During my professional career in a large global company, I remember one colleague – Michael (name changed) – very well. My first impression of Michael was that he was aloof, grumpy (no laughter, corners of his mouth down), introverted, and not very communicative. No wonder I was quite happy that he was in another department, and I didn’t have to work with him. Then a restructuring caused Michael to be one of my team members.
My first impression remained after some initial interactions, whereupon I sought a conversation and asked if I could give him feedback about my observations on how his behavior made me (and probably others) feel uncomfortable. Michael was very surprised and personally touched. He was not aware of his negative charisma; he had seen himself completely differently. With my feedback, I made him aware of a “blind spot” through which he could now explain why he often felt rejected by co-workers.
Over the next few months, I noticed significant changes in Michael’s behavior. He joined in conversations and opened up little by little; his charisma changed to the positive. He had consciously changed the image others had of him – his personal brand – to align with his self-image, and as a result, became a much more effective and productive team member, and, just as importantly, had a much more positive experience in the workplace.
Why is it important to understand if your self-image and your personal brand are aligned?
Firstly, you will only be able to influence how you come across if you are aware of the difference between how you see yourself and the impression you make on others; in other words, you need to first know what your personal brand is before you can try and change it.
In the opening story, Michael has a different perception of himself than others have of him. Michael thought his personal brand was that of an open, communicative team player, because that was how he saw himself, but his actual reputation was one of a reserved and distant person.
If you don’t know what your personal brand is and if it aligns with your self-image, feedback is very helpful, even if it might not be easy to hear and accept.
What would the consequences have been if Michael had not received feedback? He would probably have experienced conflicts in the team, which might have had a negative impact on the collaboration, trust level, team atmosphere, motivation, and productivity of everyone involved, himself included.
On a side note: If you want to provide someone with feedback, it is crucial to ask for permission first. It is then the decision of the feedback receiver to decide if they want to engage, see it as an opportunity for development and to get to know themselves better, or at least to reflect on the information.
Secondly, if want to take your career advancement into your own hands, aligning your self-image with your personal brand makes it much easier to position yourself for being seen for your unique YOU which is critical to being perceived as authentic. People who are perceived as authentic come across as trustworthy, which is the base for building great relationships.
An Example: Previously, when Michael, from the opening story, would offer to take on work to help out a teammate, people didn’t see it as a sincere offer, because they thought he was not interested in being a team player. After Michael changed his image, people saw that such offers were authentic and would accept his help. The result:Michael built a strong relationship with his teammates, allowing both the team and Michael to be much more productive.
So, the better you know and accept yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and character traits, the more authentic you will appear to other people. The side effect is that you will feel more self-confident when you are aware of who you are and what makes you unique, especially when you remind yourself in times of self-doubt.
In many ways, it is your Personal Branding – the external image = how you are seen by others – that makes you memorable and unique, and it is precisely this image that helps you stand out from other people; Personal Branding is thus defined as the unique combination of your skills, experiences, and personality characteristics for which you are perceived.
How do you proactively influence the image that others have of you and strengthen your Personal Brand?
Well, aligning your self-image and the image others have of you is a good step.
Have you asked others for feedback on what they see as your unique skills, strengths, and personality traits?
And how well aware are you of your strengths, weaknesses, and competencies?
And what are your values, priorities, your passions, your emotional “trigger points”?
Also: Strengthening your Personal Brand requires extensive self-reflection and introspection. It requires you to know yourself very well – which surprisingly few people do. Most people find it extremely difficult to describe themselves, although they often find it easier to explain how they do not want to be perceived. Shortcomings seem to b come faster to our minds than our strengths.
So, it is worthwhile to invest in becoming aware of your uniqueness, developing a strong personal brand, and then positioning yourself to highlight your strengths to proactively manage your career advancement.
Steps to align external and self-image:
1. Evaluate your top strengths and skills:
- Write down your five strongest qualities / personal characteristics (e.g., thoughtful, good listener, flexible, inspiring) and top five skills (e.g., communication, time management, people management)
- As a further step, ask 5 to 10 people around you (preferably from a wide variety of roles, including former employers and co-workers,) what they would list as your five strongest qualities and top five skills.
2. Compare the feedback from others about your strengths and skills with your findings.
- Does your self-perception match how others perceive you? Do others see you differently than you see yourself? If so, it is advisable to gather more information and ask for further feedback.
- Combine all the findings to get a picture of your unique personality traits.
- Now review this expanded picture and identify the traits that are most central to your workplace identity.
- Now rate these elements on a scale from 1 to 10 (10=highest score) on how strongly you are known for each.
3. Define the first action steps to align the findings.
- Now take these elements that you just rated below 8 and prioritize them.
- What immediate action step can you take to raise the number?
- Example: if you want to be known for being a good listener and you rated yourself (maybe also because of the feedback you received) as a 6, one action step could be to ask at least 3 open-ended questions (starting with ‘What’) for each meeting you have.
The better you know yourself and have aligned your self-image with the image others have of you – in other words, your personal brand, the more authentic you come across and can position yourself proactively for career advancement opportunities.