems an almost inappropriate word for the business world, might have gained the biggest of relevance lately. Humility and personal branding are not irreconcilable at all in business, in the same way that self centered posturing and a self absorbed personality might not make a valuable personal brand.
Briefly put, personal branding is not a gift made to the ego and certainly not a selfie. In the process of personal branding managers, entrepreneurs and freelancers are nothing but the humble servants of their ideas, deeds, projects, businesses, own contribution to the world ultimately. They are not the “servants of self”, they speak in the name of their projects and their major role is that of an endorser.
In personal branding I work for ideas and beautiful projects seen through the eyes and personality of their beholders but crafted and refined through the objective lenses of the outside consultant. A person-to-person job, it’s true, but what comes out it in the end must be about a long lasting new little-piece-of-value-that-someone-really-needs that is brought to the world.
Counter-intuitively introverts are better clients for personal branding than extroverts. That is mainly because profoundness and self-centeredness are key to the process, as I see it, at least. Personal branding does not equal personal promotion. “Pick me, see me” is not the way. When doing personal branding what proves to be the backbone of a professional identity is the sine qua non prerequisite for a long-term reputation.
Here are my reasons for why introverts, shy and even camera shy make better personal brands:
- Introverts are profound people, astute and observant They have the power to concentrate on everything they’ve got. They make a point of paying attention to nonverbal cues that might reveal hidden meanings, because they know words are only half of the story;
- Introverts are good at studying so they can become experts quicker in their field. Whatever they know, they tend to know well. They think deep before they speak and usually avoid chitchat;
- Introverts are self-sufficient, they are not dependent people. They feel free and empowered as long as they believe that what happens is pretty much in their control. They have a sense of balance that is innate and are not so prone to excesses;
- Introverts are committed to their goals. Introverts tend to be self driven and disciplined. They don’t need approval from external sources, so they direct their energy to the pursuit of an ambitious goal instead. This ambition often turns introverts into highly successful people;
- Introverts are thought provoking when you get them talking. They are inspiring people because what they have to say springs from their inner fountain.
Introverts have interesting things to say especially when these things passionate them. As they are not keen on shallow conversation you can engage vividly in a deep discussion and find intellectual satisfaction.
- Introverts are in touch with their feelings and empathetic.
Introverts are masters of their emotions. They reflect until they are able to understand the responsible triggers for their negative thoughts. This retrospection helps them dig deep enough to deal with self-defeating beliefs that limit their potential;
- Introverts are trustworthy people.
A reputation is built on public exposure, it’s true, but without a core of heavy meaning, it cannot be sustained. In a way, reputation is like a solidifying pearl around a tiny grain. And ultimately this grain of “interior-ism” is what distinguishes a self-standing and lasting human entity from an elusive social projection.
People not employees, lifestyle not work-life balance, “heartcount”, not headcount
A new era is dawning for corporations. Keeping people together in the effervescent and lucrative social glue that transcends even the togetherness of the office becomes the most provocative task for management worldwide. Employer branding through brand engagement sessions might become the most effective tool a managerial team has in its hands to collate durably the employer’s brand to that of each and every employee.
Employees are not resources and they do not need management. This is a quite recent discovery in the science of management that itself needs recalibration.
Employees are the most intimate fabric of a holistic system that can only work if each piece acknowledges its value in the whole and is granted enough freedom to influence the whole. They do not need to be “managed”, conducted, but informed, inspired, and let to be as persons. The rest will come naturally. Self determination well nurtured and rather gently guided seems to be the key.
In this context, brand engagement sessions, well rooted in the deepest organizational truths, have the energy to provoke a reset, be it for a corporation or an entrepreneurial endeavor. The decision to invest in them belongs usually to visionary leaders, as per the story below:
CFO:” what if we invest now in these training sessions and people leave?”
CEO: “what if we don’t invest and they stay?”
How can we obtain the so much praised intrinsic motivation, and how come it became the inside job …of the employer? Isn’t it absurd? The capacity to accommodate meaning within the object of work should happen on the employee side. As an employer might put it: “if I have to motivate you, maybe I shouldn’t have hired you in the first place”…
When things go well and performance goes as predicted, top management is not pushed towards reshuffling vision or adopting any preventive behavior. To prevent what? When the going gets tough instead, usually it is hard to pinpoint the real cause as it is already buried in effects. A general state of demotivation installs, with more or less explicit tension axes, toxicity that is suddenly revealed, anxieties or simply disorientation shows that something is boiling down under. But what is cooking?
People boil because something rather important is getting displaced: their trust. The trust in the integrity of that invisible spider net that holds people together in an office around whatever they have to do. The trust that each of them matters in the big picture is replaced gradually by the cynical air of “nobody is irreplaceable”. The common spirit gets thinner and thinner, unwritten laws are ignored and people resume dryly to whatever is explicit on email. Explicitness replaces tacit acknowledgments. Taken by the flow of how to reach monthly objectives, companies forget to adjust lenses to seize something further than the half-year assessment. And more importantly, they forget to nurture the togetherness that an honest and empathetic “How are you, really” addressed to people can bring in. The emotional link between the company and every employee is lost and it gets translated in a sad trade-off regulated at the end of each month.
