Are you actively managing your professional and personal brand? Can brand management frameworks help us manage our own careers? CEO & team performance expert Michael Boydell suggests we start with a blank sheet of paper. If it feels uncomfortable, we’re on the right track! Ask yourself: Where & with whom am I most joyful? What makes my heart sing? When do I feel most alive?
References & Links
- website – http://boydellinc.com/
- newsletter – http://eepurl.com/gdQDyv
- LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelboydell/
Personal Brand & Psychology Papers
- 1997 Tom Peters Fast Company article – https://www.fastcompany.com/28905/brand-called-you
- 2005 Fast Company response by Lidsky – https://www.fastcompany.com/55257/me-inc-rethink
- Marketization and the Recasting of the Professional Self: The Rhetoric and Ethics of Personal Branding – https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/089331890×4270744
- I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man – https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.14318/hau6.3.017
- Carl Jung Individuation – https://www.carl-jung.net/individuation_steps.html
- Erving Goffman “Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life” – https://amzn.to/2T2RVht
- Albert Mehrabian “Silent Messages” – https://amzn.to/2EiTqQt
Talk About Talk
AW: Thank you, Michael for being here. Alright, let’s get into it. My first question is to ask you to define what do we mean by personal brand?
MB: Some people like to think in a holistic sense in terms of how they show up. What they look like, what they sound like. And some people spend a lot of time consciously seeking to emit a certain brand for a certain purpose, which may or may not be conscious to them. I tend to think of our professional brand is something that we maybe start to explore, of course, depending on individual age and stage, but it’s kind of like by your early 20s, you know, that’s a concept that maybe somebody has introduced us to or given us a book to think about. We start to think about who are from a career perspective, who are we as a professional,
how do we want to show up in the world. We tend to go into our let’s say, mid 20s with some idea of what we want to pursue and explore. The fascinating part to me is that we are probably unconsciously carrying with us essentially a download of what the world has already taught us our professional brand should or should not be. So we can enter that period of our lives thinking it’s a blank sheet of paper and we can start creating a professional brand, but we are already bring with us a whole lot of source material based on our upbringing. Based on early life experiences, based on our parents.
AW: I think there’s so much to unpack their terms of what you just said. So there are implicit influences going on all around us that we very likely are not conscious up but sometimes we are that are influencing our
professional brand. And then also I think you’re right in your 20s. We both have teenagers in our homes and they’re starting to think about, well, how am I presenting myself to universities that I’m applying to? What does my brand say? And then that’s going to continue for the rest of their careers, right, no matter what stage they’re at.
MB: Yeah. And it’s, it’s a great point, those teenagers in our homes are being influenced by our definition of what it should or shouldn’t be. And so we’re steering them in a certain direction, with the intention of helping them. But we are already unconsciously directing them in a way to start shaping their own professional brand in an image that we think they should. That’s part of this fascinating kind of undercurrent that we bring out to the world.
AW: right. So there are implicit and explicit influences on our professional brands. Let’s maybe create a bit of a list of what some of the influences are. So you said, your upbringing, the values and the role models that you have in your household would be one.
MB: Yeah, certainly parental role models. What our parents did and what value we attribute to that. And an inherent in that is the value they attribute to that. So if I watch as a teen, if I watch my father. If I watched him come home exhausted, on edge, you know, then I’m going to attribute certain things to that career choice. The opposite is also of course, true if I see him come home joyful and full of spark and energy. Then I’m going to associate those attributes with that particular professional brand. I think about my own example of
entering university and, I wanted to be a child psychologist. I had no idea really what that career path was. I didn’t have role models in my life that were psychologists, but I thought, oh, that would be interesting to pursue. But in my first year of university, I found myself studying arts and I found myself with a focus on sociology and I was also playing varsity basketball and surprise, surprise, both the most influential parents in my upbringing are PhD sociologists, surprise, surprise, surprise. My father was also a varsity basketball coach.
AW: So like father like son?
AW: and there may be genetics there. I’m thinking about how marketers, so brand managers, when they’re trying to strategically develop a brand. Interestingly, brand managers employ human frameworks on their brands to personify them. So you’ll hear “what is the brand personality?” You see that human characteristics and frameworks are applied to brands. And here now we’re talking about how brand strategy can be applied to us as humans and particularly to us as professionals in managing our career. I’m wondering if you have some advice in managing a personal brand.
