Are You Masking Your Authentic Self? The Parable of the Fox and the Tiger

MaskingYourSelf

Have you ever been talking to someone and suddenly realized that they were trying to fake you out?  That jarring feeling isn’t pleasant, but it’s an important sense we have to detect when people are not being genuine with us.  It’s probably an inherited trait: we sense when something’s not authentic and we recoil from it.

Faking a personal or professional brand is just like faking a personality – it doesn’t work. Sooner or later you realize that you’d be better off being comfortable in your own skin. In this parable of the fox and the tiger, the fox learns that masking his authentic self doesn’t get him very far.

In the deepest, darkest jungle, the fox had always envied the tiger, the pride of the jungle. Walking like a queen, her brilliant gold and black strips shining brightly in the sun, the tiger commanded respect from all the animals in the jungle. Whether she roared, raged at her prey, or laid in her lair, she mesmerized everyone. The animals feted her with the best of their catch and sought her favor when they had issues to settle among themselves.

But the fox couldn’t accept this situation. He knew that he was a crafty, cunning hunter with a keen sense of smell and great stealth. He even had the respect of his fellow foxes and most animals for his gifts, but he wasn’t satisfied – he wanted the tiger’s ‘awe’ factor.

One day a clever little monkey spotted the fox fuming under his tree, and decided to play a little trick on him. The monkey said that he could ‘counsel’ the fox on how to be as terrific as the tiger. “The tiger is loved and revered because of her golden coat and black stripes. If only you had those kind of stripes, you’d look majestic too!”

Following the suggestions of the monkey, the fox rolled in the mud and smeared himself with soil. “Now I’ll mark your fur with a red hot iron, which will give you a beautiful finish – a yellow back branded with stripes. Then, all the animals will respect you just like the tiger!” the monkey said.

In his fervor to be respected like the tiger, the fox fell for the monkey’s devilish plan, and the result, as you can imagine, was disastrous. The branding left the fox with burns and bruises, made worse by the insults from his fellow foxes. He looked nothing like the tiger, and instead of gaining newfound awe and power, he was instead mocked and driven out of the forest in shame. He realized too late that trying to take on the image of a tiger won’t turn you into one.

Are some of us like the fox in the story? – trying to be something we’re not? The parable shows how unlikely that tactic is to work, and that the most vital ingredient for creating a personal and professional brand is truth. People will eventually see through false behavior, online or off. So what you write, comment, and post online has to be rooted in your real convictions and beliefs, or you run the risk of establishing a false front. A mask, that could lead you to ruin.

This transparency has a cost, though, if you’re naturally aggressive or just an ass. In that case, you’ve got some other work to do on your own insecurities and inconsistencies. You’ll want to use this chance to evolve both as a person and a professional.

“Blogs [that recommend a] separate [identity] for personal and professional social media presence make me sad. Be a better version of you and you won’t have anything to hide!” – Kristen Bitzegaio

The ‘how’ of being authentic is rather tricky, because, in reality, there’s no trick to being authentic. It’s a process that calls for courage. We need to ask the right questions to probe deeper about our intentions and motivations. Simon Sinek has posited that we can operate with intent when we ask ourselves ‘Why We Do What We Do’. The key is to remain engaged and motivated about the purpose behind our pursuits, not just the pursuits themselves. Simon constantly asks his team members to explain the reason behind their actions and decisions – to keep them rooted to their goals.

Being truly authentic is about being able to offer your best self to others: understanding yourself better, building on your strengths and overcoming your insecurities and shortcomings. The fox had a reason to be proud – his abilities were outstanding, he didn’t need to imitate a tiger to earn respect, and neither do you. Your own unique abilities and traits are what mark you out from the crowd, and give you an identity that others may find unique, endearing, and ultimately valuable.

Find that value in your authentic self. Embrace it. And never hide it behind a false mask.

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MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.

8 Questions That Can Help You Define Your Personal Brand

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Maybe you’re considering a career move, or a shift in projects, or maybe you just want to get to the next level in your work.  How do you know you’re heading in the right direction? What is the purpose driving you forward and how does it add up to your overall career progression?

