To celebrate this milestone in my writing career, I decided to write this post to remind you that as an employee you’re a stand-alone entity with business needs of your own. That said, this is not to perpetuate the ‘free agent’ conversation – mostly because plenty has already been written about that. This is to empower you to answer a question that will resonate throughout your entire working life – “Why do I need a personal brand?”
So why do you need a personal brand?
Here’s the deal. As an employee you may be a vital part of the organization you work with. And you may count on that organization for your lively-hood – (a.k.a. paycheck). Even so, you’re not an extension of that business. That simply means that just as that organization has business needs of its own which btw you help cater for, you also have business needs that require attention – a personal brand being among the main ones.
I’ve raised more than a few eye-brows each time that I’ve advocated that employees work for themselves with employers, not for them. I stand behind this even if that involves changing jobs at a pace that appears to benefit employees more than their current employer. To continue to defend my position, I’d like to remind you that working with an organization goes beyond being independent. It’s about interdependency. And a basic requirement for achieving interdependency is for both parties to be independent in principle from one another. Only then will true collaboration arise – between two independent parties that decide to collaborate. Although it’s possible for parties with varying degrees of dependency to co-exist for some time, the relationship is doomed from the start. If you’ve ever seen what a leech does to its host, you’ll agree that a parasitic relationship does not benefit either party. The leech remains a leech – with no other option than to find another host to leech off from – and the host is eventually sucked dry – slowly but surely. To learn from real-life collaboration, think orhcids. These breath-taking flowers grow from the branches of trees without taking away nutrients from its host. That’s because orchids are epiphytes, not parasytes. They have their own mechanism of survival, independent from its host. As such they’re able to add to the host – not take away from it.
Realizing that as an employee you have your own brand (and identity) – separate from the current organization you work with – and developing that brand to support your own goals, are two key steps in cutting the umbilical cord from your current employer. Failing to do so will keep you in a state of dependency, unable to reach your fullest potential as an employee. You loose and so does your employer – remember the leech-host drama.
As you think through that, here are a few key pointers:
1. A personal brand is for YOU. It will inspire you, empower you, focus you, drive you and help you achieve fulfillment in your work-life. It will also prevent you from being dragged by others.
2. A powerful personal brand is authentic. Yes, your uniqueness is your strength. The world of work is light years away from your school playground where other kids would make fun of you for not fitting in. Not following the herd in the world of work is an asset. Look closely at yourself. When amongst your colleagues, take time to notice what makes you stand out (yes, like a sore thumb). How can you further develop your distinguishing traits? How can you cash in on them?
3. A sustainable personal brand emerges from a place of honesty within you. The closer to your truth your personal brand is, the longer you’ll be able to stand behind it. Being honest (with yourself) marks the difference between building a sail boat with a long keel* and one with a short one. The one with the short one will be toppled even by small waves. The one with the longer one will be well-grounded and will be able to withstand many rough waters.
Think about this next time that you’re contemplating a change in your career. What steps will you take today to cut the cord?
*For my land-locked friends, a keel is a long, slim plank that juts out from the bottom of the sail boat. It’s the structure that keeps the boat from tipping over.