On the first day of class, Professor Robert Reed asked me and a bunch of other aspiring painters at Yale, “How do you know when art is art, really good art?” After rejecting everyone’s answers in the way only someone who has earned his wisdom can, he answered his own question with: “You know when art is really good art when you want to own it, when you want to possess it.”
This simple truism about subjectivity came to mind after experiencing the response to my Pennsylvania Conference for Women panel presentation, which these days is an intense, if short-lived, 24-7 kind of thing that happens in person, via calls, emails, tweets, Linkedin notifications, etc. It seems the advice on personal branding that really mattered to people wasn’t the stuff that made people necessarily better at their jobs the next day or more capable of running a company, it was what made people feel less alone, more courageous, more (dare I say) sane.
One woman stopped me at the conference to tell me as she rushed to her next talk, “I feel like we’ve led the same life.” I don’t know if that’s true, but the point is that she felt understood. Without the connections that make people feel understood, there’s no trust to build on, no opening for transforming our habitual ways—no matter how stunning your conference booklet bio reads.
So, in hopes of making more people feel a bit less alone and more understood in their professional pursuits, here’s a redux of some of my comments as well as some etcetera notations (when isn’t there?). Feel free to internalize, dismiss, share or unsubscribe.
When you can, bring to bear in whatever you’re doing the lesson we were all supposed to learn in grade school: show more than tell. In one of the emails I got post-talk, someone pointed out that what she enjoyed the most was that I used a presentation on personal branding to personally brand, beginning with my intro, which was entitled: Five Things You Wouldn’t Know about Heseung by Reading Her Bio in the Conference Booklet.
Be authentic, but don’t be authentically boring.
Yes, you need to present yourself as you are, because (1) people will know when you’re faking it (especially kids and dogs), and (2) faking it is exhausting and ultimately ungratifying. But in figuring out the true you, also figure out how to present the true you in ways that are compelling. Tell an interesting story in interesting ways.
With personal branding, everything matters, even your resting face.
Do you have a firm handshake or the dead fish variety? Do your clothes complement the best version of yourself or show that you’ve given up? Check out your resting face (that face you have when you think no one is looking). Does it feel good and right? How do you express contrary opinions? What you want is consistency in all these wonderful opportunities to solidify your personal brand. Note: your smile and laugh are powerful tools, so use them wisely.
Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and will call you on your bullshit.
Honest people like to surround themselves with other honest people. Known for my bomb droppings, I may be too honest in a world where there seems to be a prevailing social compact of “don’t call me on my bullshit, and I won’t call you on your bullshit” as someone in my office so aptly put it. But to get anywhere in business (in life, really), you need reality checks and come-to-Jesus conversations with people you trust, whose experiences, expertise and wit have earned them the right to tell it like it is.
Remember, generosity is the best metric for true success and real confidence.
When you get inspired by the success of others, earnestly wish good things for them, actively and thoughtfully seek opportunities to “lift as you climb,” and see a world where there’s always room for brilliance…all of these things are signs in my mind of someone who’s doing pretty well, and will always feel less alone and more understood in their endeavors.
In my next blog, I’ll start sharing anecdotes from the brutally honest CEO-to-CEO sessions I’ve provided this past year.