The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “What’s the best way to manage your personal brand?” is written by Kira Makagon, executive vice president of innovation at RingCentral.
Your personal brand is your image, a reflection of the way your career and actions will be perceived and remembered by others. When you think of any big, renowned brand, like Apple (AAPL), Nike (NKE), or Starbucks (SBUX), you associate certain features with that label. At first glance, perhaps you and I don’t seem to have the same branding as Apple—or do we? With mindful attention to the way we present ourselves, we can cultivate the impression we want to leave upon others, just as every major company does.
Your personal brand represents you, but first, you have to define it. You have to know what you stand for in order to know what your brand is. What are your values? What are your strengths? What is it that you want to represent? Don’t let your brand come about passively. Give some active thought to what you want to create and foster as a way for people to connect with you. This is much more likely to yield results that will help you to build a fulfilling career reflective of your values.
My approach to my personal brand is goal-oriented. I seek to frame and present myself in keeping with my goals. The most important thing to me is to be authentic. I value others perceiving me as “real,” and I value realness in others as well. When I perceive someone as authentic, I trust that person more readily and am more likely to make a deeper connection.
By contrast, others choose to adopt a certain role in a business setting. Often the persona that they choose to put on is driven by an agenda. Perhaps that person wants to come off as a “shark” in the boardroom or as a tough boss. They feel that they need to make a tough impression to be perceived as “in charge,” so that’s how they brand themselves.
When you think about your brand, you have to decide if you want to play a role or if you want to be your authentic self. Either one works. Which one is truer to who you want to be?
Once you’ve given some active thought to what you stand for, you need to test it out. Consider your interactions with others in a variety of settings. Are you the same person when you give a presentation, when you sit in a meeting, and when you meet with people one-on-one, whether they’re junior or senior?
Aim for consistency. The people I know who don’t have a solid brand shape-shift depending on their audience. While it may be necessary to speak to someone senior in a different way than you’d speak to someone junior, your values don’t change person to person.
Make sure your actions reflect that. Remember that even your water-cooler talk shapes your brand. What you talk about and how you talk about it is how people perceive you, whether you’re on or off the clock.
Personal brands require maintenance and refinement over time just like major corporate brands do. Brands aren’t static; they evolve. As you cultivate your brand, you have to think about not only where you are now, but also about where you want to be in the long run. You may have to change course from time to time.
If you’re a high-powered tech exec at a big company who wants to try on startup life, you have to be able to adjust to that level. It will be important to project that you’re in touch with who you are and that you’ll be able to morph into a role that is highly team-oriented and interactive. If you come off as a drill-sergeant who has to have things her way, that startup team may not want to work with you; your brands may clash.
When I reflect on the brand I’ve built over my career, I realize that being the “veteran only woman in the room” has become a significant part of who I am. I write and speak a lot about being a woman leader in technology. As much as people think of me as a high-powered technology executive, though, I still think of myself as an entrepreneur first and foremost, and I still conduct myself accordingly. I’m still down to earth and supportive of the people who work for me. My role at work has changed over time, but my values and how I represent them to the world hasn’t changed.
To me, that’s the key to building and maintaining a good personal brand: knowing yourself, and being comfortable enough in that role to say, “This is who I am.” I would much rather build teams of people who know who they are and what they stand for than those who don’t, especially because I value authenticity. Fostering an effective personal brand is more likely to yield a career that’s not just a job, but is also imbued with personal significance. That, to me, yields better work teams alongside a much more fulfilling life.
Makagon is not an investor of the companies mentioned.