One of my favorite personal brand definitions is that it's what people say about you when you're not in the room. Of course, that raises the question: how can you get a good measure of your brand when people's most honest assessments take place when you're not around? Well, the most straightforward way is to go ahead and ask them.
I recently underwent a 360°Reach assessment that does exactly that. For one of these assessments, you ask the people in your life—friends, family, coworkers, classmates—to anonymously fill out a short survey. Questions include what attributes they most associate with you, what they perceive your strengths and weaknesses to be, and projective questions like what household appliance you'd be and why. (Interestingly, those last questions can be the most insightful.)
Once you're done, how do you make the most of the results? I posed that question to career and branding adviser Denise Felder. She said there are three things you can do with this kind of information: promote it, change it, or ignore it. Here's what that means for me.
I've heard it's good to come up with a three-word personal brand that quickly lets people know what you're all about. That can be hard! How can I boil myself down to three words? My list of top attributes pretty much does the job for me. Some of my top results: Reliable, Methodical, Intelligent, Problem Solver, Collaborative, Detail-Oriented. Good stuff that I identify with and want people to know about me! Denise suggests adding keywords to resumes and social media profiles referring to the results in interviews and performance reviews.
Another of my favorite sayings is that our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. Another of my top attributes was “Picky.” Now, I'll wear picky as a badge of honor, but it does point the potential pitfalls of being a detail-oriented problem solver. Many of my results pointed to sometimes being too aggressive, critical, and condescending in pursuing the way I'd like to see things go. Seeing that side by side with my biggest attributes and strengths helps a lot in processing and contextualizing that feedback. The challenge is to be mindful of it while not blunting the ways I do stand out and add value in a team setting. Like my friend Richard said recently, the problem with a sword isn't when it gets too sharp, it's when you wield it in the wrong way.
There were a few things in there that just didn't resonate with me. And that's all right! As Denise told me, “it’s okay to ignore feedback not relevant to your goals and focus on what you find important.” I will add, though, that I think you ignore clear themes in your feedback at your own peril.
Overall, it was a very insightful experience and I'd encourage everyone to give it a try. I think many of us spend more time talking about the strengths and weaknesses of others than doing anything about our own. Exercises like this can kill two birds with one stone, creating space for self-reflection by harnessing those conversations that happen about us when we're not there.