‘The ultimate personal challenge of a CEO is to put everything into a job that demands every ounce of their energy without losing themselves in the process’. This is a quote from the Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, published by Harvard Business Press.
When you are leading a business, it is so easy to lose sight of yourself. You are expected to be the voice of the business, the personification of the culture of the organization and the one individual who should absolutely deliver against the brand values of the company. There should be very little room for being you.
So how do you deliver against all the expectations of being the CEO and still keep a firm grip on your own identity? There are a number of steps you can take:
- Do some work to understand your own personal brand.
- Identify areas of tension between your brand and that of your business.
- Identify where your brand and that of your business have similar strengths.
- Do the same analysis with the culture of the business.
- Define a strategy that allows you to deliver against the strengths, with ruthless consistency, whilst avoiding the areas of tension.
We all have a personal brand; it’s how we are perceived by others, the thoughts and emotions we leave with people when we walk out of a room. However, most people go through life without clearly understanding what their brand is. Getting clarity about how you are perceived, and more importantly, how you would like to be perceived is crucial first step in managing the tensions between your corporate self and your private self.
When working with clients on their personal brand, I spend time talking to others about how the client is perceived, and compare it against a self-assessment done by the client. You can do this simply enough yourself, just by asking people you trust to be honest with you. Then in the context of your role, you should decide what is the one thought and one emotion that you want to leave behind with every encounter you have. Brand is built through consistency of experience by an audience and personal brands are no different. Then it is a matter of deciding the story, behaviours, communication styles, identity and key messages that will all combine to enable you to consistently leave behind the perception you desire.
Now you have an understanding of your own brand, it’s then time to do some brand-matching. If you compare your personal brand against that of your business, are there obvious tensions and obvious similarities? For example, some companies will call out risk-taking as a brand value. If you are risk averse, then you can see immediately where tension might start to arise. On the other hand, you and your company may both see values such integrity or innovation as important; this common ground is where you will feel most comfortable.
Now that you have an understanding how your brand and that of the company align, then you have the basis of a strategy. At this point you have to accept that the company’s brand takes preference. If it is being managed correctly, there will be a long-term brand strategy which will long out-live your tenure in the role. Therefore, you have to be careful to align yourself to the company brand and not fall into the arrogance trap of expecting it to follow you. Focus on the strengths that both brands share, and minimize any values, behaviours or styles that you have which are at odds with the company brand. It sounds obvious, but I have witnessed the fall-out where this advice hasn’t been heeded.
You then need to look at the culture of the business. In most businesses, the culture takes its lead from the brand as the every day way that employees should operate to deliver a consistent experience of the company to its customers. Carry out the same matching exercise, comparing your personal style and behaviour with the expectations of the culture. As CEO, are you an exemplary role model for the culture? Or maybe you think its something that everyone else has to do? Ask yourself some tough questions, and be honest with yourself about the answers.
In your role as CEO – your personal brand, the company brand and the culture of the business sit at three corners of a triangle. Employees will be looking at all three to deliver a sense of direction and purpose, with a clarity and simplicity that is easy to follow. I have seen companies spend millions on brand agencies and cultural change programs, when actually what was really needed was some work with the senior management of the company to get them aligned properly with the brand and culture of the business.
Having done all of that, you will understand your brand, know the perception you want to result from every encounter you have and how to align with the brand of your business. Now you need to put in place a plan to be ruthlessly consistent in the way you stay aligned in your role as the CEO. Think of your CEO ‘brand persona’ as a uniform that you wear when on duty. Wear it with pride, but at the end of the day take it off and be yourself again once you are at home or in your private life. It’s unlikely you will be a CEO for ever, so enjoy it while it lasts, but don’t lose sight of the real you in the process.
This article first appeared in The Executive Network newsletter.
David Robertson Mitchell is founder of dna-rB, a business that teaches people whose ‘name is their business’ how a strong personal brand can help them find new customers and keep existing customers delighted. To find out more about how David can help you, visit www.dna-rB .com