Why Challenging the Status Quo Can Be a Personal Branding Win

Aug 04, 2023 4 Min Read

“If you want to get ahead, you have to get along.” Phrases like that—and other warnings against rocking the boat—have persisted for generations. But sometimes, shaking things up and bucking trends is precisely what a company needs. In fact, those anti-status-quo pioneers often end up with the strongest personal brands.

There have been many fresh thinkers over the past few years who just weren’t satisfied with doing things the way they’d always been done. Case in point: As challenging as Steve Jobs was as a leader, he was primarily known as an innovator who thought differently and applied a unique lens to decision-making and problem-solving. As a result, we have Apple, and that’s a brand that matters to countless people (especially if you’re reading this on an iPhone or MacBook).

Still, it can be tough to step outside the comfortable norm of what everyone else is doing. So, why is that? A deep dive from Cornell University researchers suggests that we’ve evolved to become followers, which leaves us hesitant to make even small changes and more likely to trudge along, even if we’d like to try the path less taken—or maybe never taken. Consequently, we put ourselves in an unenviable position where we don’t stick out, which can be lousy if you’re trying to build a personal brand. It’s very tough to highlight your brand if you don’t have clear differentiators that set you apart from everyone else.

You don't have to become an all-out radical trailblazer to get noticed, but you do need to rise to the occasion now and then. Here’s how to start the journey:

1. Approach everything through a framework of objective curiosity.

Every process that happens in your company has probably been happening for a while. So, ask yourself regularly: Is it still relevant? Necessary? The ability to question even basic assumptions allows you to begin looking for innovative improvements. It also has the benefit of positioning you as someone comfortable with change, which can be a considerable asset amid the economic and social turbulence of today’s marketplaces.

Gloria St. Martin-Lowry, the president of leading consultancy HPWP Group, advocates constant curiosity and questioning. As she notes, being the one who always brings up “Why?” can have many advantages. “The benefits are high,” she says. “You’ll be gathering more information, which leads to even better ideas and solutions. Because you’re inquisitive, you’ll be winning people over to different approaches and inspiring new ideas. This has a reinforcing effect.”

A healthy ability to question allows you to dig deeper and become a better role model for those around you. If you do this often enough, when your colleagues want an innovator in the room they’ll immediately think of your reputation as someone who isn’t afraid to challenge long-held ideas.

2. Make changes only after performing research.

You don’t want to go off on trailblazing tangents without support. We’re fortunate today that we can get our hands on vast data stores to help our decision-making. Therefore, resist the temptation to make changes suddenly or on gut instinct alone. Instead, be deliberate and perform research as part of complete due diligence before proposing any profound changes.

For instance, you may see an opportunity for your sales team to engage in fresh ways with clients. Before asking all of them to revamp their familiar protocols quickly, do your homework. Identify what’s working and what’s not working. Look at the numbers—has your lead-to-conversion ratio slowly dipped over the past four quarters? Aim to find out why and to make changes based on your findings.

When you come to a conclusion, test your hypothesis with one or two salespeople. That way, if you’re incorrect, your sales department’s momentum won’t suddenly grind to a halt. Be sure to protect any employees involved in the small tests you make (for example, if you don’t ensure that they’ll continue to receive steady commissions even if your brainstorms don’t pan out, you may have trouble getting buy-in). By supporting your recommendations with data and testing, you’ll prove that a big part of your personal brand is being thoughtful and pragmatic, not reflexive and irrational. Become the go-to font of wisdom for taking calculated risks.

3. Ask for others’ feedback (and be thankful for their input).

You’re not the only one with something new to bring to the table. Part of challenging the status quo can be asking for input from those around you. This can be hard, though, because you won’t always get positive feedback. But that’s precisely the reason to ask for honest responses; negative or challenging feedback can often lead you to your biggest epiphanies.

Doug Claffey, the founder of consulting firm Energage, says that being able to accept negative feedback is an integral part of being a future-focused leader. “Negative feedback is part of the human condition,” he explains. “Leaders need to parse through the employee feedback, particularly around unstructured comment feedback. Pick from that what is constructive negative feedback.”

When you’re willing to hear and accept multiple viewpoints, you’ll naturally broaden your understanding of a topic or issue. Moreover, you’ll become known as someone who isn’t afraid to have so-called “hard conversations.” Those traits are significant career boosters.

You may not be hard-wired to swim upstream, but you can learn how to be a leader who easily adapts. And when you use a questioning attitude long enough, it will become much more intuitive, weaving itself seamlessly into your personal brand.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

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William Arruda is the bestselling author of the definitive books on personal branding: Digital YOU, Career Distinction and Ditch. Dare. Do! And he’s the creative energy behind Reach Personal Branding and CareerBlast.TV – two groundbreaking organizations committed to expanding the visibility, availability, and value of personal branding across the globe. For more information on Personal Branding , please visit williamarruda.com. 


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