Leadership and trust go hand-in-hand. Throughout history, leaders who have succeeded in making an impact have first earned the credibility and trust of the people they led. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela have all inspired collective trust that they can drive the change their supporters yearn for.
There are similar leaders today. The Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, and Bill and Melinda Gates, for example, have earned credibility across the globe, setting new standards for leadership. Their authenticity, humility, and even vulnerability to others’ hardship are traits that have helped them become trustworthy leaders who represent widely known personal brands.
What is a personal brand? A personal brand is more than a logo or a trademark; it is a distinctive professional identity and message that sets you apart from others in your company or industry. Leaders with strong personal brands are able to influence people by demonstrating their unique social value to others.
Five tips on how you can use personal branding to strengthen your leadership identity, leverage influence, and make a lasting impact in your industry.
- Ask yourself what value you provide to others. As a leader, your personal brand should embody the value you can deliver. This goes beyond just raising your company’s profit margin. It is about changing the narratives that are important to you – including taking risks and making personal sacrifices – to bring about positive change in your company or community. As Albert Einstein once said, “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” Bill and Melinda Gates exemplify this idea. They have made a significant impact in the world over the past two decades through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, devoting time, energy, and resources to humanitarian efforts that are important to them in the areas of global health, education and technology. In turn, Bill Gates’ personal brand has evolved from billionaire tech mogul to altruistic philanthropist on the global stage.
- Tell your story. As a leader, expanding your reach and influence has a lot to do with storytelling. This means sharing your experiences, both personal and professional, as opposed to solely pushing products to get sales. This helps brands gain credibility and deepen relationships with their employees, customers, and the larger community they serve. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, for example, was never portrayed as the CEO of a tech giant, but as a visionary who wanted to merely simplify peoples’ lives through technology. That goal embodied his unique story.
- Be consistent with your messaging. In today’s modern world, where there is no shortage of communication mediums, it is all the more important to deliver consistent messages. Consistency establishes a leader’s trust among his or her followers and customers, which over time impacts her reputation. Consistency also allows one’s values to be clearly articulated and reinforced. For example, Martin Luther King, Jr. frequently hit upon talking points from his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, regardless of where he was and who he was meeting. As a result of this consistent messaging, his speeches became synonymous with his identity as a freedom fighter, human rights activist, and vaunted American leader.
- Be authentic, even if it means being vulnerable. Authenticity is at the core of leadership, and great leaders know how to use their authentic self to make an impact. Being authentic also means being vulnerable with your audience. Great leaders understand the power in vulnerability and embrace this trait to connect with people. When leaders are vulnerable (which is different from being feeble or weak), they exhibit their human side, revealing that they care about something on a deep emotional level. Brené Brown, a well-known author and vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, said that vulnerability is “engaging in life, being all in, dedicating yourself to something.” Simply put, it takes courage to be vulnerable and face uncertainties. As such, it can manifest as a leadership strength, not weakness.
- Remember your roots. Great leaders remember where they come from and refuse to compromise their foundational values. This helps them stay focused without losing touch with their vision. Leaders who stay true to their roots, remembering humbler beginnings and obstacles faced, also facilitates empathy. In turn, these leaders ask the right questions and take time to genuinely learn about their employees and the customers they serve. Remember, true leaders are not born overnight. Leadership takes time – years if not decades – to cultivate. Keeping your roots close to your heart helps you to remember this, preventing you from drifting and losing focus. Ultimately, remembering your roots will remind you of your purpose and direction, and can function as an anchor for your leadership.