Building your personal brand: A guide for exceptional leaders

In Brand Strategy, Leadership

Leaders in business know that brands command a premium over commodities. They invest time and resources to research, reflect and develop strong brand positions and targeted brand strategies. They take care to define their purpose, outline a vision and mission to support that purpose, and define goals and measurements to track progress. And those who are successful in the long-term maintain a maniacal focus on protecting their brands to grow margin, increase preference and create profitability.

Purpose. Intention. Planning. Discipline.
It’s what we expect from our best executive leaders. And yet, when it comes to their own personal brand, many executives leave personal margin and growth on the table by neglecting to develop their own Personal Brand Strategy with the same discipline they apply in business.

Using the same principles we apply to building brands, I believe there are five steps to identify and create your own personal brand strategy:

First, ASPIRE. It is important to understand your strengths, who you aspire to be as a leader and what you what to accomplish in this world. This may sound simple, but we don’t often take time to reflect on and define these important aspects of our lives. Worse yet, we let others define them for us.

Take the time to think about your key leadership attributes and what differentiates you from others in your field or industry. This is also time to think big, reflect on aspirational leaders and philosophies to understand who you want to become as a leader and what you hope to accomplish. In short, how you want to make a difference in your industry, your community and the world. At the end of this step, you will have defined your Aspirational Leadership Brand.

You should be able to answer:

  • What is your personal and professional purpose (note: they may be different, but should support each other)?
  • What is your mission and vision that supports that purpose?
  • What are your core beliefs and values, and how do they manifest in your leadership and purpose?
  • What are your leadership, financial and life goals?
  • What differentiates your brand from others?
  • What are your brand attributes?

Next, its time to see how far your aspirational brand is from your current brand. Conduct an AUDIT of your existing brand projections, comparing them to the Aspirational Leadership Brand you have just defined. Identify on- and off-brand projections and messages in all of the channels where your brand exists to determine where there is dissonance, and where there are gaps.

Be thorough, and examine your:

  • Resume, leadership story and bios
  • LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media channels
  • Business communications (internal and external)
  • Public speaking engagements
  • Headshots and photography
  • Community engagement and service

At this stage, you will also want to research and review how you are perceived by others. Read all leadership and individual assessments you may have taken in the past (360 reviews, client or college feedback, performance reviews and development plans) to identify themes in your strengths and challenges. Talk with colleagues, former managers and associates and ask how they would define your leadership and purpose. Compare your aspirational brand to the realities of your strengths and weaknesses. Does the brand you aspire to project match and leverage your strengths?

With the hard questions asked and answered, you can now FORGE your Personal Leadership Brand. Start by creating a brand message framework for yourself. Take time to think about and craft your brand position statement, and identify the supporting messages and stories that best tell the story of this new brand. If you have left a position recently, this is the time to craft your exit statement. Once you are satisfied that you have codified a message framework that best describes the personal leadership brand you want to project, put it to use and make sure that your brand is being communicated at every point. Revise the existing content in all the brand projection channels you audited earlier, taking care to ensure they match your new Personal Leadership Brand.

With your story clear, and your Personal Leadership Brand projected consistently across all channels, you are now ready to fully ACTIVATE your brand. At this stage, think of ways that you can amplify your leadership brand with the audiences that you seek to reach. DO you have a compelling point of view about your purpose and vision? If so, how are you sharing it and with whom? Define your target audiences and find ways to reach them, giving talks, participating in panels or finding the online community that fits your brand. Consider social media. Which platforms are right for you and our brand? Choose the right ones and commit to engage regularly with your online community. Does your headshot properly communicate who you are and want to be? If not, engage a professional photographer and talk to him about how to best communicate your brand through the medium of photography.

To develop a compelling personal leadership brand you must apply the same discipline and intention you do with your company’s brand. Take time to think, reflect and plan and commit to creating a compelling brand for yourself. Don’t be afraid to aspire to something greater than you are today. Honestly audit where and examine how your personal leadership brand is projected. Make changes necessary to forge your personal leadership brand, brining it closer to your aspirations. Finally, invest time and resources to activate your brand fully across all projection channels and be manically focused on maintaining and protecting it. If you take these steps, you will discover margin and growth in your own career and be better positioned to fulfill your personal and professional purpose.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC.  Please contact us for inquiries.

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Haley Boehning is the Chief Change Officer at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.