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Why Personal Branding is Essential for Leaders

Close up of smart phone with social media apps on screen

This is an edited extract from You Lead by Minter Dial.

Over the years, I have heard top executives vehemently defend both sides of the argument about having an active personal brand online.

On balance, most CEOs today are only mildly or reluctantly present online. There are two main reasons for accepting not to promote your personal brand:

  1. You’ve got too many poor habits or things to hide.
  2. You are chronically bad at following through and sticking with a programme.

I believe it is now virtually a professional fault not to have some kind of presence online. I don’t say that every leader needs to be active, but if you’ve got a good personality, you can do your company wonders by showing at least some of your personality online.

The strict minimum is having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile. It’s better than letting the web decide who you are on Wikipedia, for example.

By showing your personality, you are humanizing the brand. Moreover, by being present online as a leader, you are implicitly giving permission and showing the way forward for your co-workers to do so as well.

An example: A burly 60-year-old CEO of a large mass retailer had a love of photography. When he dug in on the company’s anaemic social media presence, he determined that he needed to set the example. With the help of his socially active daughter, he created an Instagram account where he exhibited his skill at taking aesthetic black and white photos with his Nikon camera. Quietly, his account started to gain traction and ended up with more followers than the company’s account. The social media team was given the necessary impetus to create a more engaging and active presence online.

It takes a while to find your voice and you do need to be judicious in the way you manage your online presence. But, for those of you who don’t do it at all for fear of looking silly or doing something wrong, the bigger task is to look at yourself in the mirror and figure out how to move beyond those fears.

Others will avoid being active online because they feel it’s below their station or because they don’t want to reveal any intellectual property. I am not promoting giving away the family secrets, but being active online and creating an authentic personal brand can also help reveal your company’s culture and give an insight into the leadership philosophy.

When done well, it’s a way to express domain expertise, even to be influential.

As part of my own personal brand, ever since I left L’Oréal, I have implemented a self-imposed policy that involves making sure that I give away valuable content every day. This can be in the form of a blog post, a podcast episode or writing an original tweet with an interesting link or inspirational quotation.

Not only is this part of my personal brand, but it’s also an integral part of my North Star setting.

If for the rest of you, it’s because you think you don’t have time to do it, then I ask you: do you have time to hear what your clients have to say? Would you rather other people (and media) manage your narrative and presence without your input? Do you mind if people searching for you fall on a homonym with an altogether poor image?

Creating your personal brand online takes time. But it’s a worthwhile long-term investment. You need to get ahead of the curve and put forward the best version of you, otherwise others will write their version of you for you.