A strong personal brand can guide you through these daunting questions. It helps you reach your goals by mapping out how you want to be perceived, what you stand for, and how your career goals are aligned with what you desire in life.

But creating and managing such a brand is a tall order. It calls for introspection and soliciting external help. You need to search for the real YOU, beyond your job title, academic qualifications or experience. Separating the wheat from the chaff, you have to figure out your accomplishments, personal qualities, and values, as well as the areas where you excel, the powers which are your natural reserve, and the traits that equip you to do things better than others.

These details are not always evident on the surface, and it can feel almost like you’ve set out on a journey without a map or even a destination.

But like every other journey, this inward journey begins with a small step. Read through the following topics and ask yourself these questions — use them as an exercise in gathering insights and feedback about you.

  1. What Are Your Passions?

Your passions tell something about you; something that others may find interesting. You actually GAIN energy when you are dealing with subjects and activities you’re passionate about. I’m not saying passion is everything, but people can tell when you’re really into it, and when you’d rather be somewhere else.

  • What kind of work do you find meaningful, where you are willing to give your 100%?
  • Do you derive satisfaction in mentoring; training others and helping them succeed? Or are you a rainmaker who’ll stop at nothing to create the next great opportunity?
  • About what topics can you talk endlessly?

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can ensure that your brand remains rooted in your authentic passions.

  1. What Are Your Values?

Your values drive you when things get tough, so anchor on them for your personal brand or you won’t really be living the values that you say you’re about. Being steadfast to your values makes you more credible and gives your personal brand a meaning beyond self-promotion, explains Jay Palter in his blog, ‘Key To Personal Branding Is To Be Your Values.’ You could start with some basic questions such as:

  • What situations make you feel angriest or most annoyed? What does this mean about what’s important to you?
  • Does it move you when you see people own up to their mistakes? What other behavior do you react strongly to?
  • What are your beliefs about how you should live your life and conduct your work? For example, if there is work to be done, and others are unwilling to take up the slack, what would your call be? What are your views on ownership at work?

A more detailed exercise you can do with a friend is suggested by Susan Chritton in her blog. Where you write down a list of your top core values, and then you have to go through turns where you pick one value to remove from the list – you end up deciding what values are the most important to you.

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can focus on living your brand through expressing these values.

  1. What Do You See As Your Purpose?

Within and beyond your career, is there a purpose to your life? Identify what you want to pursue, what you want to avoid, and how you wish to be remembered.

  • Beyond your performance Key Result Areas (KRAs), what’s your mission in your role? What about beyond your current role? What lasting impact do you desire to create in your career?
  • Is your professional career connected to your overall purpose in life in some way? Does one fuel the other?
  • If you hit a jackpot and didn’t need to work, how would you spend your time?

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can determine what ‘good’ looks like for you and what ultimate goal you’re driving at in your career and life.

  1. What Are Your Strengths?

Your talents, skills and experiences are the immediate value that you bring to the table. Discover and articulate them well for others to better identify and trust in your strengths.

  • What are your top 3 technical or functional skills?
  • What are your top 3 soft skills (sometimes called ‘people skills’)?
  • Professionally, what is the most appropriate way to classify what you do? For example, programmer, tester, architect, consultant, researcher, writer, communications expert, trainer or etc.

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can describe your best skills, and act with strength and competence in those areas.

  1. What’s Your Superpower?

Your superpowers are the things you do better than everyone else, with little effort. Try harnessing those natural powers by applying extra focus and in due course you could be wielding a powerful tool that can attract others and earn you rewards.

  • Which skills or capabilities are you most proud of?
  • Within your team, what do you do better than anyone else?
  • If you were to receive an award, what would it be for?

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can differentiate from the crowd in meaningful ways.

  1. What’s Your Preferred Working Style?

People generally like to work in ways that complement their skills, ensuring that they make progress toward their goals comfortably. You’ll want to think about the natural ways in which you prefer to operate, to understand under what conditions you work best with others.

