Recently, a senior middle manager working for a Fortune 500 technology company called to learn if our PR firm could help reposition his professional brand. He had been with the same company for 20 years, but his most recent promotions had been lateral; he felt he would never be considered for the CEO slot. This company, similar to many others, does not promote a new CEO from within and instead recruits from outside the company.
His story was familiar to me. We do work with men and women who need to redefine their professional brands to gain entry to an exclusive club — the small cadre of CEOs, COOs and CFOs who rotate from corporation to corporation with as much frequency as the childhood game of musical chairs.
Discovering an authentic persona
All the branding and PR in the world isn’t going change who this client is and who he is not. As PR professionals, we’re expert at staging perception. Sure, we can make someone look good and sound good in the media, but we can’t create a genuine leader.
Leadership is a function of one’s authentic persona. Branding is the implementation of a person’s reputation. To assess your reputation, you have to ask questions, but you also have to be brutally honest about getting answers from people whom you know and trust.
What are others saying about you? Do you get positive feedback from those who are the closest to you? What do your spouse, siblings, children and significant others say about you?
You can ask people who don’t know you that well, but their responses are likely to be vague and superficial. And while it seems like a good way to assess your messaging platform and your public persona, people who don’t know you that well will never tell you the truth.
First, you have to assess how well you know yourself and not leave room for small white lies. Here are three quick questions to get you started:
• Do people seek you out for both personal and professional advice and entrust you with their confidential information?
• Does your business network grow larger with little effort?
• Do people provide you with referrals, testimonials and recommendations without you having to ask them to so?
Repositioning and managing a professional brand is not about what you wear or how you look or even necessarily what you say. An excellent reputation is built over time because you deliver what you said you would do, on time and in a way that inspires everyone around you to do their best possible work. These are the common characteristics that make a great professional brand and a great CEO.