In our image-conscious society, we are (admit it or not) subjected to a certain level of behavioural norms benchmarked by the environment or people around us. At the same time, we are expected to stand out among the rest to ensure our competitive edge.
Looking at today’s borderless world of social media, has this mindset contributed to the heightened awareness to build our personal branding, and in how the world perceive us to be?
The thought triggers
Thanks to the cyberspace’s nature, it’s easy for anyone to get lost in the noise of a huge volume of data generated daily. This may explain why many are beginning to invest in themselves to build their personal branding early or create viral content to grab worldwide attention.
Being the gatekeeper of Leaderonomics.com, I have my fair share of contributors who write in to offer their insights on our leadership portal.
Many of them are looking into building their credibility as an authoritative voice, while some, as I learn over the years, are just taking advantage of a credible platform for their own branding.
The latter group is what I refer to as the touch-and-go writers. They write to you proposing an exciting topic of interest and diligently follow up to check on the status of their story.
But once their story gets published, they disappear without a trace.
They have met their short-term goal of building their personal branding as a generalist writer, and that is as far as they want to go. I understand the fact that it’s time for them to move on to the next available platform for them to pitch their story angles.
But it’s frustrating to know that there is a lack of commitment to build a deeper engagement with Leaderonomics.com, or understand what we are trying to achieve through every piece of story. And that speaks a lot about their interpretation of ‘personal branding’, often self-serving, unfortunately.
People aren’t products that need to be packaged perfectly.
Don’t lose your soul building your personal branding
I like what Frank Kalman wrote in his Talent Economy article, “Personal brand isn’t about social media; it’s about authenticity, purpose”. I agree with him that any branding effort will fall flat if you don’t live that purpose daily.
As cliché as it sound, it’s true that it always starts with your whys. And if something doesn’t even come close to your soul, it shows in our attitude as it’s just not what you really stand for.
While it is imperative for us to collaborate with others in tumultuous times to help us achieve results, to what extent do we do so for our own selfish reasons? Do we only network with influential people at events, and consciously ignore other smaller players in the industry?
Who are we to think that these small-time players won’t be the next technology disruptor? Why are we so quick to conclude that they are ‘less’ significant that we subconsciously choose not to listen to their stories or give them an opportunity?
Think Jack Ma who faced numerous rejections after rejections from job interviews, university applications and venture capitalists alike for reasons only these rejecters know.
Read also: 5 Leadership Lessons From Jack Ma
Build a strong foundation first
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, thinks that the idea of developing your personal branding is a bad one. According to her, branding is for products where they need to be packaged perfectly. Human are just messy, complicated beings.
Now, you might think that it’s easy for someone like Sandberg to say that – thanks to the position she holds and the company she works for. What if I’m an undergraduate wanting to get my future employers’ attention?
Let’s not forget that Sandberg is also a mum and a widow who found herself struggling to cope with grief when she suddenly lost her husband Dave Goldberg, chief executive officer of SurveyMonkey in 2015.
She is wise to add that we should instead focus on developing our voice, and to use it for good. If we are developing our personal branding with the purpose of making a difference to the people we serve or the organisation we work for, that is where personal branding draws deeper meaning and value.
Related article:Remembering Dave Goldberg, The Ultimate Mensch
If you’re starting out in your university or professional life, take time to do some deep soul-searching to answer these questions:
- Who are you behind closed doors?
- What do you truly value and believe in?
- How can you contribute to ______? (you fill in the blanks – it could be your family, the communities around you, or your future employer)
- How can you make the world a better place?
When you have worked out the smart foundations and given your best to others, you might find surprising returns of your investment in others as your beneficiaries eventually reciprocate to propel your personal branding. As quoted by Adam Grant in his book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:
“The more I help out, the more successful I become. But I measure success in what it has done for the people around me. That is the real accolade.”
Role models in our midst
Now, you might challenge me to give you examples of ordinary people with extraordinary personal branding built by others around them. Here are two of them (feel free to share more):
1. Syed Azmi Alhabshi
Syed Azmi is well known for his charitable good work with communities – ranging from homeless, cancer patients, refugees, single mothers and the elderly. A pharmacist by day and a social causes advocate by night, to fellow Malaysians, he is just a true giver from the heart and an epitome of a do-gooder.
Together with his friends, supporters and generous donors, he lends his hand where possible to anyone who needs it. His famous ‘helicopter story’ in mobilising a disaster relief aid among Malaysians in the 2014 flood shows that despite being a nobody, anybody can make a difference simply by working together.
Syed Azmi (right) with Leaderonomics volunteers at Bersama Kita Boleh charity event in 2016.
2. Huang Han (黄函)
Photo taken from her Weibo account
For followers of China’s most popular dating show, If You are the One, Huang Han is a well-loved guest of the show before she called it a day after six years for family reasons.
A social psychology professor from Nanjing University, Huang has gained tremendous following from millions of young mainlanders with her gentle demeanour and wise counsel on relationships and marriage.
She also has her admirers from across Australia, showing that others will naturally elevate your personal branding when you choose to be your authentic self and stand by your values.
Bringing things into perspective
Over the years, we have diluted the true value of personal branding by shifting it towards “me, myself and I”. William Arruda, a prominent personal branding guru who was there from the very beginning when personal branding movement started, reminds us that “personal branding works when it is based on authenticity and a genuine desire to add value to those around you.”
As the interpretation evolves with time, perhaps it’s time to go back to our core values and reconnect our foundational building blocks of our character first – integrity, honour and genuine love for people. When we see from that perspective, personal branding becomes secondary, and it will take care by itself without us trying too hard to make personal branding work for us.