Executive Checklist

Why your character matters more than your personal brand

There are classic sources of wisdom where the seeds of valuing oneself, in services and substance, have been planted. Authors like Dale Carnegie and Napoleon Hill spring to mind. Yet the term personal branding is often attributed as being anchored in public psyche circa 1997 by Tom Peters. He encouraged readers to learn from behemoth companies and apply lessons to ‘a brand called you’.

The idea has merit yet, like much in the digital age (especially a blinkist society where everyone’s in a rush) sound surface principles are frequently taken out of context, misappropriated or left edited out on the cutting room floor.

I refer to this as ‘the candy floss economy’: looks substantial on the stick or in the bag but once you get your hands or teeth into the thing, it crumples up to virtually nothing: just a big pile of momentarily fleeting unsubstantial fluff. Yet herein also lies the opportunity. The way to have the star of your personal brand shine to light up your career is by revisiting and applying a little more classic wisdom and a little less the copy paste playbooks of ‘experts’: many of whom still in school haven’t yet had a career.

Consolidate your skills

I’ve coached people who’ve blagged their way through positions only to find they reach a point they’re busted! They can no longer hide their inadequacies from responsibilities or capabilities required to be competent. So keep it real. Be hungry, yes: yet also be appreciative. Extrapolate every ounce of lessons from each project, role or position. Be less in a rush for newer, funkier, important sounding titles.

Peters himself said we live in a project world. We still do. So say yes to projects yet make sure you have basic competencies in place, then keep consolidating learning, topping up all skills. Conversational knowledge is not the same as competence or ability. While you’re at it, don’t race to claim honours. You know, asking for reviews or updating your resume will be after successful outcomes or implementation are achieved or done. Not before.

Steak and sizzle please: not sizzle alone

Back in the 90’s Peters talked about not only selling the steak, but also selling the sizzle. These days so much focus is on sizzle alone. Where the hell is my steak?

Selfies, self stories, hours wasted on filtered snapshots, clambering to have pictures taken with accomplished people or an endless stream of posts about self-proclaimed genius. Somewhere along the line sizzle became synonymous with the emptier side of popularity, pseudo celebrity or vanity metrics and confused these as credibility.

Hours spent on filtered pictures, then loosely anchored to worn out hashtags or cliche quotes, add little value to a career path. Make sure any snapshots, highlights, stories you share or people you are seen with relate to solid accomplishment or achievement rather than a Kath and Kim styled  ‘look at me, look at me!’

Quality over quantity

An extension of this relates to the volume and manner of personal branding Focus on substance and style. There are playbooks from gurus advising to out contribute your rivals or competition. It’s fair to say much of this is taken out of context as they aren’t necessarily saying to focus on volume alone. Plus the fact technology allows you to create dozens of pieces of content easily doesn’t mean you want to take them up on their kind offer.

Think of content in terms of a metaphor easy to relate to in these celebrity mad times: Hollywood. Very few low budget (or even grossly expensive yet amateur hour) B grade movies end up as early stepping stones to illustrious careers. Even those with cult style followings, like Tommy Wiseaus ‘The Room’ (portrayed in the Hollywood version ‘The Disaster Artist’) end up being so for all the wrong reasons and don’t necessarily cultivate careers.

Identify the things that truly make you different, the benefits and results achieved through your talents and efforts. Turn these into less content of meaning. Stanley Kubrick is frequently cited as  being one of the best filmakers of all time yet he took his time and produced 17 in total. Quantity over quality is better for career.

The paradox of personal branding done well

Ironically, it’s not all about you. Peters raised a point in his feature thinking the idea of loyalty being gone as nonsense. In the two decades that have passed I think perhaps it has waned. Connections on business and social platforms are often so impersonal: people trying to sell themselves, or strategies of ‘follow-unfollow’ to make oneself look like a popular personal brand.

To bolster your career, keep networking. Keep building circles. Yet do so with the other party in mind. Embrace the occasion, don’t coerce the opportunity See the person, not their position. Ask before you tell and be willing to give or connect before you get or ask to be connected.

In an era of influencing, true influence power is making, not taking, the most significant contribution in every role. Everything you do is a statement of who you are. Ultimately realise your personal brand is less important than the enduring quality and legacy of your character overall.


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Mark Carter
Mark Carter is an international keynote speaker, trainer and coach. He has over 20 years’ experience as a global learning and development professional. His TEDxCasey talk ‘Paws and Effect: how teddy bears increase value perception was the movie trailer for his latest book Add Value. Mark Carter is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.