I know a university president who wears green socks every day. Whether he is in a meeting or playing on the faculty basketball team, he wears those green socks. He says the socks are his brand and, indeed, they may be, but so what? How are green socks as a personal brand helping him or his institution?
In another situation a young woman was dressed for an interview wearing a bright scarf around her neck. It was a nice scarf but it was hot and not quite right for an interview. She believed that the scarf would ensure that she stood out in the eyes of the interviewer. She said she wears a colorful scarf every day and it is her personal brand. I am sure the scarf did make her stand out, but in what direction? Good or bad? Did the scarf help her “nail” the interview?
Which is it? Are socks and scarves a personal brand or do they make you stand out in a weird way? The answer is both.
The green socks are the trademark of the university president but he needs to have happy faculty, thriving students and so many other things hanging on his brand. The woman in the scarf better have more things to discuss with the interviewer than her scarf.
Cool socks and colorful scarves are fine and can make you stand out and be memorable. But standing out based on socks and scarves is not enough.
A personal brand is about you, not your socks. A brand needs content. Steve Jobs wore a black mock turtleneck as part of his brand but he had a lot of other accomplishments to back up his brand. James Bond has a cool Aston Martin as part of his brand but there are other skills and abilities he can show. Lady Gaga’s brand includes wild hair and outfits but she can sing too!
Content doesn’t have to be in the form of music or business acumen to build a brand. Personal brands can be built through an online presence through blogs, websites, tweets, and any social media outlet. A successful brand is consistent – photos, messages and content that help you create perceptions about you.
Sometimes you need to spell it out. One of my favorite brand builders is venture capitalist Stewart Alsop. He describes himself and lives up to it in everything he does.
Stewart Alsop: Venture capital investor looking for hard-technology companies. Fisherman. Foodie. Art & craft junkie.
When you are considering building a personal brand, green socks or a scarf may be a good start but there better be something more than that. A successful brand, once built, should help you achieve your goals in a fun way. A brand should also let you be yourself.
Get out there in traffic! Networking is the key to a successful career! Go to industry events! Never miss an opportunity for a coffee or lunch where a connection might be made! Networking is now an official part of any meeting agenda. Events are advertised (and priced) based on networking opportunities. A network is the new currency.
Sure, networking is important and highly encouraged but a network has not replaced skills or experience. A focus on developing a strong set of skills in places that matter might be more important than a network. But a network never hurt, so the next time you are invited to an event, consider these tips:
- Go. You won’t build a network by sitting at home watching NCIS reruns.
- Never sit next to an empty chair, or put your briefcase or bag on the seat next to your own.
- Have some questions in mind before you arrive. Not, “Do you come here often?” or “What is your sign?” Do not ask about Donald Trump.
- Look up. Keep your nose out of your phone. Others won’t interrupt your interaction with your device.
- Bring business cards. Give out at least twenty. Make sure others can read what’s on your card.
- Collect business cards from others. If others don’t have cards, ask how you can reach them.
- Introduce strangers you just met at the event to each other, even if you don’t remember their names. Ask, “Have you two met?”
- Notice something on others and make a positive comment. “Cool glasses, nice bow tie, interesting name, like the throw back saddle shoes.” You get the idea.
- Thank the host. Someone organized the event, find the host and say thanks.
- Don’t get drunk. Repeat, don’t get drunk.
- Don’t arrive too late; you will miss the rhythm of the event.
- If you want to meet someone, ask someone to make the introduction. Just like LinkedIn.
- Follow up with notes and emails to those that you met at the event.
- Ask those who you want to be a part of your network to get a coffee soon. One event may not be enough.
- Ask people if you can help them, even if you are not sure what that might mean.
- Find the best networkers and follow them around. They are easy to spot.
- Take a risk and meet the most famous person in the room. Don’t take a selfie unless you are sure it’s OK. Never mind, don’t take a selfie.
- Go with someone. Get competitive with them and see who can make the most connections.
- Don’t spend all of your time with people you already know.
- Smile. Be happy. Be optimistic. Look forward to the next networking event in a new place with a different crowd.
When it comes to the workplace, certain things are just not appropriate to talk about. You don’t even have to be told what’s off limits for chatter, you just know. To talk about these topics could actually put your career in jeopardy. At work, we know to never talk about three things:
- Sex. No one wants to know anything about your experiences or lack thereof. Whether bragging or complaining, there is no interest.
- Religion. You could be devout or an atheist. You could worship one god or the ones that lurk in the bottom of a Pringles can; religious beliefs are a personal matter and can cause coworkers to avoid you or worse.
- Compensation. We don’t want to know that you don’t make enough money and you were screwed in the last round of bonuses. If it’s so bad, it just might be time to move on. Discussing compensations might run counter to company policy and get you fired, which might create other issues regarding compensation.
Sex, religion and pay have always been the Big Three taboo subjects to talk about at work. Now, like never before, there is a new one: Politics.
The discussion of political views was always a borderline taboo. Radical views from any standpoint were never welcome and proselytizing was and still is forbidden, as it should be. Any real crazy views that would disrupt getting things done at work have never been tolerated. But in the past it was OK to have reasoned discussions. In fact, discussions were often welcomed. Companies would welcome candidates to tour facilities and sometimes even sponsor debates. Margaret Thatcher visiting Ronald Reagan at the White House could be an entertaining discussion topic over coffee. Not too long ago, the debate about a new law or policy could get heated, but in the end, it’s back to work with colleagues. No more.
Unless you work at home by yourself, the environment today does not lend itself to any discussion of politics while at work. Politics and political leaders are now taboo topics. The topics are just too hot and emotionally charged to discuss and then just settle back into the cubicle. Forget policy and international views, even raising topics tangential to real politics like wardrobes and alma maters can lead down a path of emotion and problems.
You may think everyone agrees with you because you know you are right and everyone must and should agree. They don’t. You might not hear anything right away about your opinions because so many just don’t want to engage or fight. Make it easy for them by leaving your opinions in the parking lot.
When a political subject is broached, I have heard people interject a comment like, “How about those new pizzas in the cafeteria?” Changing the subject is the goal. And at a time when there is a debate about what’s true and what’s not true, it’s safer to debate the product launch schedule than it is to get into political leadership qualities.
Never lose your passion. Never lose your commitment for doing the right thing. Never give up on inclusion. Keep making a difference, but as a discussion topic at work, politics are taboo. We may not like it because what happens in the political world can change our lives. But no matter how right you are. No matter that all of your friends feel just the same way. No matter that it’s only a matter or time before everyone agrees with you. For a better work environment, it’s best to keep your political passions out of the workplace.