business man

When personal brands miss the mark

In my workshops (and both of my books on personal branding), I encourage participants to measure their current brand and their desired (ultimate) brand against what their target audience perceives. This gives perspective of:

  1. Am I currently perceived the way I want to (ultimately) be seen? or
  2. Is there is a gap between how people see me today and where I want my reputation to be?

Targeted feedback gives us insight, assessment, and possibly gems of opportunity for self-improvement that we might miss. In many cases, feedback also identifies powerful blind spots that could otherwise torpedo our reputation if not addressed.

As positive and open-minded as we might feel when soliciting feedback, sometimes what is returned is negative, personal, and hurtful. What then? How should we process feedback when it strikes a nerve?

Case in Point

Consider Jason. He is a product manager for a large U.S.-based consumer company. Jason’s job requires that he travel quite a bit, so often responds to emails from his team late at night from various airports. His company launches new products almost monthly, so his workload is increasingly stressful, and accountability on Jason to manage production, marketing and distribution on the suite of products he is responsible for has grown exponentially since he joined the company, five years ago.

Because he is focused on earning a spot on the executive team at this company, Jason knew he needed to identify his strengths and weaknesses on the job. He sent a feedback survey to his peers, staff, and senior team asking about how he was perceived, where he could improve his skills and whether the recipient would refer him for upward career growth, if given the opportunity.

What Jason received shocked him! He believed he was well-liked, respected, and seen as executive material. What he heard back from respondents indicated they saw him as pushy, abrupt, short-tempered and non-collaborative; NOT someone they would advance to a senior position in the company.

Jason was devastated by this gap in how he thought he was perceived and how others see him.

Blind Spots

What Jason experienced were blind spots. His audiences (colleagues, staff, supervisors) saw things in him that he didn’t see in himself. He considered himself highly motivated, a hard worker, and committed to growing the company and his team. What was reflected back indicated someone who was self-interested, imposing, and brash. These were obvious blind spots to Jason and indicated serious work to be done.

Jason began to take inventory of ways his actions and behavior could be creating this perception:

  1. Because he traveled so much for his job, he often responded to emails late at night and in short messages (he was usually tired when typing). Could this create the impression that he didn’t care about his team’s issues? Was he sending the message that solutions to their problems weren’t his priority? Were his short responses creating the impression that he didn’t have much to say on the topic he was addressing?
  2. Jason was not in the office much because his travel schedule had him traversing the country weekly. Did this lack of face-time with his team cause them to feel he was disconnected from their priorities and challenges?
  3. With all the new product launches his company was issuing, was Jason acting more short-tempered with his staff than usual? Was his stress “rolling downhill” as they say?
  4. Jason had never been great at delegating, choosing instead to work extraordinary hours rather than teach his team how to handle some of his responsibilities. Maybe this was creating the impression that he was non-collaborative. If he learned how to delegate better, could that help his team learn new skills and increase his perception as executive material?

Using Feedback to Grow

The painful feedback Jason received indicated many blind spots and opportunities for his growth and positioning in the company. By taking a proactive approach to addressing the feedback and not just recoiling from it, Jason was able to make great strives to advance his position in the company.

Here is what he did:

  1. Jason sent a “thank you” email to everyone from whom he’d asked for feedback. While a few of the people on his email list didn’t actually submit feedback, he wanted them to know he appreciated their consideration.
  2. He chose to have personal conversations with a few of the people who sent more pointed input, as painful as this was. He recognized that it must have taken courage for them to send him input he knew would be hard for him to read. They took a risk, and he rewarded their risk with appreciation. They’d actually given him a gift because he could change his behavior and that would benefit him and his career.
  3. He consciously did not show favoritism or positively recognize those who had praised him in the feedback. When he asked for candid input, he knew he would need to show non-bias to the people who gave him less favorable input, as tempting as it might be to “punish” them subconsciously.
  4. As he made behavioral changes to improve the perception they had of him, he continued to enlist their input into his progress. Periodically, Jason would ask, “I am trying to project a more collaborative style in how I manage my staff. Do you think I’m making progress here?” This not only showed his team that he heard their feedback, but reassured them that he was trying to take a different approach to his management style. His staff became more patient with Jason, helped him with deadlines and critical projects and supported his ideas more fully.

Feedback is a Gift

Feedback can be a tremendous gift in helping us hold a lens to our behavior and reputation that we otherwise could not access. We can’t possibly see ourselves the way others see us. While it is most important to assess the feedback of our target audience, how we respond and react to the feedback is where we create opportunity for our personal brand.

When possible, removing the emotion from the feedback helps. This is often easier said than done. Many clients tell me they feel “gut kicked” by how others perceive them at times. This is only natural. We like to think we are always authentic, inclusive, giving, loving, etc., and when someone indicates we are quite the opposite, it can shatter our sense of self as we know it.

Take feedback as input and information that indicates you have work to do to build the brand for yourself you desire or that you are doing everything in the order you should to leave a legacy you want.