Like Obama and Romney, you need to build a brand

Posted on Written by Jerald F. Robinson
Jerald F. Robinson

“This is Mitt Obama and I approve this message.” Have you heard enough of that — for a lifetime?

The season of campaign ads should be over by the time you read this or will be in a few days. After talking with business leaders in blue and red states, I believe we have learned a lot from this campaign, regardless of who occupies the White House for the next four years.

What has the public wanted and waited for throughout the campaign, often to no avail? Or put the question another way: What do your fellow managers and employees want from you? In both cases, what people want is not always what they get.

From recent discussions, here is a list of what I believe people seem to want (almost desperately) from a president or their boss.

Your Personal Brand (explained below) consists of a combination of these qualities. They’re listed in no priority order.

1. A vision: one that is well thought out and not an off-the-cuff comment about tomorrow.

A senior manager, especially, has the responsibility to look ahead and visualize possibilities. The result, whether from one’s personal projections or built on a team’s discussion, should be verified before being “advertised.” Verification can best be attained with a strategic planning period (over several days/weeks) during which the vision is tested among a management team so its potential and significant roadblocks might be seen.

Once it appears the “vision” is even doable it must be distributed far and wide to all employees, vendors, suppliers and major customers, as well as on websites and in ads for the company.

Where are we headed? All stakeholders in the company must buy into the vision and feel their role in its implementation. Most managers fail in this.

What did you think about the presidential candidates? Could you see the difference in their vision? Did they offer a clear picture of what to expect? Had they truly verified the vision as doable? Your Personal Brand may well center on your ability to develop and articulate a buy-in to your vision.

2. Honesty: People learn whether candidates are being honest because their statements become fodder for discussion almost instantaneously across the country. What about in the workplace?

Consider your own boss. Consider your own direct reports. Consider your sales manager. Consider your customer service manager. Consider your prime supplier. Do you believe 95 percent of what each tells you about what they are doing, will do and have done on various projects?

Did you find that one or both of the presidential candidates may not have been as honest as you would prefer? We all tend to embellish; the longer we are able to get away with gross embellishment, the more we tend to do it. Ultimately we will be seen as dishonest.

This is a key element of your Personal Brand. “Little white lies” grow into a dishonest person and become a significant ingredient in a Personal Brand.

3. Communication skills: Are you able to express yourself in a manner that other managers and all staff members can relate to?

Do you have a truly diverse work force? If so, this is clearly a key element in your Personal Brand. Different people need to be communicated with in different ways. The 24-year-old may prefer to learn about problems through texting or social media; the 45-year-old manager may prefer emails; the 60-year-old may prefer face time or, at minimum, a telephone discussion.

Oh, and never use a $5 word when a 5-cent word will be better understood by all. Ronald Reagan told his staff that often. Did you follow all of the comments the presidential candidates made? Was each able to communicate with you and also with a taxi driver, for example? One’s Personal Brand often is based on quality skills at reaching each person.

4: Ability to relate to “my” needs/concerns, “my” culture.

Within any work setting, whether it’s a manufacturing facility or a marina, there are people of different ages, different educational backgrounds and certainly different income levels. Although neither presidential candidate was among the “47 percent,” one was closer to the “1 percent.” Did this person manage to reach out and let the “99 percent” know that he understood their plight? Does a candidate from a minority background have difficulty relating to people of a different background? How can a young person truly relate to a senior citizen?

These issues confront marine industry executives and managers at every level. Although H-P today is not in good business condition, its MBWA philosophy may be the key to the ability to relate. Managing by Walking Around gives the executive an opportunity to listen to all elements. Do politicians listen when they have “listening tours?” How would your Personal Brand be rated on this ingredient?

5: Being knowledgeable about your industry and the overall economy.

A major coal company CEO recently sent a letter to all employees attempting to explain his view of the economics of the coal industry and how that related to competing industries as part of a changing U.S. economy.

Although some readers may view some statements as political fodder, he appeared earnestly to want to show his large number of employees that he understood what was happening that caused the price of coal to be non-competitive and to help them see the “real” world.

This might also illustrate his efforts at articulating his vision of where we will now go, given the new environment. Did the presidential candidates show an understanding of how the federal government operates and how the economy impacts its operation? Did either help the electorate comprehend the issues? How would you rate here in showing to all stakeholders your knowledge of your segment of the marine industry and how the economy really impacts its future?

6. Trust: Can I trust that what I am told will, in fact, come to fruition?

One corporate leader told me that you could not trust any politician. Numerous “employees” in a variety of nonunion companies have told me that you cannot trust any manager.

How have we gotten to this point? You have your own favorite story, I’m sure. The important point: Your Personal Brand may be tarnished when people learn you cannot be trusted. Catholics “trust” their priest in the confessional. We want to trust our physician to keep our human condition confidential. Trust permeates every organization, beginning with the human resources department. Can your employees trust the person they explain a problem to? This can be a serious trust issue.

Now, about that Personal Brand: When someone hears your name, whether it be Obama or Romney or you, what do they think of? The answer is your Personal Brand. A Personal Brand might be seen as a combination of your key talents and what differentiates you from others.

Do you have a one-sentence Personal Brand that summarizes your talents and interests in a memorable way? Although a person seeking a new job must use a Personal Brand often in job interviews, it also can help established managers or executives stay focused on what they stand for and helps them be consistent in their own behaviors. Consistency can increase credibility and build trust with employees and fellow managers and in all business and personal interactions.

The six items above encompass most major issues in your Personal Brand. Now few people will tell you how your Personal Brand is viewed by others. You do need to know and be able to modify your behaviors.

You can glean a lot of insight economically. Try this: Prepare an index card with each of the above six items and any others you would like feedback on.

Prepare a rating system on a 10-point scale or any smaller even number. Indicate a deadline (a week or so) and offer a series of “mailboxes” for their return.

You will be surprised at the responses you receive if you have the courage to try this. Good luck, but what will you then do?

Jerald F. Robinson is professor emeritus of international management at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: jfr@vt.edu.

This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue.

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