Anthropologically speaking, we are gregarious beings and belonging together is what makes us human at the end of the day. We need to look in the same direction with peers, we need freedom but we thrive under the cozy shelter of a group. Is there any solution that employers can activate to grow togetherness and belonging?
As a branding specialist, I frequently had the opportunity to deliver brand engagement sessions towards corporate or entrepreneurial companies. These sessions are very atypical in the classical landscape of trainings as they are at the crossroad of three main axes: branding, organizational culture and personal development. The liaison between these three axes is stronger than it might seem and highly relevant in self motivational context – “self” is key here.
They are usually the last step of a rebranding process or in any change management framework where strategic shift needs to be internalized at all levels. Or even when there are too many things that remained unspoken during an accelerated growth process. Whenever there are strategic decisions to be communicated that bear consequences upon employees, these decisions have to be communicated with the right dose of transparency but also seduction. Employer – employee is a “transactional space” almost like a theater of operations – in the most pacifist sense of the expression – where goals and objectives need alignment.
Such sessions of symbolic “engagement” with the organizational values lead to personal and intimate little revelations that employees have at a very personal level about the umbilical link between the employer’s brand and their own personal brand.
10 reasons for why business leaders should be rather peaceful human beings.
The question is: do we still need, in the nowadays business world, this strong link between charisma and leadership? Do we still need to explain exceptional leadership with the help of this “ex-machina” trait?
Raise your hand if you believe that a good leader can live and perform fed by more affordably mundane character traits and liberated from the charms of charisma!
Leadership evolved a lot alongside society and its transforming needs. The career of the concept started when Max Weber first coined the term of “charisma”. He said there were three types of leadership: legal (rational, formally “elected”), traditional (inherited) and charismatic. Charisma made it so well that it almost magnetically got stuck to leadership – we all accept that leadership is a melting pot of ingredients but charisma seems to take the lion share among them.
I wonder why this happens: would it be because charisma smells like …rating? Its “divine” origin, elusive, mysterious and with enigmatic grace must be a part of what it takes to lead people. Truth might be that we simply need to believe in charisma: either to cover our personal incapacity to be a good leader (saying that not everyone is born with it!) or to give an acceptable explanation for why some people rise above others.
As any concept that incites, charisma was then called a “trap”: it is dangerous because it dilutes judgment through emotional manipulation and creates even irrational addiction. It’s true it works both ways, depending on whom it serves: charisma among political leaders led to both Ghandi and Hitler. But still, it throws the veil on the eye of objectivity and blinds judgment. So, no good. No good at all!
Despite the potential of charisma, leadership is by far the most frequent word in the business literature. Not a single concept unleashed a similar deluge of contributions. That’s because leading is an archetype that splits the world in the cardinal of “up” and “down”, North and South and there is no escape from it. The question is: do we still need, in the nowadays business world, this strong link between charisma and leadership? Do we still need to explain exceptional leadership by the help of this “ex-machina” trait called charisma? Why can’t we just let leadership breathe and live by itself in a little bit more mundane environment? Why don’t we figure it out as descending among us more often? Why can’t we make it a little bit more affordable?
Leadership in business requires a profile that might not resemble leadership in politics (nothing is like politics, actually!) or stardom. Leadership in business might require a human profile quite far from charisma.
Here is my take on it:
- Leadership is no longer about leading. It is about facilitating the growth of something.
- Leadership is not about showing the way but about mapping it progressively, step by step, with the full spectrum of uncertainty ahead, kindly assumed.
- Leadership is about relationship. A genuine leader nurtures relationships that grow into tangible realities, instead of pointing towards self achievements.
- Leadership is not about being in the front row of the battlefield (would it be because modern business battlefields happen on much more than one frontline?). A true leader is much better at knitting: ideas, opportunities, egos, facts and figures into a coherent picture.
- Leadership is not about an overwhelming truth that everyone must see, but about mitigating among personal, smaller truths towards a common goal. Leaders are not containers for certitudes, but rather deep reservoirs for doubts.
- Leadership is not about shouting from the top of the mountain but about listening deep to evanescent whispers in order to detect a more profound reality. #SusanCain talks about “moderate assertiveness” as a good skill for good leaders.
- Business leaders do not carry a flag to stick in the muddy puddles of unchartered fields. They carry colleagues’ ideas to untangle complexity, with humor, over a cozy tea.
- Leadership can be intrinsically introvert and camera shy and it’s nothing wrong with it. Shyness comes from naked self-awareness and decency. If it’s in there, true value will find a way out to shine for itself.
- Leadership might not have a smashing vision of the future as long as it makes the most out of each moment.
- Leadership and failure are pals.
I believe leadership is no longer about power but about the ability to empower and this is a thing we cam tame, practice and enjoy. I might not be right about that, either. And that’s ok. What do you believe?
