Building Your Executive Brand

As Amazon's Jeff Bezos put it, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room." Five suggestions for building it authentically.

I frequently speak with younger executives about advancing their careers. Inevitably, we discuss their career aspirations and the importance of a strong personal brand.

Senior executives, too, must be conscious of their brands. A strong, well-established executive brand can give you credibility and authority, much the same way a corporate brand like a Mercedes Benz or Microsoft can open doors and enable success. A brand is not static. It continues to change (hopefully for the better), which is why top executives must nurture their brands and be intentional about it. Another way to look at it is that we are all our own “chief branding officers.”

What is a personal brand? “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room,” Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has said. We want other people to carry a certain image of us that influences how they think and feel about us. It is how we “market” ourselves to others, but building a brand must be done genuinely and based on who you really are. Especially as a highly visible executive, you can’t fake a brand or it will wear you out.

Let me share a few pieces of advice when considering your own brand:

• Think about the authentic net impression you want to create. Each communication, personal interaction or social media post should support this effort, building the brand methodically. It should be a reflection of who you are and who you aspire to be. Consider your strengths, your values, and build on them. (An executive’s brand doesn’t have to be the loudest voice in the room—even introverts can build a brand around who they are.)

Whenever I have a meeting or engagement, I ask myself the following: “When I walk out of the room (or leave a Zoom call), how do I want them to think of me?” Answering that question before you have an encounter with others will help you shape your priorities and messages.

• Seek advice. It is often hard to get honest input. This includes questions of branding. Find the people in your organization (or outside) who will “tell it like it is.” They will let you know when you’re off brand. Ask them: Does this sound like me? Am I coming across genuinely?

• Add to the conversation. With a brand, more is definitely not better. On social media, for example, while persistence pays off, it is not the person who posts or tweets the most often that creates a strong brand. Choose your topics carefully:

• Do they add to and raise awareness of issues discussed?

• Do they help promote you as an expert or ambassador?

• Do they (tactfully) help to promote your organization?

Write down the topics and themes you want to build your brand around and revisit them on a yearly basis. Are they still relevant? Do they still reflect the net impression you want to create? Beginning with the end in mind helps you keep focused on “your” topics.

• Establish a cadence. Whether you’re a contributing writer, speaker or active on social media, have a regularity to your contributions. This is a very delicate balance — enough to contribute but not too much to where people stop listening or mute you. As I mentioned, brands are built intentionally, methodically.

Having a cadence doesn’t mean you can’t share something on instinct, but use caution. In the words of football coach and sage Herm Edwards, when in doubt, “don’t press send.”

• Align with your company brand. Senior executives must keep in mind that their own brand is inextricable from the brand of the company they run. Virgin’s Richard Branson is the classic example. This doesn’t mean that the executive’s brand has to mirror the company’s, but there should be shared values and mission that make the two compatible.

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Andrew Chastain
Andrew P. Chastain is president and CEO of WittKieffer, a global executive search firm dedicated exclusively to organizations that improve quality of life in health care, education, the life sciences and the not-for-profit sector. He is responsible for charting the firm’s strategic trajectory while ensuring WittKieffer’s industry-specialized consultants deliver solutions across the leadership continuum – experienced, emerging and interim – that build long-term partnerships and successful outcomes. Andrew brings over 20 years of leadership experience to the firm and continues to play a key role in select, high-profile search assignments. He is an active member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and serves on the Xavier University Graduate Program in Health Administration’s Advisory Board while also acting as a frequent speaker and contributor.