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Business Officer Magazine
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Creating Your Personal Executive Brand

By Karla Hignite

During the lunch keynote address of the Future Business Officers Program, Kimberly Pace shared tips for developing an executive personal brand. "Who you think you are and how others perceive you as a leader aren't always in perfect alignment," said Pace, professor of the practice of management, Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University, and chief executive officer of Executive Aura LLC.

Pace asked the participants: When it comes to communicating to others who you are, what three adjectives would you like them to offer from their observations?

One suggestion she gave to them was to ask someone they didn't know well to Google them and provide feedback about what they saw. "Some of you have pictures posted in your profiles where you don't look happy to be alive," she cautioned.

Handling Perceptions

When it comes to building a personal brand, what you convey about yourself is crucial, Pace said. Yet, what you actually say constitutes only a small percentage (7 percent) of your total message. Your tone of voice accounts for another 38 percent. (If you are sharing positive news, does your voice sound happy or flat?) The remaining 55 percent of someone's perception of you is based on your body language—how you enter a room, what you do with your arms when you sit down, and how you shake hands. "For better or worse, sometimes these very small gestures are what shape someone's perception of you," Pace said.

Thankfully, this first impression doesn't have to be the final word on your perceived character, she said. Consider these three phases of brand development:

1. Pre-presence. Before others meet you face-to-face, what might influence their opinion of you? Your e-mail and phone communication is one prime example of how you can shape an impression.

2. Presence. When you meet others face-to-face, do you present yourself in a manner consistent with how you want them to perceive you?

3. Post-presence. Once you leave an initial encounter, what does your follow-up communication suggest or reinforce about your character?

Sometimes what you don't say can also leave a lasting impression, Pace said. Are you a good listener? Ultimately, your brand evolves from authenticity—how what you say and do matches with how you present yourself. And the most effective leaders exude a healthy balance of confidence and humility.

KARLA HIGNITE is a contributing editor for Business Officer.

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