Why personal branding is essential for CEOs

Avatar photo Cedric Voigt - 22nd Feb, 2022

CEO personal branding is going to be huge in 2022.  We’re emerging from our hermit-like existence of the last two years, events and conferences are re-entering the real world and as a CEO you may be aware that for many of your employees, stakeholders and network members you’ve been a talking head on a screen.  It’s now time to take your place on the centre stage again. 

All of this puts the focus squarely back on personal branding.  As a CEO you’re the figurehead, the one that collects the plaudits (no matter how much of a team player you are, you carry the blame and the praise equally, that’s just how it works) but at the same time you are seen, maybe counter-intuitively, as someone slightly outside the organisation, someone who operates at a higher level in order to help the company benefit from your external contacts and drive. 

CEO personal branding – what it is, and what it isn’t 

Personal branding can help make the most of your position in terms of career progression while at the same time reinforcing the strength of your organisation.  

Let’s talk about what it’s not; it’s not constantly making inspirational posts on social media and positioning yourself as a guru (unless you are a guru, in which case your personal branding’s pretty much in the bag.)  It’s not about creating envy among your peers;  leave that to Jay-Z.  And it’s certainly not Instagram, associating yourself with certain brands.  

Know what you stand for 

So let’s give you some personal branding examples.  What it is about is hanging on to your integrity, your values and the way you want to be perceived both in-house and externally when they are under siege by a myriad of different claims on your time and opinion.  You need to be in a position to know what you stand for as an individual to know what your organisation stands for and ideally to marry both those things so that your integrity is strong, your values are clear and you are never going to find yourself in a position when you are having to defend either something you wish you had not said or done, or an action or a standpoint the company has taken. 

CEOs are usually heavily involved in the creation of their organisation’s mission statement and values but often don’t consider their own.  Exactly the same approach should be taken – what do you stand for?  Where are your boundaries, what are your ethics?  

Authenticity and consistency 

Let’s think of a personal branding example.  You are at an industry event in which one of your contemporaries from another company starts to behave in an unacceptable manner to the event organiser.  What would you do?  How would you react?  Intervene?  Ask someone else to? Make a formal complaint after the event?   None of these answers are right or wrong, they are simply options you need to think about and work out which feels ‘right’ for you and how you would implement the one you chose.  Then interrogate why you picked that answer.  Do you prefer being the hero that leaps in, the quiet voice of reason behind the scenes or the discreet negotiator?  Personal branding should not be about making you into some sort of business super-hero, the eternal good guy, but it should be about authenticity and consistency.  If your behaviour is consistent to a set of values, others can predict your response and it feels authentic and gives you integrity.  

Reducing Imposter Syndrome 

Coincidentally, creating a personal brand helps reduce Imposter Syndrome, should you suffer from that. Rather than attempting to be all things to all people and do some of them half-heartedly, which leads to that inevitable fear of discovery, you can focus on your key concerns and the issues that are part of your brand and build them up as a strength in which you can have total confidence. 

Where does social media fit in?

The influence of social media on your role in business is enormous and has increased the importance of personal branding.  If you are the figurehead of an organisation you have to make peace with the fact that when you are out in public then there is a chance, however small, that you may end up on someone’s social media feed.  Likewise, if your twitter bio mentions your organisation, if you make media appearances, if you extol your company’s values anywhere, on your CEO social media or in real life, then it is up to you to make sure you are acting in a way which will not sit oddly with the values of either your own personal brand or those of your organisation.  We all roll our eyes at the politicians who extol family values and are then gleefully exposed in the tabloids the next day, and the corporate version of that is no less damaging.  An unguarded moment, an impulsive decision or a casual comment can be your undoing.  These are much less likely to happen if you have your personal brand values nailed down. 

Creating a personal brand 

So how do you start creating your personal branding steps?  Coaches and experts can help but as a starting point, make a list of the values you hold as most essential in your life, then narrow them down to three.  Then write down how you would most like people you value or respect to describe you.  What would make you feel most disappointed to hear about yourself?  Remember, this isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being realistically you, and most importantly a sustainable you that does not feel as thought you are playing a role, and a you that you like and want others to like and respect.   From these lists, you create a personal branding statement.  “I am xxx.  I stand for xxx.  When others see or hear me, they think xxx.  The issues in which I am most interested are xxx.”  Think of examples in your past career when you have stood up for something or taken a special interest in something which has given you a satisfying result.  This should end up being about a half page of A4 and the result will be your personal branding statement. 

Make a style statement

You can have some fun with the process too – think of a signature colour that you could adopt, or a personal style statement.  Actor Bill Nighy is instantly recognisable because of his personal style, Steve Jobs had an often -copied signature look, even Teresa May’s quirky shoes became well-known before she was.  

Managing the personal and public 

There is a potential clash between your personal brand and that of your organisation.  The key here is to have a list of non-negotiables – matters of principle and absolute truths.  Then establish which areas are more grey to you, that you would be able to talk about in pre-arranged language you feel that would not damage your personal brand.  We’ve all heard interviews in which a leader is hesitantly defending an action or standpoint with which is it is clear they do not agree and it is palpably obvious.  This is part of the justification for a personal brand – ‘the public/our stakeholders/our staff will know I do not agree with this, therefore it weakens our position for me to talk about it.’

Integrity, confidence, strength 

Personal branding for CEOs and leaders is not self-indulgence or self-aggrandisement.  You are strengthening yourself, the robustness of your organisation and your position as a leader to the wider world.   Integrity is key to strong leadership and if you don’t establish what your integrity is built upon then you won’t be able to defend those values when they come under attack.  Personal branding is about standing for something so you don’t fall for everything.  It builds confidence, gives you clear parameters in which to operate as well as goals and targets.  2022 is the year of the personal brand, so start thinking about yours now, begin to grow it and you may just end the year feeling more like ‘you’ at work than you have ever done. 

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