Thought
Leadership

In conversation with Els De Cremer: Building a strong personal brand

June 16, 2021
Borderless Leadership - article

Watch the full conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssVhfwED-24

Anthony Harling

How does personal branding relate to executive careers?

Els De Cremer

If you consider personal branding and analyse why it is essential, or why it should be relevant, you’ll begin to understand the power behind it. Telling a story as an executive in a unique way makes you special. It’s your USP, it’s what makes you stand out from the crowd. Everything has become visible in our digitized world and the current crisis has made things even more transparent.

Leadership, both good and bad is seen, so building a personal brand has become an excellent vehicle to tell your authentic story. Authenticity is the keyword. It’s not about creating a nice image of yourself with smoke and mirrors; your brand has to relate to who you are, what you stand for, your values, and how through experiences you have evolved to be who you are. And of course, when you are 50, it’s evident that you are not the same person you were when you were 20.

Having an authentic story influences the type of talent you attract, how you do business and how you are positioned in your company and the market. Your story and its themes affect everything you do. They connect a leader’s image with his or her authentic self.

Anthony Harling

It goes without saying that your personal brand reflects of who you are. Your story really starts at an early stage; in fact, the earlier in your career that you begin to be conscious of your personal brand, the better. Ultimately, the more solid your story becomes, the more effectively you can leverage your brand to manage your career.

Els De Cremer

Exactly, and a personal brand is not only important when you manage people. After all, leadership can take different forms, so your brand is just as important when you are specialist or a functional thought leader with polymer expertise developed over 25 years.

Personal branding can be especially valuable at times of career change. I’m often amazed when talking with senior executives who are at the point of transition, how so many feel lost, even helpless. Their focus has always focused on the business, and they have neglected to think about how they themselves appear to others. They are no longer in the habit of building their personal profiles or questioning how they may be perceived for a subsequent position, their next opportunity. “Is my age profile right to position me to be the next CEO or to rise to another high-level position?” So, when is the right time begin to build a personal brand?

Anthony Harling 

How does one go about building a personal brand?

Els De Cremer 

It’s a constant, never-ending evolution. When you start, your career it’s very much about learning, and others are involved in helping you develop. You may also have a mentor giving you constant feedback. As you progress in your career to manage others, you will still get feedback, whether you want it or not, and in turn provide guidance to others. Companies with mechanisms like 360-degree feedback are useful in making sure that you constantly fine-tune your personal brand and allow it to evolve according to other’s perceptions of who you are and how you interact with others.

Later on, when your career is more about leading and your vision becomes part of everything that you do, the type of people you attract to your brand will define what you stand for and help you make a difference.

Anthony Harling 

I would think that the first step in brand-building is all about understanding what people see in you.

Els De Cremer 

Absolutely! But don’t make the mistake that it’s just about charisma. Of course, there are those people born with a natural charm that have little need for advice. For me, however, it’s really about making a connection to authenticity. You may think of someone as ‘boring’, but others may see this person as authentic, provided there is a substantive message behind their story. It can be a sign of stability, of being grounded, or of doing the right thing at the right time. In the end, a personal brand has less to do with charisma and much more about authenticity and consistency, two key factors in what it takes to create a personal brand.

Anthony Harling

Do you recognise a personal brand fast? Which are the characteristics of a strong brand?

Els De Cremer 

You will identify authenticity and consistency in interviews by the stories candidates tell, not only about what they have accomplished, but more importantly, why and how they got there. There will be a clear storyline that is consistent and purposeful. You will have your own unique story and it will define what makes you different. Evidence of consistency and self-reflection, supporting a coherent story helps define an authentic leader that stands out from the crowd.

Anthony Harling 

How often do you come across senior executives who cannot articulate a brand?

Els De Cremer

Going through a transition is always a good test. As well as interviewing people for specific roles, we also take the time at Borderless for career development discussions. It’s then that you will see how well an executive has developed their personal brand and taken control of their career. Often, a personal brand is not well expressed. It’s not thought through sufficiently, there is no personal value proposition – no clear answer to ‘what makes me special, unique and so on’. If soul-searching only starts at the moment of transition, it is too late. You are not in control of your personal narrative, at the very the moment you most need it.

Please remember that personal branding is not just for senior executives. As early as you can in your career take the time to think about what makes you tick and where your ambitions are, so that you can construct your career and position yourself for the future.

Do not let an organization or somebody else determine how you’re going to evolve. Stay in the driver’s seat, decide what you stand for, what you can contribute to an organisation; stay in control of your personal brand. Be your authentic self.

Get in touch with Els De Cremer to learn how to build your personal brand

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