  • What is the level of detail you need to make a decision? Do you go by the gut or prefer to wait for evidence before taking the call?
  • Are you a stickler for processes and systems or do you prefer to be flexible when you hit roadblocks or need alternatives?
  • Do you believe in marketing your ideas or wait for them to take shape and unfold?

Looking at the answers to these questions, you can channel your efforts to work in harmony with your natural tendencies.

  1. How Does Your Personality Affect Other People?

The way you work and behave creates an impression about you on others. People will judge you based on your temperament, integrity and concern for others. To get the most benefit from this question (or really any of these questions), it may be a good idea for you to spend some time asking these questions about you to your co-workers or friends.

  • Are you able to encourage collaboration on teams? How?
  • How do you share feedback or delegate work?
  • What are the top three qualities that your colleagues remember about you?

Looking at the answers to these questions, you will be more conscious of the impact you are creating on others.

  1. What Kind of Culture Resonates With You?

Analyze the kinds of organizations where you do your best work. Paint the picture of your ‘perfect fit’ culture — the ideal place for you to shine.

  • Do you thrive in a fast-paced environment, with people close by, and where the most adaptable win?
  • Do you recognize the value in long-held traditions that create success?
  • What kinds of environments seem to bring out your best?

Looking at the answers to these questions can help you envision and construct the right surroundings for you to contribute optimally.

It is indeed a painstaking task requiring multiple iterations. You will need to spend time examining your actions and emotions, and consulting other people. But first try to start this questioning alone, and then try it with a coach or friend.

And don’t think about this work as merely an ego exercise, but as an investigative one, with your own source of energy and direction as its goal. Remember that your personal brand is as much about how you fit into the world, as how you stand out from it.

“What you take out of the world…is much less important than what you put into the world. Follow your contribution instead. Find the thing you’re great at, put that into the world, contribute to others, help the world be better.”  Ben Horowitz

Defining your personal brand is about seeking clarity and purpose in your career and in your life. Once you have this clarity, you can set out on your journey with confidence, knowing where you’re going and how to get there.

Take heart and get started!

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MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more.

Don’t Be Boring! Make Intentional Choices

boring blah generic talk

You need to live the life you want to live, in your career and in your life. You can’t wait for it to be handed to you, or you’re likely to end up living a default life. A life that says nothing, and stands for nothing.

A blah life. A boring life.

To live the life that you want, you have to be intentional about defining what it is that you want, and then take the actions needed to earn it.

John Lilly wrote a great blog entry about the idea of intentionality where he rightfully asserts that the power to get really focused is probably one of the biggest and most important developmental challenge our society faces, and looking around, it’s easy to see why.  Almost everything about our society seems designed to distract and pull focus. Our screens are crowded with features, functions, and ads, and our entertainment is chunked into bite-sized pieces to ensure we can pay attention to it and stay engaged.

So a powerful focus could become your superpower.  It can show others that you know who you are, and you know what you’re about. In order to get and hold people’s attention, you’ll have to connect to something deep, real, and important to you, or you’ll end up spouting the same thing that everyone else is saying. And getting the same old tired results.

Oprah recently recorded an interview with LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, where she spoke about the fact that the number one principle that rules her life is intention. And if anyone is a walking, breathing example of striving to live your best life, it’s her. She talks about how she had to revisit what success would look like for her a numerous times throughout her life.

With that goal of a powerful focus in mind, here are a few ideas about how to avoid the boring, be intentional, and strive to stand out, authentically.

1. Listen To Yourself

Do you hear the way you sound when your voice is played back in a recording? It often sounds like a different person, because others don’t hear your voice with the resonance that you do from inside your head. So you need to find a way to hear what you say to others from outside your own head.

Go back and read some important emails you’ve sent to other people, but with new eyes — asking yourself “Looking at how this email is worded, what kind of person is speaking?” and “What is this person’s agenda?”.  Find other people to help you do some investigative work around the ‘voice’ that you use with other people.

