ME.Brand – Step 3: Walking The Talk

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When it comes to building your ME.Brand, the most important thing to keep in mind that this is about YOU – and this is a fact that needs to stick.  Just as the Heath brothers emphasize in their recent book Switch, it isn't enough for your intellectual side (or “Rider” as the metaphor goes in the book) to acknowledge it but you need to truly believe it, which means the “Elephant” inside you has to get it too.   
 So right now, stop reading this post and find a mirror.  Ideally one that you can walk right up to and look closely at the face staring back to you – go ahead, recite your branding pitch and watch as your reflection repeats it back to you in unison.  Why are you still reading this? Go find a mirror.  Now, remember that moment.  Most of all, remember it's all about YOU.  Once you start making a focused effort to promote your brand it will feel like something extra – that's normal.  After all, you weren't doing this yesterday – that's called change.  
Where you want to get to is where your ME.Brand is a natural and integrated part of who you are, what you do, what you say and how you say it. For the same reason as going on a diet is a guaranteed failure because we make it an event. Events have a start and end date.  By definition, events don't last.  Eating better and being healthy is a lifestyle choice, and is something you do each and every day.  Sure, sometimes you cheat.  That's what happens when you have a sustainable process – 95% of the time its what you do – 5% of the time maybe you falter. That's what makes it sustainable and reminds us we're human.  What's important is that you start walking your talk – it's not enough that you know who you are – you want to make sure others see it.  They see it in what you do, what you say, what you don't say – actions speak louder than words and in this case, actions are what will make your ME.Brand STICK.
So what does this look like for you? Only you can answer that question.  Here are some things you might want consider trying.  Who knows, some of these things might be things you do already.
1. When was the last time you asked someone for feedback? Perhaps what they think of your performance at work.  Ask a client, friend, spouse.  What did you do well? What didn't you do well? Any surprises? Seek feedback continuously. Listen, reflect, act. Repeat.  With others, asking them what “they think you do” is a great way to gauge how well you are doing on your ME.Brand journey.  My father used to think “I work with computers” – now he knows that “I solve business problems and Make IT Work for them”.  When starting to focus on your ME.Brand, it's good to establish a baseline.  Find out what's broke and fix it. Then, just like the shampoo bottle, Rinse and Repeat.
2. You have an executive meeting coming up where you are going to provide an update on what IT has been doing? Dump your usual powerpoint deck.  You know the one – with the countless slides that list each and every item IT is working on. The slides that show how well you are doing “Keeping The Lights On” – yeah, those. Try something different. Visit Presentation Zen. Tell a story instead. Show that you understand the corporate strategy and how to make that performance needle move.  Pick the one project or opportunity you are most excited or passionate about.  Don't just talk about what's going well – talk about how things could be better and what your team can do to enable that next level of performance.  Be inspirational – surprise your audience – don't suck.  Then back it up with execution.
3. Do you have people reporting to you? What do they like most about you? Do they view you as a leader or manager? Do you give them the support and guidance they need to do their best every day? Do you get in the way sometimes? If you don't ask they won't tell.  Lots of ways of approaching this…..easiest way is to have the conversation.  Foster an environment where you want to hear feedback – and show that you will act on it. If you have the resources of an HR partner, consider conducting an NLA.  Excellent for team building as well as identifying those blind spots we all have.  What's that? You don't think you have any? Sorry, but that's exactly why they call them blind spots.
4. What are you working on that you are most proud of? Are you passionate about it? Don't be afraid to show it and talk about it.  Do you eat lunch at your desk and work through lunch. Stop that immediately.  If you have a cafeteria, eat in it. Be sure to sit with people you don't work closely with – talk about what you do and how it's making a difference.  If you are working at a great company, senior leaders often eat in the cafeteria, making themselves accessible.  Don't be afraid to sit with them.  Great opportunity to connect with them and solidify your brand.  The suits are people too. Set a goal – maybe to connect with one person a week that you don't often interact with.  Practice that elevator speech, build your ME.BRAND.
5. Give back to the community. Volunteer to help at your church, your favourite charity organization or not-for-profit.  Good at managing projects, creating spreadsheets, analyzing data, leading people?  Find an outlet you are passionate about and demonstrate your transferrable skills to help others.  Not only to you build good karma, you also have something to fall back on in case you find yourself looking for work.  It's never good to have gaps in your resume and volunteer work is a great way to show you are a top performer that is passionate about what they do and helping others.  Also, don't underestimate the networking aspects of getting involved with community groups and activities outside of your workplace.  Volunteering is a great way to get involved with functions or events that attract the type of people you would like to meet and connect with in person.  Not to mention sometimes allowing you to save on otherwise expensive admission or related attendance costs.
6. Practice your brand pitch – continuously.  Come up with a version that is quick and snappy – I'm talking about 6 seconds or less. As in the world of journalism, you need to lead with a “hook” – something that your audience can quickly assimilate and decide if they want to stick around for more.  For me, that lead comes down to a central concept – I specialize in Making IT Work.  No one cares how many years of experience you have – heck why remind someone (including yourself) of how “experienced” you are – there's another word for that you know…'s called OLD!!  My curly silver locks are enough of a signal that I've been around for a while – no need to emphasize it! Besides, I know plenty of very smart twenty-somethings that I enjoy talking to and can learn from. Lead with what's important, not the trivial.
7. Don't forsake your online persona.  Make sure that the networks you participate in – whether that be LinkedIn, Twitter or others are conveying a consistent image to represent the brand you are trying to build.  Want to really extend your ME.Brand reach? Start a blog.  Write about something you are passionate about and demonstrate your ability to engage, influence and build a tribe of followers.  Too big a step? Consider finding a site where you could contribute thoughts, opinions and su1pport without the “pressure” of your own blog spot.  ITToolbox is a a great site that provides some facilities to help build up your brand.  One area ignored by many on LinkedIn is the Answers section of the site – you can find questions that relate to areas of expertise you would like to demonstrate and submit your own answer or simply weigh in on the discussion at hand.  The opportunity to be selected as the one with the “best answer” is also an achievement system that will be displayed on your profile and can help to drive more traffic to your LinkedIn profile.
8. What if you aren't that comfortable talking to people? Consider yourself an introvert perhaps? I'll share with you right now that the only thing standing between you and the ability to be at ease when speaking in public is practice.  As an example of someone who was once “stage shy” and avoided situations that might involve speaking or addressing groups of people, it wasn't until I made the decision to step up and put myself in situations that I'd be uncomfortable that I started improving.   Now it's hard to shut me up – really! Present me with a white board or an orphaned microphone and we know how the story ends.  Though most have also heard of Toastmasters, I'd be remiss if I did not mention it as a phenomenal, not to mention very affordable way to hone your presentation skills.  Think you are good at public speaking? Two words.  Continuous Improvement.  You can always improve – and with communications in particular (as in Golf – for me anyway) it is a lifelong journey.  I'm planning on doing a few toastmaster sessions over the winter – I haven't had as many public speaking opportunities this year and I can't think of a better way to sharpen the saw.
Have a great Thanksgiving weekend everyone – this could be a great opportunity to test out your ME.Brand brand pitch to family and friends! Alternatively, start with number one on this list and ask them to tell you what “they think you do” – then maybe tell them what you really do!  Keep the emails and comments coming – and above all, keep Making IT Work!  Next In The Series: ME.Brand – We All Remember The Bling-Bling!
Pedro (drop me a line on LinkedIn)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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