I, the Brand – From Personal Branding to Personal Leadership

Cristina Muntean is a consultant, trainer, mentor and coach who specializes in personal branding, strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence for leadership. A former journalist with more than 12 years of experience in the Czech, Romanian and international media, she founded Media Education CEE, a PR advisory and training agency in Prague in May 2010. Her clients are executive level managers and entrepreneurs with Top100 companies in the Czech Republic and Central and Eastern Europe. Cristina is also an internationally certified trainer and coach with the Enneagram, a complex system of personal development, and a facilitator of systemic dynamics in business organizations. She provides her services in English, Czech, French and Romanian, her mother tongue. Cristina can be reached at +420 776 574 925 or at cm@cristinamuntean.com.

This year the Czech Republic celebrated 100 years of its existence. As such, it was a time to remember the great deeds – and names – of the past. Numerous people I’ve been talking to agree that today Czechs should be very proud of their achievements, much more visible and more present on the local and world scene. Why therefore, for a country with a solid history and many a reason to be proud, there is something holding the Czechs back when it comes to showing up and taking their rightful place in the world?

Tough decisions

I dare asking this question because I am confronted with it daily in my personal branding training and coaching practice. That’s why a recent story of one of my clients stuck with me. This gentleman – let’s call him Mirek – built his IT company from scratch starting in the early ‘90s. The company, obviously, carried his name. A few years ago, Mirek decided to expand the company through acquisitions of smaller, complementary IT businesses. Yet he hit a roadblock. For some reasons discussions weren’t moving forward and it was quite hard to put his finger on the real reason why negotiations were stalling. Soon Mirek realized that there might be some hidden dynamics in the background that could be connected with the name of his company – actually, with his name. By moving into buying other, smaller IT companies also named after their founders, all of a sudden business became more personal. The sellers were experiencing a subtle sense of loss similar to when we step into a marriage that expects that we change who we are, including our own name. As entrepreneurs committed to building businesses as a lasting legacy, the merger was a pill too hard to swallow for many potential sellers. So, in order to secure his own legacy moving forward, Mirek set for a bold move. He listened to his advisors and decided to change the name of his company into something more generic. Miraculously, the merger bottlenecks started to disappear. Five years later Mirek’s company has expanded successfully not only in the Czech Republic, but on a few markets in Central and Southern Europe as well. As for Mirek, he learnt to accept that, in today’s world, we need to be able to play the rules of the game. “Even though I know it, it was still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” he says.

Why we need fatherly figures

In today’s business landscape we need to accept that companies are not so much about the name of their founders or about the original intention of changing the world with a business idea anymore, but about cold, hard cash, capital and profits. Maybe that’s also why it is so hard for employees to connect with the missions of their companies. As long as these missions remain a statement on a wall, people cannot project their own journey, their dreams and ideals onto something or someone concrete. Having someone to look up to is not only a matter of personal leadership. It’s a vital ingredient in maturing as a human being. As we become more empowered, we paradoxically look for more mentors. We acknowledge that we need them and we embrace their presence. Our mentors become our personal Virgil, like the great Roman poet in Dante’s Divine Comedy, who can be there for us, in reality or in our projections, in order to help us figure out our own answers to the many challenges that today’s world is throwing our way. Our mentors can, yet they don’t have to, be fatherly or motherly figures. What we need, in fact, is the hope they bring us through the simple fact that they went through our challenges and survived. Seeing them coming out of a life challenge empowered and transformed – better human beings – brings us hope as well. That’s why mentors are so important. And that’s why we need more of them in our world today.

A Personal Branding Responsibility

Yet, for us to achieve our own potential and sense of glory, mentors are not enough. We also need to admit that each of us are in a leadership position. If we are to influence and inspire our children, our spouse, our neighbors, our team or our own managers, we can do things that can reflect more of who we are and thus trigger a positive change around us. This requires a shift in our mindset. We need to understand that we already are personal brands. From the day we were born and got a name, we were personal brands. From the first moment we interact with someone new we are already building our reputation. Developing more self-awareness around the way we impact others and the world is not easy though, as it opens the Pandora’s box of personal responsibility. But that’s exactly what we need more of today. We simply need more people who are able and willing to take personal responsibility for their lives and thus inspire more of the others to do the same. In a climate of fear and discord sown by shrewd politicians moved by personal, egocentric agendas, we need to be able to create a counter-pole of inspiration, connection and hope through our own actions.

Simple Personal Branding Steps for a Better Future

If you wonder how you can do that practically, here are a few thoughts:

1. Increase your self-reflection. Be aware – someone would say mindful – of your own appearance, body language, your voice qualities and your overall impact on others.

2. Ask for feedback. If you don’t know how your presence influences people and the world around you, just ask. Find the courage to expose yourself to others’ points of view. Remember that all feedback is an opinion, not a cold fact. Allow yourself to be seen and transformed in the light of others’ reflections of who you are.

3. Care. There is no real personal branding without empathy. How can you make a positive impact through a presentation, an article, a media interview or simply facilitating a meeting unless you genuinely care about the needs of your audience?

4. Change. Dare to experiment with new things and new approaches not only in communications. If you are not on a communications platform, join it and see what it does to you. If you are – maybe a bit too much – on a social medium, perhaps you can take a break and see how you could pour more meaning into your communications as opposed to more quantity. If you are silent around new people, change your approach. Be bold, be curious. Ask questions. Allow the tremendous transformation happening today to touch not only your communications and personal brand, but also your soul.

As you see, the bottom line of personal branding is not just some hullabaloo last-minute strategy on how to be more present on LinkedIn. It can be that, but it’s so much more. Personal branding is our capacity to consciously touch the minds, hearts and spirits of everyone around us with every physical or virtual interaction. Thus, we leave behind meaning and a lasting legacy. And that is so much more than personal branding. It is personal leadership at its best – precisely what we need more of so we can be proud of our history, but also of our future.

By Cristina Muntean