Sally Krawchek’s nine steps to a better personal brand

By Brock Dickinson

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When she speaks, Sally Krawchek is one of those people you’re supposed to listen to… Forbes has called her “one of the 100 most powerful women in the world.” The Daily Beast suggested that she was one of the “rare honest voices on Wall Street.” She served as the Chief Financial Officer of banking giant Citigroup, and had a stint as the head of investment firm Merrill Lynch. She’s clearly someone who knows how to build a name for herself, and leverage that name for maximum benefit.

Long before Sally rose to prominence, though, we were classmates together at the University of North Carolina, where we both studied as Morehead-Cain Scholars. To be sure, Sally was a couple of years ahead of me in school, and we weren’t close.  She was that kind of ultracool upperclassman (upperclasswoman?) that we were all just a little in awe of.  And watching her meteoric career, we were probably right to be a little in awe… this was a woman who had it together.

So a couple of weeks ago, at an alumni event for Morehead-Cain Scholars, when Sally volunteered to lead a discussion on “How to Build Your Personal Brand,” I knew I was in for a treat. It was great session, and – because I think Sally may know some of this better than just about anyone else – I thought it was worth sharing her insights with the economic development community. After all, we work in a profession where our personal brand is key to our success.  Does the community see us as accessible? Do elected official find us credible? Do potential investors find us trustworthy? And in a career where you often have to “move around to get ahead,” how does our personal brand speak to potential employers?

Sally began by asking us to quickly jot down what we thought our personal brand is today. It can be just 10 or 12 words, but what is our personal sense of who we are, or how we think people would describe us once we walk away? Sally then suggested nine steps to building a better personal brand:

1. Define your “professional mission” – that very personal statement of what you (personally) hope to accomplish through the work you do on a daily basis.

2. Craft a better personal brand that builds on that mission. Be truthful, but start with an idea like “I am the best at…”

3. Test this brand with your personal Board of Directors – your spouse, your friends, your mentors.

4. Get used to saying your brand out loud, and recognize that it often works best in the context of a story.

5. Recognize that it’s OK to be working towards your brand, and that you’ll get there eventually.

6. Own your mistakes and your failures, and allow them to shape your brand without dwelling on them.

7. Think of two or three issues connected to your personal brand – and no more than two or three – and make those key elements of what you communicate to the world. Broadcast your brand by focusing on this small number of things you care deeply about.

8. Be your brand. Use the brand to guide the decisions you make about what you do in life.

9. Understand that it’s OK for your brand to shift over the course of your life. Sudden changes may be jarring to those you are communicating with, but a gradual shift as values and perspectives change over time can be a sign of growing wisdom.

Granted, Sally’s approach doesn’t answer every question about personal branding that you may have, but the more I think about her nine steps, the more convinced I am by her approach. I hope it helps you, too.