Forget About Your Personal Brand

Are you weary of the personal branding hype? I am. I’m seeing it bubble into a hollow mass frenzy…let me explain.

For the past 18 years, I’ve had the privilege to lead and participate in numerous performance evaluation processes. In all talent evaluations, there are two parameters being judged. First, what we achieve—outcomes and results—which are easily measured. Second, how we lead—assessed by managerial judgment, organizational culture and observations—evaluated on behavior standards.

It is primarily the second parameter that personal branding seeks to influence. It’s an alluring concept, which claims that you can create a self-made image that can influence the perceptions of others about you. The hard truth is that, like a selfie, no one cares what we think of ourselves.

You can, however, successfully impact the second parameter of the evaluation by developing skills and exhibiting consistent behaviors that align to organizational standards. By focusing on behaviors, you can impact 40% to 50% of your evaluation. In addition, if your aspiration is to be considered promotable, literature suggests that behaviors described as executive presence (EP) can produce an additional 26% to 30% advantage.  Unfortunately, EP has been historically indescribable, generally characterized as “it” or “the right stuff.”

Executive Presence, Explained

Sylvia Hewlett, author of Executive Presence, The Missing Link Between Merit and Success (Harper, 2014) fielded a national survey of 4,000 college-educated professionals to define EP.

The research unveiled three EP pillars:

  • 67% is gravitas: How you act.
  • 28% is communication: How you speak.
  • 5% is appearance: How you look.

What is novel in Hewett’s research is her focus on behaviors and the deep explanation of the elusive gravitas, the core characteristic of EP.

Six attributes of gravitas (in order of importance):

1. Confidence: Sustained grace under pressure.

2. Decisiveness: Demonstrated courage, backbone and fortitude.

3. Integrity: Unshakeable ethical values.

4. Emotional intelligence: Authentic empathy and compassion for others.

5. Reputation: Earned trust from employees, leaders and peers.

6. Charisma: Ability to craft a magnanimous vision that inspires followers.

The great news is that all of these are behaviors that can be learned. When executives evaluate performance and potential, these are key behavioral characteristics they evaluate. Never, in any performance evaluation have I ever heard anyone evaluate the clothes employees wear, the cars they drive or their social media activity—superficialities now being touted as components of personal branding.

The Takeaway

Like the rapper Chuck D. stated in his No. 1 single, “Don’t believe the hype.” Instead of preoccupying yourself with the latest personal brand propaganda, pick up a copy of EP, understand the key gravitas behaviors and build out your skill set. It’ll yield a greater ROI to improve your performance—and your chances of being promoted.


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