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Eye candour
Print – Issue 162 | Article of the Week

Jennifer Holloway


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I was talking with an MD, a month into the job, contemplating his inaugural ‘talk to the troops’: “I’m going to set out a new strategy – it’ll be visionary!” I burst his bubble: “What they want to know is, ‘who is this guy? What does he stand for… do I trust him’? Answer those questions first, “the vision” can wait.

Article by Jennifer Holloway, Founder – Personal Branding for Business & author – Personal Branding For Brits

The encounter in the introduction was real, happened ten years ago and my advice still stands. But today, people are asking another question too; ‘does that fit with what I want from a leader?’ Because younger professionals (and, increasingly, older ones) are no longer willing to give their loyalty to a company in exchange for job security – which can’t be given anyway. Instead, today’s candidates and staff are more likely to look for employers with a cohesive proposition and culture, which are in line with their personal values. And they’re looking at the leaders of those companies to illustrate that by walking ‘their walk’ – not just ‘the company walk’.

“A note of caution, it has to be genuine and it has to be consistent. People can spot a fraud at 50 paces and will waste no time discrediting a boss who presents a fake brand”

Put another way, leaders used to be able to get away with conveying solely what they stand for. They could create the vision for the organisation, establish goals to be met, values to be adhered to and set the tone of the company’s culture. Nowadays, that’s not enough. Because if the vision, values and culture – sold by the HR team to incoming talent before they arrive – aren’t evidenced in the company’s leadership, they’ll move on. To convince them to stay, recruits need to know who is behind the vision – their true motivators, their personal goals, their individual values and beliefs. They want the complete package; the what and the who. In other words, they want to understand the personal brand of each and every one of their leaders. The monarchy is a great example of successive generations taking this on board.

A note of caution, it has to be genuine and it has to be consistent. People can spot a fraud at 50 paces and will waste no time discrediting a boss who presents a fake brand. You only have to look at recent stories about senior business leaders – criticised first on social media, then in the mainstream media – to see that in action.

To do it right, leaders have to understand for themselves, in detail, what their personal brand is in terms of their; values, drivers, reputation, behaviours, strengths and even image. As Marissa Meyer, former CEO of Yahoo said, “If you need the user to tell you what you’re selling, you don’t know what you’re selling.” Once they have that clarity, it’s then about confidently presenting that brand to others in an authentic and consistent way, through everything they say and do. That’s where HR, learning and talent directors can lead the way, by educating the business strategists that being a faceless institution won’t cut it anymore. Instead, by being ahead-of-the-curve and using personal branding to make leaders more accessible, they can represent those deeper values people wanting a meaningful career are seeking. By keeping employees happy and reducing the cost of lost talent – which Oxford Economics puts at around £30,000 per person – the bottom line benefits.

But it’s not just about the P&L sheet, there are benefits for the leaders themselves. Increased buy-in and engagement with their teams makes for a more productive, satisfying professional life. Plus greater self-awareness and confidence come from knowing, not just what you stand for, but also why. As for the MD I mentioned, he changed his approach. Instead of launching straight into the new strategy, he talked about his early career as a professional footballer – complete with pictures of his mullet haircut. He spoke of what had driven him, what had mattered to him, what he’d learnt from his experience, and how he applied that to his leadership now. By knowing and sharing his personal brand, people could understand who he was, before listening to what he had to say.

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