There’s an expiration date for every term, big idea or business fad. I wonder if we’ve hit that mark for the term ‘personal brand.’ The concept is under sustained attack in the career branding and HR blogospheres, with good reason: although it’s been touted as a useful tool to help people think about themselves in a more abstract way, with a vocabulary aligned with business values, it’s also divorced people from a sense of personal worth. When you’re a brand, you’re a brand all the way, as it were.
For some, thinking of themselves not as responsible individuals, but as a personal brand has reduced their connection with their self worth. That’s why my focus, in the past two years of the personal brand phase, has been more tuned to the importance of authenticity, culture and workplace community.
Authenticity is both a personal and brand attribute, of course, but it interests me primarily for its relevance to individuals and how they succeed in career and in the workplace. If you are not fully yourself – if, for example, you create a personal brand that’s a construct of the attributes you think people want to see, then you aren’t behaving as an authentic, responsible individual. Integrity, responsibility and personal worth fly out the window.
Culture is on another level. I’m not talking culture as anthropology here; I’m talking workplace culture. Authentic people create powerful, positive workplace cultures. Vibrant cultures attract authentic, powerful people. It’s a virtuous cycle (no, those did not go away with the dot com bust.) Where there’s a positive workplace culture, people who value integrity and responsibility will line up at the door.
Community is the glue that lets authentic people participate fully in workplace cultures. Communities require collaboration, participation and investment. People who put effort into remaining true to themselves and their core values, rather than relying on just one abstraction such as a personal brand, understand the value of community and workplace.
Here are five things to do to free yourself from the limited thinking behind the notion of personal brands:
- Be true to yourself. You are more than a brand. You are a person. Know what’s important to you, know your values, and be true to others who share or respect your values.
- Take care of yourself. This is more than maintenance such as good food, exercise and everything in moderation. It’s taking care of your soul, essence, self, whatever you think is your core. Maybe you read, or walk the beach, volunteer, spend time with friends, talk to your partner. Whatever feeds your soul and mind, do it. Make the time to take care of yourself, because no one else has that responsibility.
- Know and be true to your values. This isn’t all that easy. Most of us, if quizzed on what our values are, might mumble something about do no harm, be your best self or a similar platitude. Values can’t be reduced to thera-speak. They form the core of your belief system. Take the time to think deeply about what your values are and how you can live in a way that demonstrates and honors those values.
- Know your authentic personality. You may be optimistic, cynical, pessimistic, carefree, even manipulative or controlling. I’m not making any judgments here, just counseling you to understand your personality – it’s so much more than a personal brand – and understand how it affects those around you.
- Know your career goals. Know what you want. If you reduce yourself to a personal brand, what you want will be less important than maintaining the façade of brand. Don’t fall into the terminology trap.
Finally, what does all this have to do with finding the right job, the right employer, at the right time? If you spend your time developing and maintaining a personal brand, you’ll be limiting yourself and become less attractive as a job candidate. Suddenly everything will be about your brand, not about how you can contribute your authenticity, character and values to a company’s culture and community. Be real. Be a person. Go for it.