MB: You mentioned the word personification. I work a lot in the field of archetypes and personas. And it’s a very simple way to think about how one shows-up professionally — the brand you want to put out there for the world. The notion of playing a role or a character and stepping fully into that character is how I think about professional brand. Let’s just play with this. Just pick any career for me. Just pick any career.
AW: How about a child psychologist?
MB: If we think about a child psychologist, I’ll think about it a certain way. But if I think about really playing that role as if it was a character in that kind of method-acting school-of-thought, then I would think about how that person talks, how they use their voice, how they communicate, how they use body language, how they set up their meeting space, the clothes that they wear… And you can kind of take that to the full extent of method acting and really think about it. What sort of life patterns do they have? How did they study? How do they get better at their craft? How do they run their business? Do they work virtually? Do they write books? Do they do keynotes? Do they do podcast? So there’s an infinite number of questions that can be explored as we think about how to create that right professional brand for us. And I think the magic of it all is really to have that very deep internal conversation. Not about how do I show up in a way that impresses people by external definitions. But how do I explore that deepest part of me so that I can show up in that child psychologist role as the genuine me. And I do that in a way that no one else can do.
AW: I want to go back to that magic and internal concept in a minute, because I think it’s incredibly powerful. Just going back to what you were saying, in terms of playing a role or a character. It reminds me of a couple of career mantras that I’ve been exposed to. I heard a lot of “dress for success,” “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.” So at an organization, senior managers to whom you aspire are dressing with more flair or more expensive suits… The teaching that I heard was: dress for the job that you want, not the one you have. And you talked about setting your office in the way that you think your clients or maybe your colleagues or perhaps your boss will believe that you are more productive, more successful, whatever. It’s interesting. When I was in academia, there were two different types of offices. There were the clean, crisp, organized offices, in which some very successful faculty members produced incredibly ground-breaking research. And then there were disasters with piles of paper everywhere, they could never find anything. But that actually was part of their brand. People talk about how you keep your office.
MB: Yeah, and God forbid we get into those people’s homes and we get to see we get to see really what’s going on behind the scenes – if that’s a sort of a stage persona that they are sort of consciously putting out there or if it’s the genuine deal .
AW: Yeah, so that is always at the back of my mind. It’s almost as if people are looking for cues to understand whether someone is the real-deal whether they are truly successful and productive, or whether they’re playing the part. And what is it about what they’re doing that’s making them successful, is that just, you know, a by-product of how they think. Or they trying to do something that’s not authentic. I’m actually really interested in the balance or trade-offs between being professional and you talked about method acting. Thinking about, which archetype are you following? I think many of us are taught that we need to act and be and speak professionally. And then on the other side of the coin, there’s the highly valued transparency or being authentic, can you talk about that balance?
MB: There’s a beautiful intersection between the externally defined sense of success and the internally defined sense of success. And that’s to me, but really what we’re talking about is… It’s very easy and very seductive to find those persons that match our definition. And we emulate them. And we do that for all the reasons you mentioned, you know, to be credible to build business to charge, a higher rate to be hired into a job. And so those are all those external definitions. And in the work that I do, I typically am working with people that are right at this intersection where that external definition has served them very well. They have achieved great levels of success but that may not be a fulfilled person or a person who’s living in integrity with themselves. And so that intersection is: how do I let go of those external definitions of success or external definitions of professional brand? And how do I start to explore more of an internal definition of who I am and, and to me the most memorable professionals are the ones that are different. If we think about emulating almost like a herd mentality, they would be a certain way that I would be a coach or that I would be an advisor or that I would be an investment banker, or I would be a musician. I would likely not to remember the ones that do it the same as everybody else. We are likely to remember the ones that do it very differently–. an individual who has found that and then they have given it their own sense of credibility, not by anybody else’s definition, and they’re really bringing their unique brand out to the world. And those are the people that we remember, because they break through.
AW: So I’m really fascinated to explore the idea of maybe following a common definition of success up to a certain point in your career –when you have a certain amount of credibility –and then having the confidence at some point, there’s like a tipping point ,where, I’ve checked all the boxes, I’ve conformed, I’ve demonstrated capability and competency. And now it’s time for me to define for everyone else, especially myself, what success is.
MB: I wish it were that clear for people I we should have been that clear in my own life. I have experienced it personally more as this kind of quiet voice inside of me that’s saying, “you’re more than this” or “this isn’t all that is you” or “there’s a part of me that’s wanting to come out.” It’s a very challenging transition to make when we have established a certain professional brand and we are facing, we’re now putting that professional brand at risk. Which is really goes right back to ego. You know that ego inside all of us likes to be validated. And so that’s the real question are we able to step above the ego put that ego aside? Is that ego true to who I am at the most conscious level or, or not?
