Our CEO Louise Kovacs recently spoke at a Women in Business Leadership Conference organised by Cisco, Oracle, Dell, Google, NUS Business School & Women Media Networks. This post is a summary of the content of the keynote address that she gave on 15 March.
The topic for the conference was ‘working the corporate ladder; workplace communication and building your brand’ and I was invited to speak on the topic ‘five things you need to get your brand in shape’. In preparing my talk, I considered both my own experience as a female leader working in the IT industry as well as the experiences of the many senior women I have coached in my ten years as an executive coach.
When I started in the IT industry in a sales role I was the only female in a sales team of 80 salesmen and I had very little guidance on how to navigate my way through the corporate ladder. I learned as I went along and was fortunate to have a very supportive boss, although his initial advice was about wearing the right length skirt! Fortunately, his advice got better with time – he was learning as much as I was.
So, based on my 25 years’ work experience including 10 years’ executive coaching experience here are the five things I think are important to building your own brand.
Before you can promote your own brand, you need to know what it is. The three areas that are useful to explore are:-
Your values – what is important to you as a person? Values are powerful drivers of behaviour and motivation and so it’s important to your ability to stay motivated that you can align what you are doing with your personal values in some way. In my early days in the IT industry I was ambitious, valued autonomy, saw myself as a bit of a maverick and wanted to earn money to travel, buy my first flat in London and have a good lifestyle. Being in a sales role made sense for me at that point in my life. Some core values stay with you for your whole life and some change as you gain more experience; you discover which values are ones you absorbed from your family and culture and you develop your own sense of self. I quickly developed my own sense of integrity and ethics, as well as understanding that I needed to be continually learning to stay motivated. Now my values are more about making a broader contribution to society through the work I do as a coach and improving the professionalism of the coaching industry through my research and professional practice.
What are your strengths? Building your brand on your strengths is also important as you are going to be more successful using the skills, traits and abilities that are your strengths. There are some good tools for finding your strengths and one I use frequently in coaching assignments is the Realise2 strengths profile. You can find it here. The profile is based on some sound research, and will provide you with a good starting point for reflecting on your strengths.
Thirdly, what do you want to be known for? Setting some goals around what you’d like to achieve is one way of doing this as is writing a personal mission statement for what you’d like to be known for. For example, in my case my personal mission statement is to enable people to see their potential (their best possible selves) and to understand how to use their strengths to fulfil that potential and in doing so, creating a better world. It’s worth revisiting your personal mission statement from time to time to see if it still works for you. It should be motivating and be aligned with your values.
Delivering on your brand-promise is the next key thing. Be confident in taking on challenges and putting yourself forward for projects and take some chances, but beware of the assignments that are too risky. Whatever your key talents and skills are, you need a reputation for getting things done, for being a problem-solver and for executing on strategic initiatives. It’s great to have your mission statement and personal brand in your mind but how you put that into practice is how you will be remembered.
Using influential networks is key to getting things done in organisations and in developing your career options. Identify opportunities to develop relationships both inside and outside your organisation. Your peers are often the key to delivering on your key projects as it is rare in today’s matrixed organisations that your initiatives don’t affect other parts of the business.Their collaboration can make or break your initiative. Also consider who in the senior leadership ranks is going to be your sponsor – who is going to put your name forward when you are not in the room? Make sure you deliver on things that are important to them and that they understand what you would like to achieve.
Relationships need to be authentic and genuine. People will quickly see through you if they think that they are merely a way for you to further your own career. The most successful networkers base their networks on reciprocity – finding ways to help others and being genuinely curious about what is important to them personally and professionally. If you build your networks on that basis you will always find people willing to help you when you need it. There will always be one or two hyper-competitive peers who will see this as an opportunity to exploit your goodwill but don’t let this stop you. If the culture of the organisation rewards that behaviour, you can decide if it’s the place for you.
Having a clear picture of where you want to be and how you want to get there is good as long as you don’t miss other opportunities because you only see one way of getting to the goal. You should consider building as many options as you can. Consider opportunities to follow other paths, because they might lead to interesting roles that only become apparent along the new path.
Unless you are convinced you want to stay in the field you are in for the rest of your career, look for projects and roles that will broaden your experience. Just because you started life as a technical person doesn’t mean that you can’t develop your career in many different directions. Versatility and flexibility are something that should be part of your brand as this will create more options for you as you climb the corporate ladder.
Those are my top five things to consider in developing your personal brand. Feel free to comment below if there are other things you think are more important or you have an experience to share.