It is a well-known fact that having a strong brand can establish an expectation that something is of higher quality than the competition, even if the difference is minimal. Brand strategists have long taught that company brands must find a way to achieve powerful differentiation in order to charge a premium. This is because brands compete on intangible attributes and commodities compete on price or convenience. Some might ponder - but, what about emerging executives, particularly those in the technology sector? What are the implications for their careers and personal brands during a global pandemic and post-COVID world?
Tom Peters shared this powerful quote in Inc. Magazine that resonates with many “we are the CEOs of our companies, Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
This implies that career professionals, particularly emerging executives and high-potential corporate team leaders should view themselves as brands and cultivate authentic personal brands for themselves. Personal brand development is particularly needed in the field of technology since it is usually forgotten due to the belief that the technical aspects of the job are only pertinent. Additionally, personal branding can help leaders create a competitive advantage and build content to maximize their digital presence so that they will be better equipped for a post-COVID world.
Defining Personal Branding
A personal brand refers to vivid intangible attributes and/or associations that exists in one’s mind and heart about an individual. All these colorful and (hopefully) positive attributes create a magical pull so that others will be drawn (even magnetized) towards you. In a professional sense, these are the attributes (like reliable, innovative, accurate, genius, etc.) that enable leaders to create emotional connections so that others can experience all of what they have to offer.
John Sherry, noted ‘Brandthropologist’, wrote a very academic, yet poignant definition in Kellogg on Branding by Alice M. Tybout and Tim Calkins that I find to be quite riveting – “The brand is a principal repository of meaning in consumer culture. It is both a storehouse and a powerhouse of meaning”. Hence, one’s personal brand stores meaning, powerful meaning that others should experience on a multi-dimensional level that goes beyond a leader’s technical abilities.
Benefits to Building a Personal Brand
Building a personal brand helps to establish authority in the marketplace (both internal and external) as it amplifies your leadership potential. Some tangible benefits of personal branding include: increasing earning potential and/or getting promoted, attracting mentors/recruiters in the organization, becoming an influencer, uncovering professional purpose, improving people relationships and creating team balance . According to Waller and Waller, “professionals who build their brand make 47% more money than those who don’t”.
Kinetic Leadership Trends
Executives in the C-Suite (Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Marketing Officers, Chief People Officers, etc.) generally receive coaching to further build their leadership effectiveness, especially with team management. Emerging executives and senior team leaders in the technology space need the same level of focus in the form of personal branding, which can include some executive coaching elements. According to Deloitte’s 2020 Global Technology Leadership Study of over 1,311 survey participants across global geographies, “technology leaders are being called upon to serve as kinetic leaders –a supercharged change instigator, pursuing transformation while ensuring resilience.”
Transformation cannot take place alone; it requires vision setting, collaboration and teams who embrace, internalize, and execute the vision. Hence, effective leaders (particularly in technology), should strengthen “soft skills” like emotional intelligence, authenticity, building tribes, influence, and purpose. Encouraging collaboration, empowerment and an intrapraneurship-mindset within the organization can help make kinetic leaders more effective and impactful, as well.
Challenges in Tech Industries
According to CNET.com, 2018, imposter syndrome is prevalent within the tech industry, with about 58% of tech employees stating that they currently experience some form of the condition within their careers. It is key to note that kinetic leaders in tech and (other industries) can greatly limit their effectiveness if they (or their team members) have an intense fear of failure, are unconsciously sabotaging their own success or feel that they need to work 1,000% harder to be treated the same.
Strong Personal Brands That Demonstrate Kinetic Leadership
In order for leaders to build their personal brands, others have to be aware that their brands exist. Brand recall occurs when people (consumers) demonstrate an ability to remember/recognize attributes about a brand when given minimal stimuli (i.e., name, colors, etc). It is used daily when we think about consumer brands and applies to personal branding as well.
Steve Wozniak is an electronics engineer, programmer, philanthropist, and co-founder of Apple Inc. He is known for creating Apple 1 and co-creating Apple II. He is affectionately known as the “Woz” for his technical brilliance and has subsequently launched other companies. He is a person of influence because of his purpose-driven nature – he strongly held that “Apple’s products could change people’s lives once they got into people’s homes”. This belief was infectious and transformative for subsequent teams and staff at Apple. Even today, Woz is a house-hold name, celebrity and even appeared on Dancing with the Stars, which indicates the relevance of his personal brand to transcend industry categories.
Woz’s counterpart and co-creator, Steve Jobs, embodied the definition of a kinetic leader. He got people to “buy into” his vision. He developed his marketing and communications “soft” skills to lead Apple to success and inspired and motivated his employees to exceed expectations. Jobs had an intrapraneurship mindset and has a personal brand that has a powerhouse of meaning. He knew his WHY and became known for it.
Jessica O. Matthews, Founder & CEO of Unchartered Power is an energy inventor who invented the Sockket, an energy-generating soccer ball. She went on to found Uncharted Power, a sustainable infrastructure company that transforms the ground beneath us into an industrial IoT platform that streamlines the deployment and management of infrastructures, such as power lines and broadband. Source: Oracle Blog. I have personally worked with Jessica and observed how she uses purpose and solving problems that affect people and society to magnetize her personal brand. She will continue to be an influencer for generations to come and inspire teams to join her tribe.
Reshma Saujani is a leading activist and founder of Girls Who Code and the Marshall Plan for Moms. She began her career as an attorney and activist and in 2010, she became the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. Today, Girls Who Code has taught 300,000 girls through direct in-person computer science education programming and reached 500 million people worldwide through its New York Times-bestselling book series and award-winning campaigns. Source. Reshma’s transformative personal brand has earned her broad recognition in top-tier media outlets.
Success in personal branding takes work, structure, gut, and consistency. There are many roads to doing it well and the benefits outweigh the costs. All four of the before mentioned leaders demonstrate kinetic leadership in very different ways and are all uber effective. According to CEOs surveyed in BrandPie’s 2021 CEO Purpose Report, “the activation of purpose (your WHY) is still a skill that leaders recognize needs developing”. As corporate leaders (particularly technology leaders) become kinetic leaders-- change instigators and more purpose driven, they should deepen their focus and commitment to personal branding. This will help to decrease imposter syndrome, strengthen communication skills, uncover professional purpose, and achieve team balance in this virtual and remote world.
Tanika Vital-Pringle, Global MBA Brand Management, is a Certified WHY Coach and Personal Brand and Corporate Brand Strategist for Brand Rebirth. She offers comprehensive coaching programs for Emerging Executives & High-Performing Leaders and Workshops for teams.