Several years ago when I was promoted to Associate Director in the Professional Services Firm I worked in, my boss started to address me as Director, especially in official correspondence with other offices within the network and other organizations outside the firm. My team and I then caught on to this trend because, Director and Head, Sales & Markets, was more relatable to the outside world than Associate Director and Head, Sales & Markets, especially as most organizations outside of professional services did not have the Associate Director appellation.
So, we continued using the title in our correspondence with the outside world until one day, my other boss, as I had two reporting lines, was sent a letter to review by my colleague, saw the title and advised that the internal title be used. We explained that we were only following the leading of our senior boss, but he felt otherwise. Since the title was not so important to me as the idea was to have more cache in relating with the outside world. I had absolutely no problem dropping the title. After ensuring that I was not violating the firm’s brand and regulatory compliance requirements on how staff were addressed, I experimented with dropping the title entirely from all correspondence from me internally and externally. I also removed all titles from my business cards and was known only as Marie-Therese Phido. I stayed title less for several years.
But, was I effective? Very! I had built enough confidence in my audience within my immediate sphere of influence that I did not need to relate with them with a title to get a response for the requirements of getting my work done and ensuring that they responded to my requests. My immediate audience was comfortable interacting with me by name only.
What am I getting at? We need to be able to ensure that we have built in value and confidence in our names alone. Do people know you for the value you bring to the table? What are you known for? What will people say about you in your absence? What impression do you leave on people about your competence and clout? Answers to the questions above are intrinsic to your personal brand. Do you have a personal brand?
In recent months, I have noticed that many professionals in the private and public sectors, are tied to their titles, especially when they have left the employment of their organizations. A few days ago, I was browsing on LinkedIn and two examples on the above struck me. A former Deputy Governor of the CBN, invited to give a talk in a country, could only be recognized by the tagline, former CBN Governor. Remember this is not a title you bear for life as there are some titles that can be borne for life e.g. President of the United States.
The other example is a CEO who ran a major regional cable network, now running her own business. Instead of pushing the brand of her own business and her personal brand, the author had to refer to her previous organization and title. For me this was a wakeup call! I do not want to be defined by my previous titles or the organizations I have worked in.
Don’t get me wrong! The organizations I worked in were key to moulding me and making me who I am today. But, I’d like to believe that I am working towards ensuring that I am recognized as Marie-Therese Phido or MTP going forward and not by an attachment to the organizations I have worked in. In Nigeria, there are people with strong personal brands, whose brands were not affected by their movement from one organization to the other. In fact, their personal brands enhanced the perception of the organizations they joined or founded. A good example for me is Tony Elumelu, who spent many years in the banking sector and has now used his brand to promote the development of other organizations in hospitality, CSR, Power, etc. Since leaving UBA, though now back as Chairman, his brand has grown. Sometimes, I wonder whether his brand would have grown as much as it did, if he had not had to leave UBA. The change was good for him and enhanced his brand equity.
Another good example is Christopher Kolade, who is known to be ethical. His personal brand enhanced the Ethics Programme offered by the Lagos Business School (LBS). Those of us who attended his classes in LBS, will remember how revered his classes were because of his personal brand that he brought to bear. Others with strong personal brands who have made a mark within their spheres of influence, brought value with their interactions positively, and known by name recognition alone most of the time, are: Ifueko Omoigui, Oby Ezekwesile, Fola Adeola, Pat Utomi, John Momoh, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, Jim Ovia, Wole Soyinka, Aliko Dangote, Nduka Obiagbena, Ibukun Awosika, Mo Abudu, amongst a few others. You will notice that I did not mention the names of musicians like Fela, or the names of artistes or Politicians, this is intentional, I am keeping my examples in the business community. What you will notice about the names I mentioned above is:
Again, don’t get me wrong. We all do not need to have exalted titles and positions in big organization to have strong personal brands. What we need to aim for is to build our personal brands within our immediate communities and spheres of influence. A good example is my junior colleague, a Graphic Artist, already on his way to building his personal brand and solidifying his presence in the Graphics Design community. Building your personal brand is a conscious decision. It starts with your name and the work you put in to ensuring that your name has value and can be recognized in its own merit.
Don’t neglect your personal brand. Own it and build it.