By: Patricia A. Hoffmeir
Senior Vice President, Tyler & Company
610-558-6100 (T) | phoffmeir@tylerandco.com (E)

As submitted to The Leadership Journal of Women Executives in Science & Healthcare

The New Year for nearly half of us (45 percent) serves as the catalyst that kick starts our efforts to self-improve; the most common resolution in 2014 was losing weight1. Keeping off pounds long term requires a healthy lifestyle incorporating nutritious food choices and exercise.

The same logic applies to successfully building and cultivating our “personal brand” – a phrase first thought to be used in an article by American writer Thomas J. Peters2 in 1997. I like to think of it as a fancy MBA term synonymous with reputation. With the evolution of the Internet and advent of social media – LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google +, Twitter and hundreds more – it is ever more important to stay true to our character, beliefs and ambitions. Our lives and how we carry ourselves are increasingly exposed as photos, messages, places we’ve frequented and connections (just to start) easily may become public, if they are not already.  

Whether we call it personal brand, reputation or personal image, it is the impression we make that molds how others perceive us. Just as highly acclaimed companies cannot falsify their way to long-term glory, nor can individuals. Reputation is earned over time, with actions as well as verbal and written messages. Education also impacts reputation, although that is based on fact. We cannot control our reputation, but can influence it. Reputation is tied to trust, wisdom and respect – qualities that are paramount in healthcare. Thus, having a good personal brand is critical as leaders in medicine since we represent organizations caring for others’ well-being. Additionally, we reside in an e-promoted country where background checks include candidates’ digital fingerprints (figuratively speaking). 

If you decide to try to influence and cultivate your reputation, keep in mind it is a long-term effort that requires discipline. It’s a lifestyle. “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it,” per Benjamin Franklin.

I recall an instance when we had confirmed an interview time and date with a candidate. She was unfashionably late, and I was worried about her welfare. It turned out she had withdrawn her candidacy, but failed to tell anyone! Had the candidate disclosed this information sooner, I would have not only listened to her reasons for withdrawing, understood and provided counsel, but also saved time in traveling to interview her. Even a short e-mail (followed up later with a call) would have been a considerate gesture. Instead, she unknowingly tarnished her image. 

While we are human, building a good personal image requires an understanding of what helps and hinders us – our unique motivators and stressors. Think of a good reputation as the image of the person you most want to be – the best you. For this, you must find what truly makes you shine, then be strategic in methodology. 

Think of a few successful and inspirational leaders you know. Chances are they are persistent, intelligent, quality-oriented, collaborative, results-driven, focused, passionate, confident, trustworthy, influential, honest and fair. Now incorporate other human factors. Are they occasional hotheads or even-keeled; workaholics or able to balance other interests important to them (e.g., family or volunteer efforts); reserved in sharing information or communicative; arrogant or confident; self-righteous or humble; rough around the edges or polished?

Think of how you would like to be perceived by others. Solicit the aid of a couple of trusted colleagues to honestly confer to you their thoughts. (Or, glean results from your last 360-degree assessment.) You may be pleasantly surprised, find that your self-perception and reputation are in sync, or discover opportunities of areas in which to improve. (For example, your peer jokingly gave you an office cot for your birthday.) Don’t dwell on your shortcomings; use that knowledge to aid your self-improvement efforts and grow as a professional and individual.
The following are ways to strengthen your personal image. 

VALUES AND INSPIRATION

  • Identify your values, as these are specific to you. They could include leadership, family, knowledge, flexibility, spirituality, commitment, compassion, challenge, ambition and charity. Google “list of values” and narrow your values to your top five. Which one is most crucial to your success and well-being, but not incorporated into your daily life? Think of small actions that bring that value into your day. After a few weeks, your new behavior should turn into a habit.

  • Find what you are passionate about, and connect emotionally. Let it inspire you. Your energy, enthusiasm and engagement will motivate others.

NICHE AND WISDOM 

  • Appreciate your professional niche – that which makes you different and a sought-after resource. This becomes part of your signature image, what you are (or will be) known for. Henry John Heinz got it right, “To do a common thing uncommonly well brings success.”

  • Be genuine in what you say and do –  authenticity builds credibility and trust.
     
  • Ensure your LinkedIn profile is complete and effective. (There are many online resources that offer step-by-step instructions and tips.) 

  • Be selective in what you share on social media sites. Ensure that it is significant to your professional audience(s) and aligns with your personal brand. Be mindful of what appeals the most to your audience(s). 

  • Promote your expertise by writing and publishing on relevant professional blogs and/or LinkedIn. The more articles, case studies and blogs you write, the more your audience(s) will refer to you as a trusted source of information regarding that particular subject. This effort also can lead to speaking engagements.  

  • Network with industry specialists and social media influencers at conferences (and other events) and online. 

COURTESY AND ETIQUETTE

  • Deliver on your promises and communicate delays. 

  • Express gratitude whenever possible.

  • Be mindful of short, written messages as they can be perceived as curt. Written words lack the benefit of your facial expressions and tone of voice.

  • The academic medicine industry is conservative. Dress professionally. 
     
  • If at a department or organization party or outing, be mindful of your attire, alcohol intake and topics of conversation.

HEALTH AND STRESS

  • Strive to be your best vs. someone you are not. 

  • Reduce stressors by identifying and minimizing them. Google ”stress reduction.” For example:  
    • Don’t overcommit; when you say “yes” to one thing, you’re saying “no” to something else. Think of honest responses to politely decline requests.
    • Write down three things you can realistically accomplish in one day and complete them. Account for interruptions. 
    • If possible, block the last hour of the day to complete administrative tasks, such as returning phone calls and responding to e-mail. Refrain from doing this throughout the day unless messages are marked “urgent.” This allows you to focus on planned tasks.  
    • Eating healthy foods; exercising and getting a good night’s sleep will help reduce stress overall and keep your body (and brain!) primed. 

Building and sustaining a professional personal brand/image/reputation take place over a career. Successful resolutions occur when we are honest with our desires; chart the course; take realistic, manageable, consistent steps; change our behaviors and habits; and ultimately alter our lifestyles for the better. Here’s to us and realizing our resolutions!

Reach WESH via phone at 215-320-3879 or e-mail at wesh@fernley.com. Visit www.weshleadership.org. Address: 100 N. 20th Street, Suite 400, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Citations

1. http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_branding