Subscribe to Inc. magazine
LEAD

Why Personal Branding is a Sham

The notion that you need to promote anything except your own authentic personality, opinions, and style is just not true, says one advertising veteran.
Advertisement

Do you subscribe to the theory that meticulously cultivating a personal brand image will make you a great leader? Take politicians for example: What happens when the person you vote into office doesn't live up to the claims you bought into during the campaign? You and the other voters feel alienated and betrayed. Great leaders--ones who motivate people to do great things--say substantive things, are genuine, and are not afraid to give their unvarnished opinion.

Shelly Lazarus, former chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, has helped companies like Ford, GE, IBM, and others manage their advertising efforts for 40 years. Lazarus's professional career is all about building brands--ones that attract loyal customers and followers. Yet she believes the idea of building a personal brand is nonsensical. You're a human being, not a product.

"Here's the thing: I hate it when people talk about personal brand. Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity," Lazarus says in an interview with Joan Solotar in Harvard Business Review. "One of the fabulous things I've enjoyed about my career is collaborating with so many leaders across different industries and countries, and without exception the successful ones have been comfortable in their own skin."

But if a personal brand isn't what great leaders should be going after, how else should they attract people? Check out the characteristics below that Lazarus says are truly important for leaders to have.

Resilience and excitement

First things first: you are not pretending to be any different than who you really are inside. People hate being lied to, conned, or tricked. They also do not respect someone who lacks toughness. Great leaders can take on the challenges thrown at them and rally the team after a setback. (Note: the leader takes the responsibility for what transpired, of course.) "Resilience--the ability to hang in there when things are difficult--is critical in a career, and if you're spending every hour of the day pretending to be someone you're not, you'll be exhausted and won't have the energy needed to face your real work," Lazarus tells HBR. "On the flip side, if you're genuinely excited about what you're doing, and have that light in your eyes, it will attract other people to you, and motivate them."

Don't ever change

Just as important, you should not change your personality. Why is the stereotype of politicians that they're untrustworthy? It's because too often voters have seen them transform after taking office. "There's a common misperception that you have to take on a new persona when you enter the leadership ranks: to become more restrained, intellectual, cerebral. But that doesn't do anything for you," Lazarus says. "Brands exist in the hearts and minds of the people who use them, and if you suddenly try to switch them--which I've seen many corporations try to do--you alienate the customer. Whatever humility or generosity or warmth made me successful early in my career when talking to a brand-manager level client, I tried to keep when we were both promoted and sitting in corner offices." 

Express your opinion with style

As a leader, you need to have opinions and you need to express them. The worst thing a leader can do for his or her credibility is flip-flop or sit on the fence tight-lipped. "Expressing a point of view is always legitimate, and if you're doing it because you're genuinely passionate about a topic, I don't think anyone will have a problem with that," Lazarus says. That said, have some grace and make sure you're not throwing your opinion out needlessly. "What you do need to pay attention to, however, is style--not just what you say, but how you say it. People tell me I smile a lot--but I'm strong. I express very clear and forceful opinions, but I try to do it nicely," she says. "You don't have to be mean to be powerful, and you can do anything with charm."

Be clear and precise

Whether you're writing the company's mission statement or just speaking casually with your employees, don't just say things. "Pick your words carefully--and say what you really mean. David [Ogilvy] had principles by which he led Ogilvy, and unlike with so many corporate mission statements, his are impossible to forget. Whereas other companies might say, 'Politicians don't do well here,' David said, 'We abhor toadies.' Other leaders might tell their employees to respect the product's end user; according to him, 'the consumer isn't a moron; she's your wife,'" Lazarus says. "Every so often during my tenure leading Ogilvy these hot stuff young copywriters would want to overhaul the principles, and inevitably they came back with a version that together we'd rip right up, because it had lost all of its passion and uniqueness and fervor. When you're leading people towards something important, losing your authentic voice is the last thing you want to do."

Last updated: Jul 29, 2014

WILL YAKOWICZ | Staff Writer | Reporter, Inc.com

Will Yakowicz is a staff writer for Inc. magazine. He has covered business, crime, and local politics for The Brooklyn Paper and was the editor of Park Slope Patch. He has also reported on the West Bank and Moscow for Tablet Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: