Are You Avoiding the “Dark Side” of Personal Branding?

Dark Side of BrandingThese days, many people believe that if you want to achieve success, you really need to have a personal brand. While only an emerging idea with Tom Peters’ 1997 article, “The Brand Called You,” personal branding has taken on considerable momentum. In his seminal article, Peters asserted: “Starting today you are a brand.”

Yet, initially, many people misunderstood personal branding. Still, it clearly held appeal for some, prompting them to consider the distinctive value they deliver, opening the door to the possibility of becoming a free agent in an economy of free agents. With the pioneering work of early thought leaders, increasing numbers of people undertook the process of discovering and communicating their brand in terms of their unique promise of value.

Over the years, personal branding has become more mainstream. Today, consultants and coaches practicing in a wide variety of specialties, including resume writers, image consultants, and social media advisors, offer advice on how to create a personal brand. In fact, if you google “creating your brand,” you can tap into an abundance of advice of varying degrees of quality and usefulness.

What concerns me, as a long-time personal branding strategist, is the degree to which so much advice has drifted away from the disciplined process built on external feedback, introspective exercises, and the ongoing inquiry needed to grow and develop. Today, the emphasis is on creating, building, and promoting your personal brand – and the shortcuts to get it done fast. [Tweet this]

The Big Me

While I’ve always considered the superficiality of created personal brands to be problematic, the real danger of such an effort was only recently highlighted for me, albeit indirectly, by David Brooks in his interesting new book, The Road to Character. In it, he makes a case for building character, saying:

“We live in a culture that teaches us to promote and advertise ourselves and to master the skills required for success, but that gives little encouragement to humility, sympathy, and honest self-confrontation, which are necessary for building character.”

Without a strategy for building character, he says, people can put too much emphasis on external factors at the expense of internal life – and risk seeing both fall apart. Among the factors he points to as essential to character is humility, and he sees it lacking in today’s culture:

“…we have seen a broad shift from a culture of humility to the culture of what you might call the Big Me, from a culture that encouraged people to think humbly of themselves to a culture that encouraged people to see themselves as the center of the universe.”

Among the personal outcomes of living inside the Big Me culture is a “a self-satisfied moral mediocrity.” While he doesn’t say it directly, I think it also can lead to limiting exposure to people and ideas that can challenge – and maybe shatter – one’s worldview. Yet, people typically rely on others for self-validation. So, the Big Me culture generates a kind of herd mentality that gets continually reinforced. [Tweet This] And that can lead to groupthink, where dissenting viewpoints are actively suppressed, or where people isolate themselves from outside influences in safety zones akin to safe spaces or hugboxes.

But let’s face it. Creating a brand without first uncovering and challenging Big Me cultural beliefs is dangerous. Why? Because it creates a new conformity that constrains differentiation. Worse, it also limits personal growth. And people who don’t grow, and brands that don’t evolve, become stagnant and irrelevant. [Tweet This]

Something You Earn

Frankly, the Brooks piece opened my eyes to the potential dark side of personal branding. Still, I’m not the first to take a critical look at branding generally, and personal branding in particular. Yet, being a certified personal branding strategist does, I believe, afford me a unique perspective. One that I hope can save you from creating a brand that serves only as an exercise in superficial self-promotion.

Remember: A personal brand is a reputation. It’s something you earn through your consistent service to others. [Tweet This]

Sure, you can raise your visibility on social media. And what you show and how you behave will influence how people see you. Yet, the kind of reputation that will stand as “your brand” is determined first and foremost by your ability to truly serve your community. In turn, that can be influenced by how well you do what you do, what you’ve accomplished, actions taken to correct your faults, your record of meeting challenges, and your success in overcoming adversity.

Sure that’s a lot to think about. Yet, if you construct a brand without taking a long hard look at yourself, you may hurt yourself in the long run. [Tweet This]

An Ongoing Process

At the core of the process is the pursuit of personal clarity – which is the true basis for your success. Think about it. If you have a grasp of the attributes, strengths, beliefs, and life transitions that make you who you are, you don’t have to worry about conforming to an image you created. Different, leader, best, unique and discrimination conceptYou simply get to be you — and that’s a big difference!

Being you is not static, though. As your circumstances change, you need to adjust how you approach things. That means always “living in the inquiry.” That is, always examining your beliefs in light of new ideas, spotting potential weaknesses that point to personal growth needs, and even ongoing nurturing of relationships that will keep you relevant and successful in serving your community.

The self-examination that comes from living in the inquiry takes discipline and even humility. [Tweet This] Yet, by committing to this long-term process, you can avoid slipping into the comfortable limits of your own safe space. You can more effectively respond to what life throws at you. Best of all, you get to take true ownership of your destiny in all parts of your life – from the way to run your career, to the various activities you engage in, to the relationships you develop and value.

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