Cultivate your personal brand

Upward advancement in a competitive company can feel like a race with bumper cars at the fair. Every “player” is careening around the track, ricocheting and banging into one another as they race to the goal. The winner is generally the one who can swerve to avoid all the bumps and smash ups with the other competitors.

The winner at work is also the one who generally can navigate through stressful situations and potential conflicts to emerge the winner. The most aggressive and self-centered usually end up spinning their wheels in so many conflicts they can’t seem to make much career headway, even if they have a flashy education and big IQ horsepower.

Success at work takes more than ambition and brains. The higher one climbs, the more persuasion, compromise and tact play a role. It takes the ability to influence others. You can call it developing your “brand,” or just plain developing a “good reputation,” the outcome is the same: if people want to follow you and work with you, it’s an indicator you can move up the leader ladder.

I’ve been in the room countless times when an executive team will be debating about who is fit to fill an executive vacancy. When it comes down to who will get the job, discussions move beyond skills and experience, to interpersonal and personal characteristics. After all, they have to not only be smart and experienced, they also have to be able to get things done with fellow executives and through those who report to them.

If you were a fly on the wall, here are some reputations that can cause your career wheels to spin:

  • They don’t fly cover for their team, (or conversely, they are overprotective and see their staff through rose colored glasses.) The best leaders know when to be the buffer – even the protector – of their team. They defend their results and stick up for them when they are wrongfully under fire. But they have no illusions – if one of their employees is not performing the way he or she should be, they don’t make excuses for the person. They aren’t blindly loyal. They know how to balance the needs of the business, the team and the individual.
  • They don’t collaborate well with peers. They act as if their function is the only car in the race and if they dent and smash other cars along the way, so be it. Over time they lose influence – even if they are brilliant – because colleagues don’t trust that their motives are for the good of the business. Their self-centered agenda and/or the trail of damaged personal relationships create too much wreckage in the road to advancement.
  • They don’t create followership. Their eye has been on the prize and they have forgotten they have to cultivate a motivated, committed workforce behind them. They have “managed up” very well – keeping those above them informed, making stellar presentations, having strategic ideas … But when the surveys go out and the employees weigh in, there seems to be some frame damage under that shiny paint job.

Some of the good, talented employees may have left, or are toiling away without much visibility. Good employees have transferred out of their department. Complaints have surfaced in human resources. Morale is low and dissatisfaction is high. The would-be executive has been busy building his own career on the backs of the people doing their best to keep the department running. Or, conversely, they have been micromanaging every last detail, so that their results position them for personal success.

  • They have some personal characteristics that raise doubts. Perhaps they talk more than they listen – interrupting, lecturing, or just needing to think out loud. If they can’t solicit ideas and opinions from others, their career could take a detour. Or, perhaps they act like the smartest person in the room. Their brilliance can carry them far, but if they think they are too smart to ask for directions, they can end up getting pushed off the career track and never understand how they lost their way.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates (414) 354-9500,,

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