2. Check Your Assumptions

There’s something called the Candle Test (video explanation), which is designed to test how fixed your assumptions are — it shows how people have difficulty solving a problem when they are presented with items that they believe have a ‘fixed’ functionality. Spoiler alert: in the candle example, it’s a box of tacks that gets overlooked for alternative functionality.

What this means for you is that you may already have some fixed beliefs about what is possible for you. And those ideas might be holding you back from considering alternative paths to get you to a new place.

3. Make A List (and Check It Twice)

Take a sheet of paper and list down some of the more important choices that you are facing today, and then try to predict what would likely happen if you were to make no choice, or if you just allowed things to happen. What would be the likely result? If it’s not going to help you continue to grow and discover then you might need to make some different choices to shake things up.

Now I’m not saying that you’ll magically get everything that you want just by being more intentional — I don’t think life works that way. But you can’t stand out if you don’t set yourself apart. So it’s worth the time to figure out what your real intentions are and get started on living that life.

My friend Karen Coltun recently reminded me:

Self-awareness is not self-centeredness, and spirituality is not narcissism. ‘Know thyself’ is not a narcissistic pursuit. — Marianne Williamson

What might your life be like if you decided to know yourself better, and made fewer ‘default’ choices? Not boring, I’ll bet!

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MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more.

Reputation Management: A Horror Story

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Do you know someone who seems to have no clue about how they are perceived? It can lead to some pretty horrifying after-effects, worthy of recounting as a terrible tale of warning. This is a story about a friend of mine, a brilliant functional expert on quality management, who never saw it coming. But the ‘audience’ for this thriller surely did. And there’s a lesson for us all in it — that your opportunities might die a gruesome death, all because of a bad reputation.

My friend Neil (name changed to protect the innocent) was a vice president for a large technology firm, and he had a great idea for stimulating innovation among teams, which could potentially transform his organization. He saw how his employees and co-workers could be motivated to think in innovative ways if they were shown that their ideas count, and he knew how the organization could be tapped for this purpose.

Neil beamed with confidence and readied a plan (with management’s buy-in) to lead a team of volunteers for evangelizing innovation. Campaigns would be run on lateral thinking, LEAN and Agile methodologies; cross-functional collaboration would be encouraged; and employees would be persuaded to think creatively and suggest solutions for improving work, processes, services, and products.

Management loved the relevance it carried; and his boss loved the quality of thought that went into it.

But would it work with Neil at the helm? Here’s where the story takes a dark turn. Efforts to recruit volunteers from his peers or other functions failed. “I detest his presumptuousness. It’s too tough to work like this with a person who has an opinion on everything under the sun,” shrugged off a colleague. Interest waned and the initial excitement died out – leaving Neil devastated, with a very public failure on his hands. It wasn’t until after the project tanked that someone finally let him know how his image had prejudiced his would-be team against him.

The most mortifying element for Neil was the revelation that people perceived him completely differently than he thought. Where did this irritable, nosy and domineering person emerge from? He thought he was a suave, knowledgeable, and amenable colleague at the office. Where did the fault line lie? How could he have been so blind?

So Does Reputation Really Matter?

It did for Neil. How others perceive us can directly influence the value they will assign us in the workplace. What was potentially a game-changing move for Neil’s career turned out to be a non-starter, affecting his progression and the team’s morale.

And for what it’s worth, I agree it doesn’t feel fair. Maybe you’ve been told, “it doesn’t matter what others think of you… what matters is your competence and what you think about yourself.” Neil’s experience brought home that this is half-true: people base their opinions about others on many things – their own biases and prejudices, as well as our behavior.

For someone like Neil, his behavior was inconsistent with someone who wanted to be seen as a mentor, thought leader, and influencer. His repartees in team meetings were resented; his sense of humor did not always go down well; and his eagerness to impart knowledge and hold forth on subjects dear to his heart were considered uncalled for. He developed a reputation that was at odds with how he wanted to be perceived, and never sought enough impartial input to diagnose that he had a problem.

And reputation problems don’t just ‘stick’ to the job — they can follow you. In today’s always connected world, any adverse online comments on you could be picked up by potential employers. So Neil’s issues with perception had to be addressed, both online and offline — or he would just make a sequel to this horror story (and you know what they say about sequels).