AW: So I’m hearing storytelling
AW: So you go to a dinner party and someone says, so what do you do and how did you get there? There’s, there’s a need to have a story of your career.
MB: I think, well, that’s an ego need, in my opinion. It’s the ego that is needing to feel safe and credible and protected in that environment. How many people have you met at that kind of social function, dinner party,
And if you ask them what do you do? How many people would say, “you know, I’m kind of still figuring that out. I don’t I don’t really know right now.”
AW: Yeah, that takes a lot of confidence.
MB: It does it takes a lot of confidence and that’s what I’m saying. It’s that it’s that adult confidence that needs to sit above the ego. And it needs to say, here’s how smart I am, you know, look at my career success. Look at the clothes I’m wearing. Look at the car, I’m driving, you know, look at look at the package. Versus just saying, Well, here’s kind of who I am.
AW: Yeah, but to play the devil’s advocate a little bit there. I mean, we have an innate need for sense-making, right? even in our internal dialogue. So say it’s not for external consumption this storytelling we may have an innate need to say, this is why I did that. And this is how I came to this point. And right now I I’m not sure what my next step is going to be. But here are some options right?
MB: And that makes sense and, and that’s to me, it’s almost like when we see our favorite actor or actress who is playing out of character or playing out of type? We’ve watched them in 10 different comedies that we love. And all of a sudden they’re playing a dramatic role or, or vice versa. And I’m always more fascinated by those kind of transition journeys that people are going on.
AW: Right. I think you’re right. A lot of people are uncomfortable with that. They don’t want to see, you know, Adam Sandler playing some stoic, dramatic role.
MB: Yeah, yeah.
AW: Interesting. Do you have any insights in people managing their brand online? When I started painting, I was having a conversation with a co-author of one of my published papers and we had to have a byline. You know, “This paper was written by Andrea Wojnicki, who graduated from this school, she’s a consultant.” And he said, “Why don’t you put in PAINTER?” and I was like, “oh, but then people will think I’m not I’m not a serious, credible academic.” He said, “ Who cares?” And I said, “wow.” And he’s like, “and I don’t understand why you don’t have that on your byline in your email. And why don’t you have that on LinkedIn?” And I said, “Well, I’m thinking I’m having an identity crisis.” And he said, “Well, don’t you think that now that we’re all online, and we have electronic signatures and we have our resume basically, they’re on LinkedIn for everybody to consume –that we’re all having identity crises?!?”Because we’re being forced to be more explicit with our professional identity or personal brand.
MB: So yeah, I get that pressure. The approach that I quite deeply believe in: there’s so much work to be done before we end up with the label. Or before we end up with whatever that handle is online. And I really encourage some big open thinking and some big open reflection about all these different personas that I have available to me. Which ones are appropriate or ready for different situations? And which ones I’ve kind of exhausted and I’m ready to move on from? and which ones do I want to turn up the volume on? And we bring to the surface and bring out into the world. So probably more importantly, which ones are authentically available to me right now?
AW: Yeah, that’s it.
MB: And to me, this relates to how one manages their professional brand, within the flow of what’s happening in the world. You know, so if I’m going to lock in on a professional brand, because that’s the one in this moment I’ve decided is going to gain me the most credibility the most likes, the most business, the most referrals, whatever it is, but I don’t continue to grow and I don’t continue to individuate,… So I’m showing who my authentic self is, then the world is just going to pass me by. The world moves so fast that it’s just going to pass me by. So to me, one of the great things about the online tool kit is I can continue to explore my brand personally, and I can continue to evolve that brand online. It’s available to us as a channel that we can use to continue to evolve our professional brand and not stay stuck. I mean, that’s to me that the beauty of the online world as it relates to one’s continued journey of professional brand. If we just keep it really simple, this is the changing of the seasons. So that’s kind of how I see the life journey. There is a time to let it rip. You know, and just be out there with all of that great stuff that you are, however you want to position yourself. And let’s call that summertime mode. You’re making hay and you’re enjoying being out there in the world. And then things start to slow down, and you go through that kind of fall harvest. What a beautiful time to reflect and take with you the things that worked and leave behind the things that didn’t. And then we get into that very fallow time of year. It’s the winter and we go a bit dormant. And we really do our deeper. Nourishing Then we hit that spring time period and we’re ready to come out there with the next new thing. It’s going to be similar to what we’ve done before, but we have that opportunity to continue to tend to the garden
based on what we found has worked and what has not worked. We can just continue that exploration path.
