Our personal branding begins to take shape early in life, within our family and social circles, and becomes more impactful as we move into adult life. We maintain a collection of personal experiences throughout life. These moments encompass countless touchpoints to our families, peers, colleagues, and communities, and they contribute to our personal growth and development. The output of these experiences is the continuous shaping and polishing of our personal brand. That is to say, who we are as individuals and the impact we have on the world around us.
I often reflect on past lessons learned while considering how those experiences have shaped me as a person. Self-reflection allows us to continuously improve how we communicate, how we develop and maintain relationships, how we deepen our empathy toward others, how we manage conflict and resolution, how we temper our reactive self through sensitivity and tolerance, and so much more. We won't always get it right, but self-reflection (and feedback) helps us recognize when we need to do better, be better.
More recently, I had an experience with our family's nanny and it reminded me of how we learn lessons in our youth and how those lessons shape us well into adult years. Inherently, she is an incredibly bright college student, articulate, and truly exceptional in every way. She is learning who she is and what kind of person she will become through experiences. Until recently, she was the most effective and integrity-driven person who has ever cared for my children. Over time she developed a deep connection to our family through her relentless dedication to my children. Earlier this summer she was accepted to a short-term program at an out of state University, which meant she would need to take a short leave of absence. We felt a sense of excitement for her because it was a superb opportunity. So we wished her well and looked forward to hearing about her adventures. Upon her return, I noticed immediately that something was amiss. She was physically present, but absent in nearly every other way. She was not engaged with my children as she had been in the past, she was habitually late, and the neglect was creating safety issues for my kids. It became painfully evident that something had occurred while she was away and it was impacting her entire life, which made me sad for her and concerned for my children. In an effort to remediate I addressed the concerns being as sensitive and open for discussion. Yet nothing improved and I watched her connection to the job evaporate while my concern for her quickly transitioned to distrust. Through one-on-one dialog, I came to the conclusion that she needed to make some decisions in her personal life. She expressed her remorse stating that she hoped I would remember all of the positive and goodness she contributed, and not remember the previous bad days. It made me sad for her, because although I do recognize that she was superb for so long, the simple truth is that I no longer trusted her. So we parted ways, albeit on gentle terms.
Our personal values and integrity are foundational components to personal branding and without them we experience chaos. Sure, as humans we all have bad days, sometimes bad weeks or months, but there is an important question we must ask ourselves. Who am I? Most especially on our worst day. And when that worst day arrives how best can we manage our impact to others?
My feedback to our dear nanny was simple and sympathetic. Find a lesson in the experience and turn that into something productive for your future. The reality of a one's personal brand is such that we can dedicate years developing it only to watch it diminish significantly within a single instance. I think the goal should be this...try never to compromise yourselfbecause at the end of the day, you're all you've got. It's tough, right? But not unmanageable when we practice conscious decision-making and accountability.
Maintaining a positive reputation involves the inherent desire to be the best version of ourselves. And that takes work. It means recognizing and acknowledging how others perceive us versus how we perceive ourselves; majority of the time these are two very different things. It requires openness to receiving criticism (which is painful at times), acceptance, patience, commitment to personal excellence, and a reoccurring cycle of self-evaluation. Equally as important (and impactful) is the feedback we solicit from those we trust and respect. Personal and professional mentors and coaches are a tremendous benefit for growth and development. I recommend these invaluable assets in various forms with diversity in mind, in order to gain a truly objective picture of one's self. It's not about being some perfect version of ourselves. It's about choosing a path of continuous improvement and never calling it quits.
The relative topic of perception is something of great importance as it pertains to personal branding: 1) how we perceive ourselves, and 2) the sometimes painful reality of how others perceive us. This is particularly complex in our professional life and it requires an iron-clad constitution and willingness to ask for and be receptive to feedback. Life has a way of forcing us to evaluate who we are and how we want to be perceived by others.
I recently connected with a mentee on a particularly interesting topic. He received what he classified as a subpar bonus tied to his annual performance. He was pointedly upset and sought input (and empathy) so we discussed the feedback given to him by his manager. His manager had indicated a lack of one-on-one dialog throughout the year. He confirmed such. Of note, is the responsibility of growth discussions belongs to both of them, but there is a key underlying issue that goes deeper. Perception. He perceived his impact to be positive and significant, to both the business and his immediate team, but his manager's perception differed greatly. Therein lies the issue.
Transparency is crucial in our professional life. Ideally, anyone who is a people manager should connect regularly with their direct reports. But this individual made the mistake of blindly assuming that his manager shared his sentiment of his contributions and impact to the business. The hard truth is that managers who have multiple direct reports, who are held accountable for a book of business, who are compensated on the achievement of revenue and quota targets, who are managing up and down (and side-to-side), who are orchestrating the execution of key organizational priorities, and who are concerned about squeezing in time for their own growth and development, do not have time to plead with a subordinate for growth discussions. We as individuals must own the coordination of that messaging and capture the appropriate feedback. This is how we manage and continually develop our brand in career life. It is naïve and careless to assume that our manager knows or sees our impact without proper communication. Being an exceptional contributor and being an even better communicator go hand-in-hand.
Truth: Owning our brand means being accountable to those around us, to our families, our colleagues and teammates, to our employers, to our communities, and to ourselves. Continuous improvement of our personal brand means taking the time to reflect and present value to those around us.