12 Thoughts On How To Stand Out

HiResRecently, I was approached by a colleague on LinkedIn who asked if I had any specific “do and don’t” personal branding advice for the UK College grads he works with. My first impulse was to refer him to several of the past posts I’ve written, and invite him to share those.

Yet, it occurred to me he was providing a fresh opportunity to revisit my thinking, and share my perspectives. After all, my views and work as a “personal brand” strategist tend to be different than those of the many other people who advise on personal branding. And the key difference is this: While I value the discovery process  I use, I think it’s an error to conceive of oneself as a brand or to go down the road of creating a personal brand.

Why?

Fundamentally, a brand is a reputation, and as such is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. While you can influence your reputation, you cannot create it. Rather, you earn it by virtue of what you become known for. For example, Apple founders did not set out to brand the company as innovative; they simply innovated with a commitment to great design and user friendliness.

Lesson: Determine what you’re committed to, and then pursue it. Your reputation, or brand, will emerge over time.

Start with figuring out who you are, including your own unique set of attributes, beliefs, talents, story, and purpose. Then determine how to show up for the people you aim to serve. Put another way, to stand out in a way that matters, you need to develop your credibility and visibility.

Here, then, are two sets of ideas for establishing credibility and for achieving visibility. In each set, there is some overlap, and the ideas are presented in no particular order. In fact, the process is not so much linear as it is recursive. Still, it generally makes sense to start with becoming credible, and then move on to becoming visible.

Credibility: Being Who You Are

Be Clear About What You Stand For. Your actions and words are what define you in the eyes of others. How you behave is influenced by your own deeply held values and beliefs. Unfortunately, we aren’t always directly in touch with what those are. Without critical self-examination, you risk getting caught up in the beliefs and behaviors of others. Yet, true power over your destiny is rooted in personal clarity. Let’s face it, the ancient Greeks admonished “Know Thyself” for a reason.

Question Everything You Know. Whether you’re a recent college grad or not, you’re likely to have a head full of knowledge that will include what other people think you should know and believe. The problem is, some of those ideas could be wrong. Wrong in the most general sense of verifiable accuracy, or wrong as guidelines for living your life. So, challenge what you think you know, and keep only the ideas that resonate for you. After all, the hallmark of a great education is defined not by how much you know but by the questions you ask.

Calibrate Your Moral Compass. Living in a society generally requires knowing what’s right and wrong, and acting accordingly. Unfortunately, today, we seem to live with considerable moral flexibility. So, right and wrong seem to be moving targets. But by defining your personal code of conduct, they don’t have to be. A good start is to think in terms of personal morality (what’s right and wrong for you) and interpersonal morality (what’s right and wrong between people), and then set your compass accordingly. Just make sure that the values that populate your compass have clear definitions that guide your behavior.

Determine Your Current Reputation. As already noted, your reputation is made up of the shared opinions and beliefs about you. It is held in the hearts and minds of others, and very likely has both positive and negative elements. You probably already have some idea of how you’re seen, but it’s worth getting some fresh feedback. Simply paying closer attention helps, but you can get deeper and richer feedback by asking for it, either directly or by using a formal 360 instrument.

Identify Your Talents. HiResLike most people, you’re really good at some things, but not so good at others. Generally, what you do well is what allows you to produce results that will be valued by others. Typically, the more value you produce, the more successful you become, both at work and in other parts of your life. So, take some time to identify your talents and how you can put them in service of others. To this end, it helps to analyze your accomplishments in terms of the challenge you faced, the actions you took, the results you achieved, and how that made you feel. You may also want to take a StrengthsFinder assessment to identify innate themes for you.

Uncover Your Story. Frankly, there is nothing that sets you apart from others as much as your story. Even if you have beliefs, interests, and abilities in common with others, chances are you arrived at them by a different path. It’s worth tracing that path. You life is continuous ebb and flow that includes failures and turning points as well as triumphs and achievements. What’s more, by uncovering your story, you can identify the themes that give you a sense of purpose and direction. Knowing and being ready to share your story will help you truly stand out.

Visibility: Showing Up

Figure Out For Whom You Need To Show Up. Generally, the main people you need to show up for are the people who benefit from the value you provide. Most often this will be employers and clients, but can also include other organizations or groups who seek our service. Yet, beyond these is an array of people who matter to your success, including other members of your profession and various project partners. Taken together they may be referred to as your community of practice, brand community, or simply community. So, make sure to identify who they are.

Cultivate Relationships Within Your Community. Spending time with people, at work and in other settings, implies you have a relationship. Yet, your goal needs to be developing the kind of depth that makes those relationships professionally, and even personally, meaningful. While you won’t necessarily have deep relationships with everyone in your community, it is the foundation of your professional network. So, take time to connect both broadly and deeply, both in personal and via social media.

Get To Know the Interests and Concerns of Others. Ultimately, your goal in showing up is to become a relevant resource to your community. Yet, to achieve that, you need to know and what their interests and needs are, so you’ll be able to address those. The best way gain that perspective is to listen. Listen during real time conversations, and listen on social media. As well, newsletters and other professional publications can deepen your understanding.

Establish Your Professional Presence. HiResAs you gain a firm grasp on who you are, whom you serve, and what makes you relevant, you need to build your presence both online and in person. This means creating a personal communication set that includes your bio/profile, photos, video, and other media that help your community get to know you online, and especially on a professional platform like LinkedIn. It also means pursuing activities, such as volunteering, speaking, or meetups, where you can bring your professional presence to life by engaging others “live” and in person.

Share Valuable Content. Increasingly, standing out requires sharing your perspectives on matters of interest to your community. While blogging has been, and continues to be, a primary vehicle of many people, it’s not the only approach. Today, commenting on and sharing relevant content, has increasingly become a preferred strategy for gaining visibility. While there are many sources of great content, you can also benefit by finding and sharing the content created by leaders in your community of practice. Not only does this enhance your value, but can also help you develop relationships with those thought leaders.

