Consider how New York City's chief executive and the CEO of a Silicon Valley firm each demonstrated their personal brands during and after the events of September 11.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was everywhere - rushing to the World Trade Center after the first plane hit, fleeing for safety when the second tower collapsed, keeping the public informed, preparing the city for the unfolding aftermath of the attacks, meeting with firefighters and policemen, and consoling individuals and families over their losses. After a year of unending gossip and increasing irrelevance, he became the perfect leader for New York City in the most challenging of times. Informed, consoling and human, he was able to re-gain the trust and admiration of the many New Yorkers who had recently written him off.
In contrast, consider the Silicon Valley company CEO, as recounted in a recent issue of Fortune magazine, who was stranded away from his office in the aftermath of September 11, but didn't contact anyone at his company for two days. Upon his return, a short speech about the events was prefaced by the remark that he wasn't going to "pretend to be anyone's spiritual advisor." It's hard to imagine that this CEO ever had the trust and admiration of his team.
During challenging times - due to economic, national or natural crises - trust is fostered through the honesty and consistency of deeds and words. That's crisis management 101. But the real question is: should it really take a crisis to prod leaders to explore, identify, and act consistently upon their core set of values?
Leaders need to have having a strong personal brand through good times and bad. Defining yours and bringing it to life through consistency in action is something that today's best business leaders instinctively recognize, whether they articulate it or not. And the ability to build and demonstrate a compelling personal brand will continue to be a critical career success factor, whether you're starting, changing or optimizing your career.
How does one go about building a personal brand? The underlying principles are the same as those applied to the branding of a soft drink, an automobile, or a technological service. Recognize your personal strengths and gifts, think about how you best connect with people, consider what your target audience needs and wants, identify the value you deliver to meet those needs and wants, and communicate in a way that reaches your constituents in their hearts and minds and via the channels that work best for you. And most importantly, recognize the gaps in your personal brand and invest the time and energy to overcome those gaps.
On one hand, you have the functional aspects of a personal brand. A leader's functional brand promise is to deliver successful, objective results: to achieve profitable growth, to introduce a consistently successful array of new products to the market, or to reduce costs. What's more elusive to identify, much less to build, are the intangibles or the emotional benefits of a personal brand: being an inspirational visionary, an articulate communicator, or for most of us, simply being a compelling and confidence-inspiring leader.
But make no mistake. It's the emotional benefits delivered through your personal brand that make the difference between being seen simply as an able business-person and being seen as a true leader.