Brand Me

7 November 2008 Charlie Wagstaff

During difficult economic times, leaders should be balancing the responsibility of safeguarding the organisation’s brand with building and maintaining a personal brand for long-term success. Charlie Wagstaff, managing director for Criticaleye, explains how and why CEOs should take note of their worth.

During periods of economic turmoil, we expect to see business leaders commenting on what organisations should be doing to ride out the storm. Indeed, as global markets deteriorated over the past six months, there have been many reports and experts commenting on how successful businesses will use the current climate as an opportunity to reinvigorate their business model and become more efficient and productive in the future.

But with so much focus on the organisation during times of crisis, the CEOs personal agenda, whether rightly or wrongly, can’t be swept aside. Clearly, during times of economic crisis maintaining the strength of the corporate brand is crucial. But it is important that leaders keep sight of their personal goals and work on aligning these to the business strategy if they want to be successful in a difficult market.


"To begin the process of personal branding leaders need to identify the key personality traits, experiences, skills and beliefs that make them who they are."

We can see for ourselves how strong brands aid the recognition and success of an organisation. They engage us emotionally with stories and messages that we either relate or aspire to.

Apple is a good example; an exciting and innovative company at the forefront of design and technology which consumers want to be seen with. So the question CEOs should be asking themselves when thinking about personal branding is how to take the ‘Apple approach’ with their own profile.

To begin the process of personal branding leaders need to identify the key personality traits, experiences, skills and beliefs that make them who they are. There are a few fundamental questions CEOs should be asking themselves:

  • What aspects of my life or career set me apart from my peers?
  • What are my unique selling points as an individual and a leader?
  • What am I passionate about and how can I harness that energy and represent it positively to an external audience?

Thinking around these questions will lay the foundations of the brand.

Questioning who they are and what drives them will enable leaders to establish the various strands for their brand and with it, a desire to take it forward. It is not unusual that by completing this analysis, individuals find that they are in a role for which they are not entirely suited. Indeed, completing this type of personal branding exercise may be the spur that some need in making that necessary career change.

In many cases, it is an internally imposed event, such as redundancy, which forces people to take stock and undertake a radical review. In my experience, while these shocks can be difficult and inconvenient, they enable leaders to redirect their career and reassess their priorities, both of which contribute to understanding their personal brand.

Understand achievements

Clearly, on reaching a point in your career where you are leading or directing an organisation, it is not so much a case of if you have had successes along the way, but rather which ones are most significant to you. One way of identifying your achievements, both personal and professional, is to view them as ‘Gold’, ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze’ medals. CEOs and leaders should ‘wear’ their successes, and use them as the basis for their personal brands.

The ‘Gold medal’ achievements will be intrinsic to the type of leader you are and should, therefore, be right at the core of your personal brand. It is important to keep these accomplishments at the front of your mind at all times if you are going to build a strong brand identity. ‘Silver’ and ‘Bronze medal’ achievements will also have played a role in forming a leader’s skills and passions, but these may be smaller, less significant incidents. By identifying and engaging these successes in the branding process, CEOs are in a better position to start shaping their personal brand.

Developing and evolving personal brands

In the current climate, it is not enough for leaders to simply understand their achievements and hope this will be enough to secure future success. The next step in the branding process is for CEOs to identify what they want to achieve in the future and take action in promoting and evolving their brand to achieve these ambitions. In other words, knowing where you want to be in ten years time has a crucial role to play in defining a personal brand.

As an example, I supported one leader in a FTSE 100 company at the early stages of building their personal brand. Although this person had terrific experience, it was predominately within one industry sector and this would restrict any career options in the future. To overcome this, it was important for this individual to focus on distinct skills and experiences. Such experiences that may take a brand to the next level include:

  • Involvement in partnerships or projects that broaden experience and career portfolio.
  • Engagement with a wide, cross-industry peer group that builds contacts.
  • Gaining non-executive directorships in a different industry and looking for a more senior mentor who could help guide personal and professional decisions.

In an environment that is set to become even more competitive as the downturn takes effect, leaders need to actively push their personal brand even further if they want to be successful in the long term.

Future success

With the current financial global unrest, only brands with strong values and identities will survive. But that is not to say there are not opportunities for aggressive players to build their brands and grab market share from the bigger players if they retain loyalty and trust towards their brands.

These organisational brand issues are equally applicable to understanding and building your personal brand. For individual success, leaders need to inspire people, communicate their achievements effectively and tell a story that is real and practical. All form a leader’s ability to motivate and drive change and inspire and invoke loyalty when times are tough.