A few weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking to the Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce’s Thought Leader’s group at their annual retreat. The topic was centered on  your personal brand and how to show up powerfully…a topic that I really love!

During preparation, I poured out my thoughts on paper…here they are. Take a peak. How would you define your personal brand? What is the stand you take for yourself…chime in!

What is a brand?
What do you think of when you think of a brand? Usually our brains go to some of the best marketed/represented brands…like McDonald’s, Starbucks, Apple or Google. Or maybe you have a favorite brand of hair product or something you love.

So take a snapshot of a brand you love or think highly of in your head for a second. What do you think of? You may think of the colors, a sign, a flavor…but you also probably think of a time when you used the brand’s product.

One of my favorite brands is Ritz-Carlton. I can picture the logo, the service, the way my rooms look when I stay there But what I really think of when I think of the Ritz was a really great vacation I had in Grand Cayman. Or a particularly fun visit to New Orleans. I think of the experience and the stories about that brand.

I believe that a brand isn’t a logo, color scheme, image or word. A brand is a story or collection of stories. And when the stories are told authentically, to the right audience, they simply cannot be ignored, and they cause people to act on them…because they want a story to tell, too.

Let’s think about Apple for a second. You may have seen this great ad over Christmas break. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v76f6KPSJ2w Brings tears to my eyes every time. This commercial tells a story about their brand and product. When you see a commercial for a cruise line, they tell you a story about the great vacation you are going to have. You see, companies sell their brands by telling stories.

So what about a personal brand? Your personal brand is exactly the same idea. It’s a collection of stories that tell/sell who you are. We all have a story. We all have experiences. And what makes our brand powerful is when we tell our story authentically AND it aligns with what we say about ourselves. Even more powerful is when our personal brand aligns with the brand of the company we work for.

But here’s the catch. Telling your story takes courage! You have to be brave to own who you are.

“But wait! I have so many stories that don’t have to do with work! That isn’t relevant to my resume,” you may be saying…but isn’t it? Don’t our life experiences OUTSIDE of work define how we approach things, the perspective we offer, alter the lens from which we view things? There is no way around that truth. And there is so much power that comes from owning who you are, in ALL areas of your life.

So let’s dive a little deeper on this thought of defining and owning our brand.

Who are you? What is the cloth that you are cut from?

These are really big questions, right? And aren’t their times in your life where the “who are you” question can be answered differently? Absolutely.

If you asked me about myself I would tell you that I have been married to Michael for 7.5 years, I’m a mom to an adorable toddler, I’m an Aggie, I’m a business owner. I am a writer, I’m a teacher. I could also tell you about some of my skills, certifications, community involvement, etc. Sound a little like a resume?

Roles in our lives change. Titles change. Skills can be acquired. Those things I put on a resume will give you an idea of what you might get from me…the features or attributes I can provide, but they don’t tell you the “So What?” about who I really am.

So is there a better way to define who you are? Well, I’m not sure if it’s BETTER per se, but there are some really great tools I’ve used to help me think about this question. One of these is the Strengths Finder test. When I took the Strengths Find test, I discover that my strengths are developer, relator, empathy, belief and communication. You can also look at your disc, Barrett Values, or one I just did with Bambi (my coach) last year called Insights Discovery.

Here’s the thing with these tests. I think they are great for team building and communication, but they can also be really great in giving you ways to talk about yourself-to help people “get” who you are. I did the Strengths Finder test years ago…when I was in college actually. Then I did a directed study with my professor and implemented a Strengths Finder based training system at the chain of text book stores I worked for while I was in school. I really love the vocabulary it gives me, but also it was dead on. My top strength is Developer: this means that I am good at seeing potential in something/some one/an idea, and seeing how to fulfill that potential. When I look back at some of the things I’ve done…starting a sorority, initiating a ministry for high school girls, starting a business, mentoring high school girls, I can completely see that strength in me. And NOW, listen to how I talk about it…sounds a lot different than listing a bullet point of being a founding member of an organization or involved at my church. All of the sudden, I can see a thread…a common value, something I care passionately about…is woven through all these different aspects in my life. It’s part of my brand…and I’m sure you could see how that skill would be great to have in many different roles if you were interviewing me. So any of these types of tests could be great to helping you find ways to describe WHO you are.

Here’s another thing with these tests. You might get results that you don’t like. You might get results you love. When I took the Insights Discovery test, I was ticked! I was really high on the sunshine yellow spectrum. And the description made it sounds like I was a disorganized flitty person. And I really didn’t like that description. But the truth is, I really don’t like processes and procedures and lots of seemingly tedius work. I love details…I’m a detail person. But living by an employee manual…or the thought of having to put it together…I’d rather die! But isn’t that a great skill? Isn’t that something that people highly value? So I had this struggle with it…like I wouldn’t been seen as valuable because processes and procedures weren’t my favorite thing.