- How has the Romanians’ perception changed when it comes to personal branding & development in the last years? Are personal branding & development trending in Romania? Do you see a rise in the last years and why?
I believe Romania follows naturally a worldwide trend shaped significantly by the rise of social media, communities of peers and the change in working time structure.
Personal branding is much more than a fad. The need for it, in business at least, became an almost sine-qua-non prerequisite for success. And that is due to one main reason: personal reputation, now easier to track anytime, anywhere started to matter a lot. More and more professionals (executives or entrepreneurs) realize the need to articulate clearly their own discourse, to put forth their own professional offer consistently. I dare to say that the noisier the clutter of daily news about everything, the bigger the need for standing apart through branding. Branding enforces clarity, unites perspectives, and creates a distinguishable and potentially memorable footprint for the business and its leader. Branding is a powerful (self) management tool and the first solid brick for public exposure: because indeed, branding is not (only) about exposure but about creating the very core of what you have to say so as to represent you at your best, to be relevant to others and, if possible, to bear a certain degree of newsworthiness.
- Tell us more about your personal branding courses and what you do differently in your company in comparison with the competition? Why have you chosen that niche? What do you foresee for the future?
There are two things that define distinctively my work.
Firstly, I don’t do personal branding courses and that is the very essence of my competitive difference. What I do is personal branding consultancy. I do not teach people self-help, I do not deliver public speaking about how to enhance your brand in general and I do not sell tips& tricks. Personal branding is …personal, therefore it is a one-to-one endeavor, a 100% personalized approach. It’s a made-sur-measure tailoring, meaning time and know how dedicated individually to each person that seems to need my expertise. Actually the very name of my freelance company – Innerout – encapsulates the quintessence of my approach: personal branding starts from the inner capabilities of the person in order to be sustainable, further builds on authenticity and then shows itself outside, in its best of versions.
Secondly I do not work for celebs or showbiz, as it is usually the common expectation in the field. I believe celebs and public figures need no branding, but constant exposure. My “niche within the niche” is the rising world of entrepreneurship instead, be it for startups or established businesses, be it for freelancers or mature business owners. I work for people who proved to really need this service because of two main reasons:
- Entrepreneurial businesses are intimately linked to the reputation and destiny of their leader. The personal brand of the leader strengthens the business and constantly feeds its reputational capital. And vice versa. In corporate businesses this doesn’t happen.
- Entrepreneurs feel the need to start, to make, to build (it’s the rather instinctual side of this special breed) but they usually lack a map and the objective eye of an outsider. They can never judge fairly their own baby. I firmly believe in the saying that even the best of the shoemakers with always be short on …his own shoes. It calls for an outside look to put things in perspective and the finger upon what is relevant indeed.
Personal branding is about creating a professional identity first and foremost, and then putting it in its best verbal and graphic shape in order for its most relevant stakeholders to properly reach its messages.
To put it short I’d say that personal branding is an effort to articulate the human complexity in the fewest words possible – a complicated way to simplify things, as I like to put it. People need simplification and clarity, and branding does that. Unless a brand is clear it cannot communicate efficiently and effectively. Branding articulates the reality of the output, whatever this is. From there on business decisions are smoother and communication follows. Branding does that: it always serves as a strategic management tool and an engagement around a certain meaning. People live for meaning, are driven to work by meaning. Brands, including personal brands, need to instill meaning, otherwise nobody is hearing them.
- Can we consider that Romanians are starting to be more and more interested in their personal development and the meaning of life? How do you see that manifesting?
Personal branding and personal development are neighbors but not relatives. Branding is publicly related more to communication and exposure, while development is more of a personal roadmap to follow. It is also true that it happens for both to occur more or less in the same period of life: at midlife, at career crossroads, after downshifting, or when the employee status makes room to the need for more personal freedom.
Still, the common denominator of personal branding and personal development is the need for identity. Branding is about shaping identity and consolidating a reputation based on that identity and starts with a solid portion or self-awareness and self-knowledge. Branding must unleash self-development otherwise the whole process risks flimsiness. Branding itself is a discipline in which fields as communication, psychology, social behavior theories, coaching, advertising and good writing skills dovetail.
- At what revenue a year would you consider is the Romanian personal development marketing situation? (courses, events, books) What are the trends in this area?
No doubt it is a market in growth or at least steady as people are more and more aware of this need, but I couldn’t give any estimate. Only by observing the dimensions and the positioning of the shelf in bookstores dedicated to self-development literature, the focus becomes clear. New terms and meanings are coined to describe social realities that did not exist 5 to 10 years ago. It’s the times we live in that accelerated the need to take faster and maybe more radical decisions regarding the work-life balance; opportunities are everywhere doubled by the mirroring risks, entrepreneurship and freelancing lures more people and there is a lot of talking around it in the last ten years, etc. So with lots of open doors and market dynamics as never before, people put more pressure on their careers and ask more of them. Generations gaps are still visible and not necessarily erased by technology while lots of challenges ahead leave us with very few certainties.