CIO And Personal Branding Nuances
It is important to recognise our core strengths and bring them to work, apply them in our individual fields of expertise and gain success. The most fundamental step to branding would be to discover ourselves first.
Haven't you yet been killed with too much of personal branding advice? Well, if you are reading this, I guess you are still alive, and the pleasure of putting you to death is now all mine !
Why do we need to brand ourselves? That is a dumb question, considering the fact that we have been doing it since childhood. Those of you who have siblings, you started your personal branding endeavour the moment your sibling arrived. The lucky ones that get undivided attention, you started branding yourselves as soon as you realised that your crush and/or first love needed to be competed for attention and affirmation. For those lucky ones with no siblings, and those who got lucky with crush/first love or both without a need to put up a fight; if you got married, you worked on personal branding to deal with at least two love triangles if not more:
1) Spouse: Mother: Mother-in-law triangle
2) Spouse: Father: Father-in-law triangle
...Not to mention that you don’t get married to just your spouse but to your spouse's family and their extended family. For those who have not had any of these issues, well you never had a life to begin with!
Personal branding is pretty much the same game, be it at home or work. We display 15 percent of ourselves (the best parts of our personality) and most of our personal branding revolves around flouting these attributes with an intent to connect with the audience. The strength to our personal brand actually comes from the hidden / behind-the-scenes 85 percent of our personality. This is where people face challenges when they brand themselves and the branding is not backed up by most of the constituents of their personality. I guess we need to focus on three things:
1) What we brand
2) The brand itself (in this case ourselves and what we stand for)
3) The branding message
I would like to share one anecdote from one of my past stints, around the branding exercise by IT folks. Just like people who are uncomfortable with their bodies and hence are embarrassed to take off their shirt at a beach, some time ago a couple of us decided to brand our initiatives instead of branding ourselves. The branding exercise was successful, and our initiatives were much talked about. Slowly we got distanced from the initiatives as people with much better branding skills worked their way to identify themselves with initiatives under the spotlight. Felt much like Steve Jobs thrown out of the company he created! Under the umbrella of this branded initiative, a lot of business departments went about procuring their own IT needs. Now we had business departments buying IT products and services under the brand created by IT without involving IT! A lot of us were chuckling even though the joke was on us! We then decided to brand ourselves to get the business departments come to us for their IT needs instead of buying all by themselves. The realisation, that when we were not comfortable with ourselves as we projected, dawned on us. Introspection resulted in some of us chiseling away parts of our personalities that were irrelevant and bridging the gap with what was needed. After a great deal of effort, we saw a close resemblance between ourselves and our perceived brand image. This effort would have worked against us, had we failed to sustain the perceptions we ventured out to create. This is possible only if the 85 percent of the real you actually grows, evolves and transforms to back up the 15 percent show-cased.
We have always been taught to play to our strengths. Our core strength areas could be our ability to learn fast, a strong sense of right and wrong, flexible belief systems, tolerance, effective story telling, strong memory, logical reasoning, empathy etc. It makes sense to brand ourselves around our core strengths rather than the other way round. Our conduct and our branding needs to be in perfect harmony. Our personalities will reflect the real us at some point or the other. It would be detrimental to brand ourselves otherwise. A strong story-teller core value could be a great asset in sales or influencer or mentor role. One can brand themselves at fantastic presenter and a sales guru. A person with flexible value systems would make a great go-getter and innovator when playing within the corporate rule framework. It is important to recognise our core strengths and bring them to work, apply them in our individual fields of expertise and gain success. The most fundamental step to branding would be to discover ourselves first. There is no use of branding ourselves as leaders if we have created structures, perceptions and methodologies of management around us. We will be ridiculed if we brand ourselves as direction setters, while our teams do nothing but order taking. It is important to align both the hidden 85 percent and the 15 percent window dressing.
CIOs are just as good or as bad as their teams. Any personal branding a CIO does will need to be backed up by their teams in action, letter and spirit. A CIO will end up being ridiculed as a manager and a leader if he creates a ME and THEM as a part of his personal branding exercise. The CIOs personal brand will most definitely rub off on their team and will have consequences. Hence, in performance driven cultures, personal branding can become a very powerful tool.
Sometimes, we can kill ourselves due to lack of finesse in communicating our personal brand. I was delighted with a DBA, who said her core strength was her ability to think straight in times of duress. The way she came across the interview table, every part of her body had "nerves of steel" branded all across. Three of us interviewing, felt exactly the same way! In another instance, I heard a CIO describe himself as one who can do anything. Having known him for almost a little over a decade, I know he meant that he is comfortable with the unlearning and learning and has enthusiasm and inquisitiveness as a part of his personality. Due to these attributes, he constantly dabbles with different and new technologies all the time. He is a risk taker and due to this, he is one of the few guys who would pilot almost every new technology in his enterprise! All of this came out as "I can do anything"!
I also love the way Fevicol brand has evolved to stand for a strong bond that never breaks.
I personally think the best way to brand yourself, is to play to your core strengths and put your true selves on display through blogs, tweets and the enterprise social fabric for people to see you as who you are. We need to be constantly looking for feedback to mould and shape our messages to ensure that the messages are being consumed exactly as they were meant to be. Personal branding exercise is all about the perception we want everyone else to carry about us. We need to play to our strengths, play full on and visibly so.
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