Women's Leadership Blog: Strategically Building a Personal Brand at Work

Written by John Futterknecht, President and Co-Founder of Optimum Associates
Feburary 29, 2016

appleandorangesAt Optimum Associates we are passionate about developing Women Leaders and helping them achieve their career goals. We have had the privilege of coaching over 600 women leaders, many of them from Fortune 500 companies, over the past several decades and supported them in successfully advancing their careers. This experience has allowed us to witness first-hand that certain skills, insights and strategies related to career management can be the difference between disappointment and frustration versus achieving success and obtaining what is deserved. It is evident today, more than ever, that women need to be deliberate and strategic in their career planning efforts. While many believe that hard work and results speak for themselves, the reality is that career planning plays a critical role in determining success as well.

There are several topics that seem to come up most consistently as critical areas Women Leaders should focus on. One of the more highlighted ones is Personal Branding. In today's highly competitive business environment where achieving your goals and objectives is what is expected and by no means guarantees a promotion, it is critical to build a "brand" that enables you to standout in the crowded and competitive field. As we often share in our programs, perhaps the only thing worse than someone making a negative comment when your name comes up during a career discussion, is if nothing is said about you at all. However, simply self-promoting and building your Brand does not guarantee the desired results, it has to be done strategically.

The idea of developing a personal brand has been a focus in helping Women Leaders achieve their career potential for some time. Generally, the advice being that individuals should take the time to reflect on their greatest strengths and interests, and build a plan to very intentionally showcase the particular abilities or skills in such a way that over time their colleagues begin to associate certain positive perceptions with them. Some examples include, "Team-builder", "Problem Solver", or "Strategic Thinker" to name only a few. Yet we have seen ambitious Women Leaders work hard to build their brand and not achieve the promotion because of a lack of understanding of the "Real Scorecard" of the role they were striving for. The way we define the "Real Scorecard" is as the specific criteria, list of competencies and leadership capacities agreed upon by leadership who will ultimately influence the hiring decision. And, although many organizations today provide job descriptions and leadership competency models that are helpful to steer you in the right direction, we have found that the specific Scorecard of a given job can actually vary considerably depending upon the role, the culture and the individual leaders involved.

Take the example of Susan B., who has progressed steadily within her company's Insights organization. Early in her career Susan demonstrated an exceptional ability to delve deeply into data and provide very substantial and thoughtful analysis and recommendations. As a result she built a reputation as the "go-to" analyst when the most rigorous analysis was sought from her organization from the Insights function. The reputation and hard work earned her several promotions to the level of Director, and she had ambition and was committed to continuing to showcase her insights expertise to propel her to Senior Director and beyond. In order to continue to strengthen her established brand she spent even more time and focus as projects presented themselves to demonstrate and even greater level of depth, and prided herself on delving into the process and detail around how she arrived at her recommendations when presenting in meetings to business partners like Operations and Supply Chain. However, what Susan was not aware of was that as a result of her organization's shift towards a more matrixed and integrated structure, one of the most important criteria the organization was looking for in its senior leaders was the capacity to "be an enterprise wide thinker", meaning, the ability to understand various functions and aspects of the business to connect the dots and provide more strategic advice as opposed to simply being a functional expert. Unwittingly, Susan continued to strengthen her brand as a deep Insights Expert which was, at this stage in her career, actually reinforcing a limiting perception and caused her to stall in her career.

Susan represents one of many, many examples we have seen where well intentioned Women Leaders work to establish a strong brand but due to a blind-spot around the "Real Scorecard" it led to frustration.

What should you do?

Our advice is that while it is a great practice to establish a Personal Brand, it must be done in a strategic manner in order for it to serve you in the optimal way. It is essential to continually evaluate, reflect, and ensure that your brand is in alignment with the "Real Scorecard" of the position you seek next. You need to employ agility and awareness to shift and adapt your brand accordingly by intentionally seeking out the information about the role you are striving for, and understanding the gap between your current "Buzz" and the way you need to be perceived to be in consideration for the next position. For example, if Susan B. had done her homework about the Real Scorecard for the Senior Director role, she would have shifted her focus when presenting to her stakeholders and spent most of her discussion on the way her conclusions had implications from an enterprise-wide perspective and articulating her understanding of the needs within their respective functions or business. 

To learn more about Optimum Associates and our Women's leadership program "Breaking Through", please visit

Written by John Futterknecht, President and Co-Founder of Optimum Associates




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