Reflections on Life and Leadership: The Value of a Personal Brand

Recently, I had the privilege of spending a week in the presence of some extraordinary people at the University of Texas.  The experience challenged me to rethink the concept of a “personal” brand, especially as it relates to leadership.  In truth, I’ve had a little trouble with the idea of “personal” brand.”  Maybe it was the opportunity to spend a week in reflection, learning, and re-learning things I already new that gave me the new perspective.  Maybe it was just being away from the routine of my daily responsibilities.  But thinking about “brand” rather than simply “reputation” has, at a minimum, given me a fresh way of considering how we are perceived in the arenas of life.

“Brand” is a fairly simple concept.  It’s what people think about when they think about your company or you as an individual.   It isn’t just a trademark like a freckle faced girl pitching “hot and juicy” hamburgers or a “swoosh” logo on a pair of cross trainers.  Though those are certainly components of a brand.  Brands, at their best, can inspire confidence, speak to vision and innovation (Apple), reliability (Toyota), honor (The Marines), and provide its “owner” a means of differentiation and therefore, value.  Retailers brand themselves as a place to save money (Wal-Mart), trendy value (H&M and Target) or “upscale” and worth it (Neiman Marcus).  Over time, retailers, manufacturers, insurance companies, and individuals create a brand with which a certain value is associated.

The big question for us as leaders isn’t really “what’s my brand?”  It’s really, “what’s the value of my brand?”  It’s easy to think of one’s brand solely in terms of our profession.  What about other constituencies in which you operate?  What is the value of your brand as a husband, father, wife, or mother?  What’s your value of your brand as a volunteer, member of your church, or civic organization?  Such reflection can be painful, especially if you’ve found yourself having failed to live up to your own expectations.  In truth, we’re all human.  Frail. Imperfect.  We, like brands, have our failures.  But brands do not only recover from failure, they can thrive after them.  Tylenol survived a deadly tainting of its product and remains atop its class of over the counter medication.  Hyundai and Kia, once considered poor quality products are now stylish and reliable options with growing market share.  Even politicians rise from the ashes of self-destruction to re-elected or otherwise be held in high regard for their expertise.  Nixon gave the “Checker’s Speech” only to be elected President years later. Albeit he blew it again on a little thing called “Watergate.”  Even Churchill had to rebuild his brand after failings as a young politician.  The list goes on.

In past postings, I’ve written about the need for courage in leaders.  Nowhere is that need more present than in facing our own failings.  We must face the “brutal facts” and set about making the changes that push us closer to the mark we set for ourselves.  The Apostle Paul, as the foremost persecutor of the early Christian movement, standing over the stoning of many believers, became the most prolific writer of the New Testament later wrote these words:

“I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal…”

Although Paul’s words were in the context of his own faith and belief, we would do well to heed his encouragement as we examine our own personal brand as leaders.

Keep the faith.