AW: That’s a beautiful metaphor. So you’re still working in the same climate and the same soil conditions, right? But you’ve gone through seasons, and as we learned in business school, we have strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats. And you have an opportunity then of relaunching.
AW: or doing a brand extension.
MB: And then it’s never boring, you know, and you’re never stuck. And that’s what I meant earlier. By really being in flow with the rest of the world. You know, you’re never out-of-date. You’re constantly adapting and evolving. And as Carl Jung would say, individuating into that next version of who you are.
AW: Well, that sounds exciting, you know, because I’m sure some people who think about this topic may be feeling a little bit overwhelmed. Like, wow. I mean, I need to sit down and write down my career as a brand plan. How do I do that? Given what you just said, People may feel a lot more inspired and encouraged. Can I ask you, how would you encourage people to (and maybe how do you in your own practice, encourage senior managers) to explore that in an explicit way. Is it actually a blank sheet of paper or do you have frameworks? How does that work?
MB: I think the blank sheet of paper is the place to start. And if it feels like it’s scary, then you’re on the right path. There are all kinds of interesting ,thought provoking, stimulating exercises. But just sitting with a blank page and answering the question: Who was I? And who am I? I often will remind myself or tell clients — you know, unless you know something I don’t know, you get one shot at this life thing. And unless you know something I don’t know, you know, your last day on earth is not up to you. So what is it you really want?
MB: and just — let’s start talking about that. And let’s start writing it down and then let’s start talking about what are you willing to do to get that? We start crafting a sense of who I am and what I want, what I’m willing to do and then we really come full circle into choice. And I’m a huge proponent of the power of choice
I’ll use a one of my favorite Rudyard Kipling quotes, which is, “if we don’t get what we want, it’s a sign that we either didn’t really want it or we or we tried to bargain over the price.” Right?
MB: And so yeah, so it’s easy. It’s easy to dream on this stuff, right? But the rubber hits the road where we have a list of what we want. We have a list of what we’re willing to do, and we need to make choices
AW: the blank sheet of paper exercise, … what you’re actually asking people to do there is to define their definition of success without the scary question of how you define success.
MB: Exactly. And simple questions like know, when do you feel most alive? Where do you feel most alive with? Who do you feel most alive? When do you feel most alive? Where do you feel most alive?
AW: So I got the who where what, when, why and how you feel most alive?
AW: That’s also a beautiful framework that I think I’m going to go into later. Talk to me a little bit about the three handles exercise.
MB: I’ll give our listeners a couple things to play with. So if one is a career crossroads point, then going out and asking people as opposed to sitting and defining yourself: if you had three words to describe who I am, what would those three words be? You know, it’s an awesome exercise. It’s an awesome exercise and you ask customers and you ask clients and you ask peers. Don’t just ask your friends. Don’t just ask the people that are you know, in your corner supporting you. Ask a true sample, what are the three words that really rise to the surface?
AW: Interesting. So those would I guess they may be roles, but they could be personality traits, right?
MB: Yeah. And they, they’re often personas. There are these sorts of archetypes. And I have to share the related exercise which I really encourage people to do. I’ve done it several times myself and it’s very powerful is on the personal side. You go back and ask people that knew you in that kind of “teenage world” that that we all had way back when. So find people that knew you at age 13, 14, 15 ,16, 17, like right in there. It’s best if they haven’t known you since. So you go back, and you go to the reunion, or you look them up on Facebook. And you ask them the same question: come up with three descriptors, the three adjectives you would use to describe that person you knew then. And come up with one story that really comes to mind. And when you harvest that kind of data on how the world saw you, that exercise is often a pure glimpse into that true self, that most authentic self. Then if we can pair that with where you are today, career aspirations, professional aspirations, now we’re getting into that kind of magic intersection between who you are as your authentic self and the adult dreams and aspirations you have to make a difference in the world.
AW: Right! I see a Venn diagram.
AW: …of the adjectives that are generated by your high school friends or peers and then all of the experiences and expertise that you’ve collected over the decades, and then in your mind, your dreams and your aspirations, and you plot those down, and then you say, you know, authentically, here’s where I could live anywhere in this Venn diagram. But where those three things intersect, I can imagine would be sort of a powerful target.
MB: Well, it’s, it’s a great audit to do as well, because it prevents us from fooling ourselves. That’s the ego game. Pretend that we show up in exactly the way the ego wants us to show up.
