This column is part of Globe Careers' new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab
What did you find when you last did an online search of your name? It might seem narcissistic, but it's a necessary exercise for every professional. Discovering what others see when they type your name into a search engine is a crucial step in the important task of building your personal brand.
The reality is that people have a perception of you – whether you like it or not. If you don't put any effort into your brand, you are leaving it up to the whim of others to guide your narrative. With our lives being increasingly showcased online, not only do we need to make even more of an effort to ensure that we are putting out an image that we like, but one that is also accurate. This process can take some time and effort, but it's worth it in the end – first impressions matter regardless of whether or not they are in person or online. Here are some lessons I've learned about how to cultivate your personal brand.
Be authentic, not perfect
People can tell a fraud a mile away – don't be one. Being authentic in who you are and therefore what you do is the best thing you can do for yourself and your image. Decide on your story – what's important to you, what your strengths are and what you want from the future. As a first step, figuring out the answers to questions like these will help you to put together a complete representation of yourself.
We'd all like to be thought of as perfect, but it's much more interesting to have personality. In the business world we can get stuck thinking we need to act and look a particular way, and frankly, it can be a bit boring. A little over a year ago I transformed the focus of my LinkedIn profile from a resume to my personal reputation. I decided to share more information about who I am as a leader through different stages of my career, rather than a series of bullets. These additional insights opened up communications with people that I might not have previously connected with. What can you do to showcase your identity?
Show it off
Once you've taken the time to think about what your professional persona is, you need to project it. One of the simplest ways to do this is through your online networks. Take the time to understand what platforms the people are that you want to connect with are on. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube are only a few to consider. When it comes to your own profile, writing down your attributes isn't enough. Where and how you present them as well as how you back up your attributes is essential. If you claim to care about international politics, then share some articles and comment on them. Believe in the power of volunteerism? Write a blog post on the topic.
Leaders can be very conservative and sometimes apprehensive about what they share online, but over time you will get more comfortable and the real you will come out. I like to post articles that resonate with me, and recently I blogged about a charitable initiative that took place in our office. It may not appeal to everyone, but it's authentic and reveals who I am. Be thoughtful about what you share, and think about how it reflects on you and what you stand for.
It's okay to shift
As a leader, it's important to show how you're changing and growing over time. While you're keeping an eye on the shifting industry trends, you too should be evolving based on the direction your life is going. The world's top companies do this all the time. Think about Google or General Electric – while their essence stays the same, they have reacted over decades to the changing market. Your brand might change if you get a new title, lose your job or acquire a firm, and these turning points are the right time to take an introspective look. Having a dynamic brand is a good thing, and should be a priority.
Developing your personal brand is important in the business world and it's worth the time and effort to promote it effectively. Representing yourself thoughtfully and authentically will gain the respect of your colleagues and employees and that gives you the licence to lead.
Brian Church is country manager for Canada and head of sales solutions for North America at LinkedIn (@LinkedIn).