Standing Out At The Top: Developing a Personal Brand as a Senior Leader

Imagine you’re at an important job interview, and a member of the panel asks, “What kind of leader are you?”

Would you be able to deliver a succinct and comprehensive answer, or would you fumble through a list of generic qualities, struggling to cobble together a response?

Now, imagine you had the perfect answer already formulated. Even better – imagine your interviewer already has a detailed insight into what kind of leader you are without you having to explain a thing. This is the power of personal branding.

What do we mean by ‘personal branding’ for senior leaders?

Some people think their personal brand is the content they share on LinkedIn. Others may think it’s the way they behave in the workplace, and the reputation they’ve developed within their network. The truth is, it’s a combination of all of these, and more. Perhaps Jeff Bezos summed it up best when he said, “your personal brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

Having a strong personal brand can be an asset both to you and the organisation you work for, as it has the power to shape others’ perceptions of you, build trust and credibility, and establish you as an authority within your field.

In this article, we’ll be running through some tips to help develop and communicate your personal brand as a senior leader.

Embrace your authentic self

When Oliver Cromwell said he wanted his 1657 portrait to capture his likeness ‘warts and all’, he wasn’t just shunning the traditional idealised representation of monarchs at the time. He also understood that an honest portrait would communicate an important message about the essence of his character and leadership.

Even centuries later, this wisdom still holds true. It’s easy to feel as though we need to project the perfect image of ourselves to the world, for fear of being seen as less competent and capable. But, think back to the last time someone shared a vulnerability or a shortcoming with you; did you think any less of them, or did you admire them for their courage and authenticity?

When thinking about your personal brand, don’t feel tempted to emulate someone else or erase your flaws. Being true to yourself effortlessly communicates several key values, such as transparency, honesty and integrity. For example, let’s say you’re amongst the 25% of people in the UK who struggle with a mental health issue. You might decide to embrace this part of yourself in your personal branding, and commit to speaking openly about what is often a taboo subject both online and in the workplace. As a person in a position of authority, being honest about topics such as this can be a huge inspiration to those facing similar struggles. You might also decide to open up about times you’ve struggled in your professional life, and challenges you’ve had to overcome to succeed. It might seem counterintuitive, but scientific research shows that leaders who are honest about their shortcomings are more highly regarded than those who aren’t.

Clarify your values

We all have values that define the way we think and behave, both in our personal lives and in the workplace. Few of us ever take the time to really think about these in depth, but this is another key aspect of developing a personal brand as a senior leader.

Consider the principles that really matter to you. Perhaps empathy has helped you forge a strong relationship with your colleagues, or maybe you’ve found that honesty has been a really important factor in your team’s professional development. Now’s the time to start jotting each of these down, along with concrete examples of how they show up in your personal and professional life. When you’re done, you might end up with something that looks a bit like this…

As part of this exercise, it can also be useful to ask others how they view you, as they may suggest qualities you’d never have thought of yourself.

It’s important to remember that your values don’t need to be qualities you exemplify all the time – after all, nobody’s perfect. Instead, they should be guiding principles which reflect what matters most to you and influence your decisions and actions. Keeping these values front of mind can be incredibly useful in challenging situations. Just as with corporate values, the real test for your personal values comes during moments of pressure and stress.

Once you have a concise list, you’ll better understand the core pillars that will formulate your personal brand.

Communicate your personal brand

Once you have the foundations of your personal brand, it’s time to figure out how you’ll be letting the world know who you are and what you stand for. Communicating your personal brand will mean different things to different people, so it’s important to work out what’s right for you. Don’t make the mistake of thinking too narrowly; being active on professional networking platforms like LinkedIn is important, but why stop there? Perhaps you’d like to speak at conferences, panel events, be a guest on podcasts, or even contribute your expertise in national or industry press. You might also consider holding workshops in the office centred around a topic that’s important to you and aligns with your values.

It’s also useful to note that there are several ways to communicate your personal brand that don’t revolve solely around your professional life. Perhaps you’re a working mother, and one of your values is authenticity – talking about your experience of balancing your work and professional life could be very powerful. Maybe running a marathon taught you some important life lessons about tenacity and grit. Whatever it may be, sharing key parts of your life that have helped define and shape your values can be an important part of building your personal brand.

Ultimately, building a personal brand as a senior leader is a journey of self-discovery, authenticity, and uncovering the values that form the foundation of your leadership style. It’s also a game of patience and constant refinement – as you grow and develop as a senior leader, you might find your priorities and opinions change. In the world of leadership, where perceptions matter and influence carries weight, being consistent with your personal brand will not only distinguish you in today’s competitive landscape, but also contribute to a positive organisational culture and leave an indelible mark on those you lead.

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