Getting ahead in business is about more than being tethered to your mobile 24/7. In our seventh annual Executive Survival Guide, we show you how to endear yourself to everyone from the CEO to security; start your day like Warren Buffett; build your personal brand (even if you're The Boring Guy); and embrace your inner jerk. We'll also help boost your education quotient with profiles of the best EMBA and MBA schools in the land.
"You have to brand yourself."
Seems like everyone's been all over this idea for a while now, but (as usual) I'm a bit of a late adopter. I've always earned a living as a writer, but recently acquired my own radio show, and when I asked the program director what subjects he thought I should talk about, he said, rather impatiently: "Brand yourself, Dave! What's your brand?"
And it was only then that I truly started to think about it. And I decided on Smart, Ideally Funny, but Deeply Flawed Guy Who Is Also a Bad Dad™. That's no joke, either part.
The beauty of my brand, I think, is it turns potential weaknesses into strengths—but mostly, it allows me to be me. I urge you, when you consider branding yourself, to think along similar lines. Biggest rookie mistake, in my view, of people's self-branding efforts is trying to be something/someone you're not.
Say you're The Quiet, Hard-Working Type. But you see what a success The Brash Extrovert (a.k.a. The Twirling Diva) is having in your office. So you decide, "I've got to be more like that!" Often with disastrous results. Because the frog cannot be a scorpion, and vice versa.
Definite brand not to be: The Griper, the guy or gal who loves a good bitch-session about how poorly the place is run and what idiots all the bosses are. This brand, I've observed, does not have a long shelf life.
The good news is that these days, it's not only the dashing, WASPy Richard Bransons who get ahead, but a polyglot mish-mash of men and women of various shapes, colours and sexual orientations. Begin by taking a long look at the man/woman in the mirror. Decide what are your strong suits, and how to play them up and how either to turn your weaknesses into strengths, or play them down. Then: Sell, sell, sell, baby! If you are the quiet, hard-working type, become The Ultimate Quiet, Hard-Working Type™. Turn your reticence into a virtue and (paradoxically, I suppose) make sure people see it that way.
From there, be consistent and clear. "Branding yourself works on the same principles as branding a company," says Leigh Gravenor, of Toronto-based PSD+G Strategy Group. She's worked with companies like Shoppers Drug Mart, but also on branding individuals—for example, someone with a charity to promote. "You have to have a simple, clear, differentiated message. When people think of you, everyone should think the same two or three consistent things. And it should be memorable." She cites the author Malcolm Gladwell as someone who has branded himself very well.
At the same time, your brand should always be evolving. There should be an aspirational component. I kind of hate to use the example of Matthew McConaughey and the vaunted "McConaugheyssance" of his career, but it's true: He went from shirtless meatball of disposable rom-coms like How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Fool's Gold to one of the most respected "dark" and "haunted" artistes of his generation—all on the wings of aspiration and careful rebranding. Look for opportunities to do the type of job you want to do (in McConaughey's case, it started with The Lincoln Lawyer), then be the perfect person for that job. From there, be patient (McConaughey did The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011 and it didn't have much effect—until Nic Pizzolatto, creator of True Detective, happened to catch it a couple of years later). The Twirling Diva may get the promotion you thought you deserved this year, but your time will come.
Basically, it's really all an elaboration of your mother's exhortation to "dress for the job you want." But it's more than just a nice shirt. Be the right person for the job you aspire to. When you get it, inhabit the role to the point no one could imagine anyone but you in that spot.