For years I was told to build my brand at work, my professional one. This was new because I had never thought it applied to me. I equated brands to products and companies, not people. I thought people had to work hard and be known for their contribution.
Building my brand
Without knowing anything better I set about building my brand. At the time I started working for a competitive and entrepreneurial company where networks were the currency of the culture, and having a brand was important for how people perceived you.
Feelings of anxiety
This led to heightened feelings of anxiety for me. One of the unintended consequences of this type of culture was that you were only as successful as your last project. But what if your last project wasn’t successful? The halo-effect was alive and well which was mitigated by having regular performance assessments.
All was not dire though. This company had some great aspects too, like encouraging autonomy, mastery and purpose – both professional and personal. Performance reviews were driven by the employee and not the manager which meant that I could have one as soon as a project was completed.
I think I built a good brand, I was told many times this was so. But when it came to moving upwards or even sideways to new opportunities it didn’t help me much.
General or local brands
That is the thing with brands – most are localised and only a few are generalised. Everyone knows Coke, MacDonalds and KFC. But not everyone knows Mugg and Bean, Liqui Fruit and Mrs Balls Chutney because they are localised to South African culture.
The same applies to people as brands – I imagine that the whole world knows Elon Musk but that only South Africans know Richard Maponya. Both are business visionaries, leaders in their field and respected widely for their accomplishments. And they changed or are changing a bit of the world.
Find your voice instead
Leaving two-dimensional brand building for people behind, Sheryl Sandberg proposes to find your voice instead.
The idea of developing your personal brand is a bad one, according to Sandberg. “People aren’t brands,” she says. “That’s what products need. They need to be packaged cleanly, neatly, concretely. People aren’t like that.” (Source).
People are multi-dimensional and more than what the world sees. Often our voices are drowned out by the cacophony of multiple other voices louder than ours, divergent voices, angry voices, dissenting and contrarian ones. But they are voices nonetheless.
“Who am I?” asks Sandberg. “I am the COO of Facebook, a company I deeply believe in. I’m an author. I’m a mom. I’m a widow. At some level, I’m still deeply heartbroken. I am a friend and I am a sister. I am a lot of very messy, complicated things. I don’t have a brand, but I have a voice.” (Source).
Focus on developing your voice, she says. Figuring out what’s important to you and being willing to use your voice for that purpose is incredibly valuable. “If you are doing it to develop your personal brand, it’s empty and self-serving and not about what you’re talking about,” she says. “If you’re doing it because there is something you want to see changed in the world, that’s where it will have value and depth and integrity.” (Source).
After years of so-called brand-building, I now am exploring what my voice is. The idea is more in tune with what I feel to be true, without the clouding aspects of money and status, and open to making a real difference to the world, no matter how small. This blog is playing a role in this exploration, much like a trusted travel companion, comforting at times and challenging me to go outside of that comfort at others.
I would like this piece to open up a conversation on what is a voice, what does it mean and how it can be expressed. Please accept this as an invitation to have the conversation and let us see where it takes us.
Kinni, T. (2017, July 17). Sheryl Sandberg: Develop Your Voice, Not Your Brand. Retrieved August 09, 2017, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/sheryl-sandberg-develop-your-voice-not-your-brand