CIO Best Practices

Two Master Keys Technology Leaders Use In A Compelling Personal Brand

Leaders need a personal brand. But not for the reasons that they think. You aren’t trying to stand out from others; you are trying to communicate your fit. Knowing the difference, and understanding how to do it, will lead you to the opportunities you seek.

Scott Smeester


December 14, 2022

“Coloring inside the lines and pleasing most of your customers most of the time almost guarantees you will be bland. It’s a lot cheaper and faster and more effective to have a big nose.” Seth Godin

Leaders desire to elevate and extend their influence. You become not only an executive within a company, but an expert within a field. 

People turn to expertise. If you need brain surgery, you don’t want your general practitioner volunteering to do the job. 

In your world, there is a lot of expertise. When companies look to hire, when conferences look to book speakers, when boards look to add members, the competition is immense.

Plenty of others share your expertise. 

Because of that, people talk about the need to have a personal brand. Only, they often aim for the wrong target.

The Myths of Personal Branding

Myth #1: Branding is about standing out from the competition. If I shop for a sports coat, a bright orange coat will stand out, but under most circumstances, it will not be my choice. 

I know you can stand out. But then what? What happens if you are chosen?

Myth #2: Branding is about showcasing what you can do. I know when people buy into this myth: their resume is stuffed with skills, their bio is full of accolades, their menu is full of services. Branding isn’t about a showcase, it’s about a spotlight.

Sure you can showcase, but so what? What will you really do if you are selected?

Myth #3: Branding is about your story. Hey, I love stories. But the brand isn’t about your story, as in how you overcame dyslexia. That’s a great story. Brand is about you as a character in the story.

Yes you have a story, but now what? Who are you in my story?

Why Brand?

Branding isn’t about standing out for the sake of being different, it’s about setting yourself apart for the sake of fit.

Branding is all about the fit. 

Competition is based on similarity of talent; selection is based on the best fit of that talent.

There is something about you that no one else shares, even if they equal you in talent. And you need to do the work for anyone looking at hiring, choosing or following you by communicating what that one thing is. 

You fit where no one else best fits. 

And that’s your brand. 

Think of fit as an acronym: Where you focus. Where you are intentional. What your talents drive to.

Brand is what answers the questions:

Then What? The answer is in your focus.

Now What? The answer is in your intentionality.

So What? The answer is in where you direct your talents, not just that you have talents.

How Do I Know My Brand?

Your brand is a composition of your talents and the theme of your talents. Talent and theme indicate not only what you have done, but how you will do things.

Two exercises help you identify your brand:

First, list your top talents. Second, identify what is common to you about those talents.

To illustrate, I’m going to use the results of this exercise from some of our CIO Mastermind team.

I asked Joe Woodruff, my co-founder and our Executive Coach.

Scott: Joe, what are your top talents?

Joe: I have five. I measure the rest of my talents against them. It’s a solid five. The others are good but they can’t unseat these. I will tell you three of them.

Scott: (Laughing). Why only three?

Joe: I’m humble (we both laughed). Anyway, three of the five are Speaking, Writing and Coaching. 

Scott: Is there a theme to those? Because a lot of people are great speakers, writers and coaches.

Joe: Super great ones out there for sure. But what sets me apart, and this is true for my other two talents, is that what they all have in common is my ability to discern and read a moment when I’m doing each of them. 

Scott: Explain more. 

Joe: How often have you attended a conference and the speaker was great, but you knew that was a speech they’ve given before? They presented well, but they didn’t necessarily connect it to the people in that room and in that moment. I know how to read a room. Same with writing. There are great writers who can publish an assignment. I’m able to “read the audience” even as I write. 

Scott: So why would someone choose you to speak, write or coach over another person?

Joe: Because I discern, adjust and connect. People have an encounter. And that impacts them.

Scott: So go with Joe when you want a discerning leader?

Joe: Yes.

I talked it through with Kyle Matthews, our Candidate Champion. His top talents are in relationship building, facilitation, and building community. Again, lots of people excel in those areas. His theme? Paying radical attention. And it’s true. More than anyone on our team, he is attentive to people and the details of their needs. 

Why Kyle over anyone else? The same reason Joe and I brought him onto our team: People are personally, consistently and sensitively attended to.

Mine. I listen well. I solve problems. I attract quality people. And what is common to each of them? I’m likable. 

Do you know how I discovered my theme? Joe told me several years ago and it stuck with me. I looked at it, embraced it, and now honor it (Joe did say he was discerning 🙂

Why me over someone else? Because you will enjoy how I listen, solve problems, and attract quality people for you. Who needs more stress?

Speaking Of So What

I spent time on this because most of your resumes and promotional literature suck. (Am I still likable)?

You aren’t doing the work for other people to help them know if you fit, if you are the one among many that they are looking for.

Without being clear on your top talents and dialing in on your theme, you keep trying to “add more” and “keep all your options open.”

You can’t do that if you want to set yourself apart as the best fit. The more you add or the more you try to be only makes you more like the rest. 

You want a clear personal brand so that you are noticed, remembered and talked about: It’s the theme of your talents, and not just your talents, that get that done.

Speaking Of Now What

Once you identify your brand through the lens of your theme, you need to drill down into a message. You heard some brief ones here; discerning leader, attentive leader, likable leader. 

But those are just phrases. You need to word-smith, polish, idealize, create. The fun stuff. Unless you are not good at it.

We are. Do you want a team that is discerning, attentive and likable? We would be thrilled to help you discover, craft and communicate your brand. Find us here to set yourself apart and help people find you as the perfect fit.

Hey, you will like it :-)


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