For a while, I tried to make up that I really was interested in these things. But I had a hard time following through. And I felt wonky the whole time. Because I was saying I was one thing, but it didn’t sit right with me…and I wasn’t performing that way. So now, my integrity wasn’t in alignment either.

This was a problem!

A few months later I took the DISC test. Can you guess what I scored the highest on? I! Of course I’m an I. The speaker I was listening to though gave a great explanation of the different personality types in reference to building a bridge. And how we need all of these personality types.

Some time during that discussion I got it. I’m an I. I’m full of sunshine yellow. And guess what, if there was no Is or sunshine yellows on  your team, I bet you your meetings are really really boring. And I bet you argue and can’t see eye to eye…because there are skills Is bring that others don’t. And all are necessary.

Maybe it’s not a personality profile that you don’t love. Maybe you’re up against walls because you’re a woman. Maybe you are always combatting your age. Maybe you are trying to fit into a schema about who you think you should be instead of just owning who you are.

I am not really into logistics. But I can cast vision, and enroll people in a common goal. And keep the troops motivated and aligned on that common purpose. I have owned this about me.  And now there is a power to how I show up to my clients, to my family, to my employees, because I operate from a place of confidence and comfortability and am not trying to fit into roles that don’t align with my brand.

So I ask this again. Who are you? What are the values that drive the decisions you make? What are the circumstances that cause you look at life the way that you do? What is your default personality? What are you selling?

This brings us to our next point which is about brand management.

When I’m working with companies and we go through a branding exercise, I ask about stories and meanings, and “So What?” once the brand is determined, the meat of what matters, then the next thing to talk about is brand management.

If you go back to thinking about the brand I had you visualize at the beginning of this discussion, think about how that brand might be managed. I’m going to use Apple again, because they are so good at keeping their brand tight and always aligned. Take a look at this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=170fh2mvog0

I love this. Apple states exactly who they are…even addresses some of their critics. But you leave with no question in your mind about who they are and what they do.

Apple is relentless when it comes to protecting their brand.

What about you? Would your closest family and friends be surprised to hear that you think of yourself as creative? Would they be shocked to hear that you say you like to challenge traditional ways of thinking? Would they laugh to hear you are good at analyzing things?

There is no doubt in my house that I am the sunny person. My husband is an engineer. And if there was a stereotype about them, he probably fits it. Except that he is surprisingly talkative and social. Ok, but the point is, who I say I am, or try to act like I am meets the ideas he has of me.

Managing your personal brand is important, and I think good word to use when we talk about managing your personal brand is INTEGRITY. The definition I like to use of integrity is honoring your work with who you are. In other words…honoring your word in an authentic way.

If you say that your family is your number one priority yet you stay at work until 8pm every night, there is a really high likelihood that you’re integrity isn’t aligned. What you say you value doesn’t match your actions. Is there a time and a place for late hours? Absolutely. But at some point, you’ll have to examine and see if you really value your family as much as you say you do, or if you need to make a change so that your values and your actions are aligned.

So think about how you describe yourself. Then think about what your husband, or best friend, children, or sister or mother would say about you. Do they line up? Do they agree?

The key to ensuring your brand is always inline is to OWN who you are. If you are sunshine yellow, be sunshine yellow. I let go that I’m not a details person. And guess what? Turns out that my business partner is really happy when writing a detailed instruction manual, handbook or report.

I am NOT a fan of cleaning my house. A few years ago, it was really causing me problems. I had this idea of the perfect wife I was supposed to be. Make these wonderful meals, keep the house clean, etc etc etc. I couldn’t keep up. And I was in stress-mode most of the time. So I gave up that I could do it all and hired a housekeeper…one of the BEST decisions I have ever made! And now my house is clean and I’m happy. And it’s worth EVERY penny.

The point is, own who you are…and who you aren’t. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Focus on who you are and what you can offer. When working with our clients, we call this being a brand with sharp edges. That is when you will show up powerfully to others and to yourself.

Even more powerful is when you find a company that’s values align with yours. There are companies that hire in that very vein. You’ve heard the stories of Zappos, Southwest Airlines and Google. The people in a company are crucial in upholding the company’s brand. If you are going to part of that, then make sure your values and company’s values align. If not, it might be time to make a change…to examine what isn’t in alignment and decide if that is something you can live with or not.

Remember, your brand is a collection of stories about you. You have a hand in the matter! If you say you think outside the box, do it! Then the stories people tell about you will be about the creative ways you look at things. You get to own your brand and can decide what these stories are going to be by the way you show up.