AW: I’m curious how you’ve coached executives that have come to you when they’ve made a mistake in their career and or when they’ve identified a trait, for example, being scattered or maybe it’s being too aggressive or whatever, it may be something that is a double-edged sword because it’s attributed to their success. But then also they’ve identified it as something that they don’t want to be seen as, do you have any recommendations for how people can address those most effectively?
MB: It’s frankly one of the knockout questions or criteria that I would use. I want to get to that stuff fast. You know, I want to get… don’t tell me about all the successes. Just tell me about, tell me about the struggle. Tell me about the pain. Tell me about the self-doubt. Tell me about how you judge yourself. Tell me about the failure.
AW: Right. Because they’ve come to you seeking some sort of transformation in their personal brand and probably mostly in how they see themselves.
MB: Yeah, yeah. And the way to get them there is to lead by example. And that to me is again, the authentic part of the work I do. So that’s maybe part of the advice I would give to anybody. Surround yourself with people that are comfortable talking about those things. And you’ll find it’s a way of giving yourself permission to explore those. And that’s how we grow. Right?
AW: Okay, I’m going to ask you now the five rapid fire questions that I asked every guest Are you ready?
MB: I’m ready.
AW: Number one. What are your pet peeves?
MB: People pretending so hard to be something that they’re not. And then then catching myself when I’m pretending to be something that I’m not.
AW: So lack of authenticity?
AW: Okay. Second question. What type of learner Are you?
MB: I’m an experiential learner, first and foremost. So if I can go through the experience, that sticks way more than just reading about it.
AW: So you were one of those kids that had to learn everything the hard way?
MB: The lesson stuck the lesson stuck, the more I learned the hard way.
AW: That’s funny. Okay. Number three, introvert or extrovert?
MB: Yes. Both.
AW: okay. How does that affect your communication?
MB: I get my energy from my sense of self. And so that tends – that sort of pushes me more towards the introversion side, in terms of how I feel myself. When I am fully fueled. Then you would see me in an extroverted pattern. But we would be mistaken to label me an extrovert because the source of my energy is much more introverted.
AW: so on the shyness scale you’re much more outgoing, right? But on the introvert-extrovert scale, in terms of where you get your energy, you’re more introverted.
MB: That’s right
AW: okay Question number four. So I’m curious about your communication preference for personal conversation. What’s your go to?
MB: Well, communication and authentic communication is, is really one of my core values. So to me, I want as much of the message as possible and, and I am a big believer in that old study, Albert Mehrabian, but he published his 1971 book, Silent Messages, with research on nonverbal communication.
MB: He’s got that 7%, 38%, 55% rule. So I believe that I believe that 7% of the communication is the words 38% is the tone, the pitch, and then 55% is body language. So I’m a deeply intuitive person. And a deeply intuitive listener, and communicator. So I want as much data as possible. And I want to use as much data as possible in my communication. And so to me, the in-person piece is the only way to go for authentic communication. Of course, we have all these other channels, because there are times where we can get by with just informing somebody or the facts. But far too often, we are absolutely fooling ourselves thinking that we’ve actually had a communication by sending an email.
AW: Okay, last question. Is there a podcast, a blog or an email newsletter that you recommend the most?
MB: I really like Alec Baldwin’s podcast, “Here’s the thing.” I really like that interview style and that interview format. It’s become a little more formulaic than in the early earlier days.
AW: Yeah, I find with a lot of podcasts. They find a formula that works.
MB: Yeah. And maybe it’s time for that one to reinvent itself a little bit. You mentioned Tim Ferriss before, and I really enjoy his stuff. I enjoy some of the risks he takes with his podcast. So that’s, again back to that. We know there’s a million podcasts out there, but the one that stands out to me is the one that’s kind of quirky and unique and different. Right?
AW: Right. He does the “drunk dialing Q&A” right? But you know what his whole focus is on experiments in productivity. So that first word “experiments” kind of goes right back to what we were talking about in terms of brands and reinventing yourself. He’s constantly looking for I guess mostly tactics but even strategies in his life to improve his productivity and happiness right?
AW: Well thank you and I was wondering if you can share with listeners how they may connect with you?
MB: Yeah, the easiest way is by email and that’s very simple Michael@Boydellinc.com
AW: Well, I want to thank you very much for sharing your time and your expertise about re-imagining our personal brand. And I know I learned a lot and this interview certainly went in directions that I was not anticipating. But that’s because you made me think about things that I hadn’t. So I thank you for that.
MB: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to share some time with you.
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