Don’t Hesitate to Shake Up the Status Quo. Within your community, you’ll usually have one or more group memberships. Part of what establishes your belonging is a set of shared values, views, and beliefs. Mostly, this is fine; however, too much deference to a group eventually blocks your ability to differentiate yourself in terms of your views and approaches. To stand out, you need to express your contrarian positions when they arise. Sure, you expose yourself to challenge and maybe some ridicule. Yet, to the extent that the positions you take provide value to others, you can earn the kind of resect that enhances your reputation.

Are You Defining Success By What Matters To You?

Word definition successfulHow often do you stop to think about your success? How do you define it? As you may have surmised from the name of this site, I’ve broadly reimagined success as “your career, your life, your way.” It’s a position that has guided me for a long time, and is rooted in my philosophy of personal responsibility: “It’s your life, own it.”

I’ve lived much of my life based on this idea. So, I tend to take for granted that true success is achieving meaning and fulfillment based on personal choice and self-direction. It’s my bias, and has shaded my perceptions, making it easy to see evidence for it in my work with clients, over social media, and especially in what I read.

Believing that conforming to defined roles in compliance with organizational authority limits freedom, I saw in Dan Pink’s Free Agent Nation, the dawn of true independence. Added to the mix was my work in personal branding. I saw with many clients that “permission to be yourself” resonated. It made sense in helping them map their career strategy, stand out, and gain more visibility and credibility.

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You Want To Create a Personal Brand…Really?

Focus On YouHave you ever wondered how to predict when something has outlived its usefulness? I know I have. Seems to me, though, that it’s one of those things we only recognize at some defining moment. And then we just know. Actually, the television industry has a name for it: Jumping the Shark.

The term refers to the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie shows his bravery by making a water-skiing jump over a confined shark. It stands as the moment when people realized the program had outlived its appeal. Today, jumping the shark is used to cover a wide variety of situations, and is defined as:

“…[the] …precise moment when you know a program, band, actor, politician, or other public figure has taken a turn for the worse, gone downhill, become irreversibly bad, is unredeemable, etc.; the moment you realize decay has set in.”

I think this also applies to ideas.

Now, I can’t claim to be astute in making predictions. Still, I wonder: Is the concept of personal branding at risk of jumping the shark? [Tweet This]

Ironically, what prompts me to consider this is the incessant advice to create, build, and promote your personal brand. In fact, if you google “creating your brand,” you’ll find lots of guidance on the steps you need to take to get it done.

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Play Your Part: Make “Typecasting” Work for You

CastingHave you ever imagined yourself as a movie actor? If so, what roles do you play? More importantly, how similar are your imaginary roles to who you are in real life? I ask because I think the world of acting offers us a useful lesson in career success.

One of my friends is an actor who is carefully building his career. Fortunately, he has a great day job and an award winning film to his credit.  Recently, during dinner in LA (where else?), we talked about personal branding for actors. During this and a subsequent conversation in Atlanta, I learned some things that seem to have broad application to pursuing success in other industries.

According to my friend, getting started in acting is often based on your type; specifically:

“… typecasting … [or] the process by which a particular actor becomes strongly identified with a specific character; one or more particular roles; or, characters having the same traits or coming from the same social or ethnic groups.”

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The Public Life of Your Personal Brand

ConferenceHave you ever stopped to think about how you’re managing your public life? Okay, maybe you’re wondering,  “What public life?”

So, let me explain.

Most of us will agree we have a personal life and we have a work life. Yet, we don’t usually think about having a “public” life. We know politicians and celebrities have public lives. But think we do not. Yet, the reality is that your success is driven by the positive regard of others. Though you may not have looked at it this way, your reputation exists by virtue of the way your public sees you.

Actually, because you know your professional presence online is important, you no doubt have a LinkedIn account. And there’s a good chance you’re on Twitter.  You may even have worked to build your personal brand with online profiles that include your unique attributes, motivated skills, and other information you hope will attract people who may be able to hire or do business with you. While you might not have thought of it this way before, your web presence is one facet of your public life.

Still, your public life cannot be contained inside passive online profiles. It needs to be dynamic. If you want to earn positive regard of others and attract opportunity, you need to “put yourself out there.” As principal ambassador of “brand you,” you need to regularly engage with the people who make up your audiences, both online and at face-to-face meet ups! It’s the only way you can make the kind of emotional connections with people who can support your success. Think of it this way: No connection, no brand.

Yet, if you think of this as “networking,” it will seem daunting. It’s not. So, don’t think of it that way. Instead, think of your public life as ongoing conversations that are intended to help you get to know and establish friendly relationships with members of your community. To build those relationships, your focus, needs to be on them. Not you.

This is not new idea. A wise man once said:

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

That man was Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People.  As I see it, Carnegie offers timeless advice with ongoing relevance. In his writing he capture the essence a successful public life. So, if attracting the positive regard of others is important to your personal brand – and it is – you would do well to (re)discover his principles.

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So, how are you managing your public life? If you want to share, I’d love to know. Just leave your comment on this post.

Reinvention: Just Another Plastic Spoon?

Plastic SpoonHave you ever tried to reinvent yourself? Chances are, if you ever considered or tried it, you found yourself stymied. What exactly do you need to do to create a new you? In what ways would you be different, if you succeeded?

Frankly, I really don’t believe in personal reinvention. In fact, even as a personal brand strategist, I don’t much care for the idea of creating a personal brand. As I see it, any effort undertaken to develop and project a contrived image into the world is pretty much the same a developing a substitute to stand in for you.

This is not a new idea.

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