You Are Already Being Judged (and Googled)

Whether you realize or not, there are conversations taking place about you that you may not be part of. You don’t have the choice of wishing them away, simply because you are not hearing them.

In social media, at least, there is a blood-trail to follow. Market research firm Cross-Tab fielded a survey that highlights some startling trends among recruiters and HR professionals that adversely affect job choices for seekers. They found that 89% of these recruiters have used online data mining in their process (and consider it appropriate to do so). 70% admit to rejecting candidates using the data they found, even if they admit that they aren’t fully assured of the accuracy of the information.

[In the Cross-Tab report] the kinds of information that influenced employer decisions to reject candidates included ‘inappropriate comments or text written by friends and relatives,’ as well as that ‘written by colleagues or work acquaintances.’  Kate Dutro

Some employers make this kind of data mining a formal corporate policy, and all it takes is presenting the wrong kind of collaboration or abrasive personal style to get tongues wagging. And not in your favor.

Someone Else May Be Sabotaging You

Maybe it feels like someone is ‘out to get you!’

Even if you don’t blog or post obsessively and publicly to Facebook, other people may be posting pictures or comments about you, and you’ll want to be informed and able to take action if you need to.

John P. David wrote about one executive who didn’t give a damn about maintaining an online presence. However, after going through a particularly bad break up, he learned that staying ‘off the grid’ wasn’t any protection when the other person gives vent to their feelings through posting online. The online viral outbreak of his disrepute was so severe that he had to engage specialists to contain the damage.

It may really be about you!

Or maybe it feels like “the call is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE!

It’s not always someone else’s fault. Neil had to come to grips with the fact that his worst enemy was himself, and wake up to the reality of his own behavior. Sometimes the evil villain in our stories can be our own lack of awareness around ourselves, so be prepared to address your own style and demeanor if it is found to be the source of your problem.

What Do You Need To Do?

Just like any hero or heroine in a horror movie – the secret is: don’t wait and be hunted, but take action. Be it personal branding or social media management, you have to take control of your reputation in order to manage your image. Build on your strengths by focusing on what is unique and authentic about you. Then, identify your weaknesses and manage them.

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”
Henry Ford

There are plenty of ways to track people talking about you online. And you may even want to take an audit of how exposed you are every now and then. As far as your offline brand, if you’re not cultivating a mentor or good friend resource at work to give you the skinny on your offline reputation, then consider this scary tale a wake-up call. It’s good to have access to an outside perspective. And as they say, if you want a better reputation, you might have to be a better person.

Dorie Clark (amongst other great bloggers and coaches) has a great article about taking corrective measures to contain the damage from scandalous online postings. Her advice includes addressing the detractor directly, then moving to the host of the platform that you’ve been attacked on, and finally working to ensure that future searches cast you in the best light.

Remember, your reputation is a critical asset for your career. It precedes you in meetings, conversations, and professional relationships with clients, colleagues, and superiors. If you are perceived as insipid or a tough nut to crack, you may not be able to grab all the opportunities to move forward in your career. And as Neil’s story shows us, not paying enough attention to it might prove to be a great risk.

And that kind of horror story belongs in a novel or the movie theatre, not your life.


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MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.

“My Brand Is Under Attack!” The First 3 Things You Should Do

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What should you do if someone trashes you online? It can happen to anyone, and once Google gets a new snippet about you, there’s nothing stopping it from becoming the first-place search result. Maybe you made the mistake of ‘friending’ that co-worker who saw some of your shared exploits from last weekend’s party and they decided to come after you. Or maybe someone took issue with something you’ve contributed in an online forum. Whatever the situation, we can all agree that it’s no fun to get clobbered online, and it runs the risk of adversely impacting your personal brand.

People can be surprisingly aggressive and abusive in online forums, partially since most places allow for anonymous posting, and partly due to the fact that there are not a lot of barriers to tearing into another person online — you don’t have to say anything their their face, and that emboldens some people to bring out extra venom.

So what happens to all the work you’ve done to create a strong personal brand if someone (carelessly or intentionally) makes a detrimental statement that you may have to live with indefinitely? When faced with this situation, you know you need to act quickly, since every search for your name could be surfacing this damaging content to new people: clients, friends, bosses, potential investors and others who might mean a lot to your future.

You know you have to act, but what should you do first?

First off: Think.  Don’t overreact. You’ll want to get a little more information before you take your next step. Who placed this content? Is this just a troll looking for cheap attention, someone who doesn’t really deserve a response? Or are they influential? Have they been positive contributors in the past? What may have changed? Is this attack part of a trend that could grow, and are other people jumping in on the abuse? How visible is this content? How likely is it to remain visible? Gather as much information as you can, as quickly as you can.

Next: Decide.  Is the criticism justified? Maybe you really did say something careless, or share a little too freely about some personal activities. In that case, you’ll probably decide to own it, or toughen up and just accept that you had it coming. Or perhaps you know the person and it might be more important and effective to respond offline first, reaching out to the offending party directly. Decide what your next move should be, and keep in mind that any action you take can either diffuse the situation or inflame it, so consider all the implications of your chosen path forward.

Lastly: Fix it. If it’s both possible and appropriate, take action right at the source of the material. You can ask the poster or the platform owner for the content to be removed or edited if it’s unfair, misleading, or just plain damaging. If you can’t remove it (or don’t wish to), then maybe there is something that you can contribute to help clarify the situation or address the complaint. Be honest, and make it right it you can. Maybe you need to apologize, or remove some other content that you’ve posted. Take responsibility for what you can, and make sure you can leave a future impartial reader clear about what happened, if you need to.

You probably will want to do some follow-up in order to repair the damage (after all, Google never seems to forget, does it?) and in most cases this involves ‘burying’ the negative content by ensuring that more positive content about you will outrank it in search results. As they say, the best place to hide a dead body is on the second (or third) page of Google’s search results, so if you can’t get rid of the smear, then you might at least make it harder to find. But only take these actions after you’ve done the first three recommended above.

Going forward, however, if you really want to be better prepared the next time something like this happens, you can take some additional steps, such as:

  • Have a brainstorming session with a friend. Spend some time imagining all kinds of scenarios and talk about what you think you’d do in each situation. It can help to keep you calmer and more decisive if you’ve spent some time thinking about what to do when you’re not under pressure for a rapid response.
  • Do ongoing checks of your privacy settings across networks that are important to you and your reputation.
  • If your brand and reputation is critical to your success, consider hiring a coach to help you keep stoking the fire under positive results and mentions. This tactic can be particularly important if your job is related to B2B sales or purchasing, or if you’re a senior manager for a company, because you’re more likely to have people searching your name to look for information about you and your business.

Jennifer Dalton, CEO at BrandMirror wrote a good piece recently about thinking ahead and predicting how your personal choices might impact your online reputation. It’s worth a read to help you be more intentional about how you want to appear in online searches or social networks where you interact with the public. Her points may cause you to pause and think before you hit the Facebook Add Friend button, if you know you’re likely to overshare.

Best of luck — and be careful out there!

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MetaMorph Corporation is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.

Be Brave and Find Your Voice

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Do you find it hard to speak up and be heard?

Anyone who has hesitated to raise their hand or speak up in a meeting knows how strong the urge to conform is. We tend to seek justifications to continue things as they are, without imagining new possibilities or challenging the status quo. But although staying silent may make things easier for others, it might not be doing you any favors. Especially if you’ve got your eye on a better job, or promotion, or speaking engagement. So it takes a kind of bravery to push us beyond our limits, to step up and stick our necks out in order to make a powerful impression — to let people see and hear our authentic personal brand.

When I was in college, a friend of mine and I co-produced a short video about the lifecycle of brands for a course project. That in itself was a little audacious, given the assignment was just a report, and students were typically expected to stick to academic subjects and conventional modes of presentation. Well, in a way, the move backfired, because it got more attention than we anticipated. Since the movie was a ‘first’ for the university, the faculty decided to showcase it at an inter-college seminar. The real test came when it had to be screened in a hall filled with an audience that included the chancellor and senior faculty — introduced by me. I had visions of my head rolling down the center aisle as I approached the podium to talk about the idea behind the film. I had never spoken to that many people before in my life.

So I decided to just muscle through it. And as I read out my part, my voice slowly changed from shaky to strong, and the butterflies in my stomach gave way to giddy joy. The screening was a success – getting laughter and applause in all the right places. But that was just the beginning. Doubly delightful was the rush of congratulatory handshakes and compliments that followed. I realized that by conquering this scary situation, it made me feel like a real achiever. And the benefits lingered on afterwards: we continued to receive recognition on campus, and I began to notice an improvement in my self-esteem and even my class performance – in asking questions or getting involved in assignments.

That was my moment of truth where I understood that in order to get noticed and be heard, you have to raise the bar, even if it means subjecting yourself to some amount of pain. Building a personal brand is about seizing such opportunities to express yourself, doing something beyond the routine, in order to move beyond where you are.

Presentations to a college seminar don’t happen every day, but there are always opportunities that we have to be braver – to speak up and be heard. Here are some ways to rise above the noise and hold others attention:

Be proactive by asking good questions: Don’t let a moment pass by where you have a chance to ask a good question. Sometimes it can make all the difference by just letting people know that you care about something strongly enough to want to know more. Many people tend to think that asking questions is demonstrating ignorance, and there is an art to asking a good question. But you can only get better at probing for information in situations where it matters. And sometimes you may save the day for other people too – several times when I’ve admitted that I didn’t understand a certain speaker, it turned out that other key people in the group were as lost as I was. So this tactic can really pay off.

Stand up for what is right: It takes heart to stand up for what you believe in, to make unpopular choices. But we all know that it’s the right thing to do: to act when you see others being wronged or integrity being squandered. If you encounter a senior manager making an obviously sexist remark, or the quiet person getting talked over yet again, or the herd wanting to jump on to another popular bandwagon, you have to realize that it’s your moment to make your stand clear, and step up to the plate and say the thing that everyone else is probably thinking.

“These moments define your personal brand. It’s easy to go with the flow, or to remain silent. But it’s more powerful to make yourself heard, and to show up mediocrity or injustice where you find it,” Omnicor — ‘Building a Powerful Personal Brand’

Take on new challenges: Try to do some of the things that people shy away from and say can’t be done. This can establish your credibility as the one who goes the extra mile, and is willing to handle additional assignments. Debra Benton’s article, ‘When You Stand Out, You Are Personal Branding’, talks about how initiative and zeal are often recognized quickly within organizations and can open up new opportunities for you.

Realize that it’s what leaders do: Handling only the tasks associated with your job will only take you so far, just up to becoming known as a dependable resource. However, when it comes to promotions, management is looking for leadership. Someone who can take ownership, connect with people, be credible, and carry them along. Meaning, when you have a point to add and a contribution to make, you have to be able to voice it and influence people. Be resolute that you can challenge things that do not make sense, because real leaders don’t remain silent in every meeting. They contribute and help steer the ship.

No, I’m not suggesting that you transform into some kind of annoying gadfly that buzzes around and drives people insane. But think about leaders that you admire. Don’t they strive to think differently? To do something unique? They find ways to come out of the humdrum of the daily routine and ensure that they can get and hold people’s attention. And that takes courage, but it can also take you to the next level in your career.

And I don’t think leadership is limited to only extroverts who _always_ have something to say. Instead, I think all of us can pick the times when it’s important that we offer something. And not let those precious opportunities pass us by.

Sure, there will be times when you doubt yourself, when you are afraid of being judged and being called out. I can still recall how tough it was to stand on that stage and open my mouth in front of all those people. When I first started speaking I was fumbling for words. My throat went dry and the tips of my fingers were numb. But I thought: I’m already out here, I can live through it. My intentions were clear, and I knew had to tell my story. I knew I could be brave.

And the effort was worth the pain to find my voice.


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