How IT leaders can cultivate their personal brand

How IT leaders can cultivate their personal brand

An IT leader's personal brand can shape both career opportunities and talent recruitment. Here's a framework for thinking about your brand and the steps you can take to enhance it

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CIO as Digital Leader

It’s become increasingly fashionable for IT leaders to talk about establishing a personal brand. Their motivations are obvious. They hope their brand will expand their access to future career opportunities, such as leadership positions in larger companies or board seats with publicly-traded firms. They also hope their brand will give them a competitive advantage in the escalating competition for IT talent.

In the not so distant past, leaders were more concerned with building their reputations, not their brands. Reputations are earned through experience and accomplishments, whereas brands are often manufactured in a more intentional fashion. However, let’s assume the two terms are synonymous and that a positive brand is a direct reflection of a positive reputation. The terms brand and reputation are used interchangeably below.

[ Stop making these six avoidable IT talent recruitment mistakes. Read: 6 biggest IT talent recruitment mistakes ]

4 areas to focus your personal branding efforts

There are many dimensions to a personal brand, but IT leaders generally possess one or more of the brands referenced below.

Internal company brand

IT leaders typically deal with a variety of business colleagues within their organizations. Over time they develop internal reputations based on their business knowledge, operational skills, and people management abilities. 

How it can help: A strong internal brand can turn your business associates into your biggest cheerleaders and materially enhance your external reputation through their interactions with their professional networks. Good or bad, every IT leader has an internal brand.

Vendor community brand

Anyone who has a direct relationship with one or more vendors has a vendor reputation that falls somewhere on this spectrum.

Most IT leaders have extensive interactions with vendors. Vendor representatives freely exchange what they think about a leader’s ability to inspire their teams, foster innovation, and influence the thinking of their business peers. Vendors readily characterize IT leaders as intelligent, straight-shooting change agents seeking to make the best business decisions for their companies, or as dinosaurs more interested in playing politics and maintaining the status quo than in introducing new capabilities. Anyone who has a direct relationship with one or more vendors has a vendor reputation that falls somewhere on this spectrum. 

How it can help: Vendors are frequently aware of impending leadership changes at other companies in your local area. If they admire you, they’re likely to inform you about local career opportunities that you may wish to discreetly pursue. They may also tip you off about highly-regarded professionals at other companies who might be able to fill critical positions on your team.

Local or regional brand

Internal and vendor brands typically provide the foundation for the brand that leaders develop within their local IT communities. External brands – whether local or national – require a degree of cultivation. Leaders must find time to participate in local societies, attend conferences, speak at vendor events, and publicly support civic causes. In theory, it might be possible to manufacture a positive local brand in the presence of less-than-stellar internal and vendor brands, but in practice it is exceedingly difficult to do so. 

How it can help: Positive local brands can play a key role in future recruiting activities. Individuals are drawn to organizations that visibly display enlightened, energetic leadership. The investment of time in the local activities listed above will likely pay major dividends in attracting exceptional talent to your organization in the future.

National brand

A positive national brand may enable you to attract out-of-state job candidates who would otherwise be disinterested in exploring opportunities on your team.   

National brands take the longest to develop. They are directly based on the internal, vendor, and local brands discussed above. If a leader has a positive reputation in all three of these dimensions, it’s relatively easy to establish some form of national recognition for their past achievements. It simply requires taking additional time to participate in societies, conferences, and events of national significance.

How it can help: By growing your national (or even international) brand, you are much more likely to be contacted by recruiters conducting searches for companies that operate outside your region (or country). Likewise, a positive national brand may enable you to attract out-of-state job candidates who would otherwise be disinterested in exploring opportunities on your team.   

How to build your external brand

Executive recruiters have a pretty simple formula for cultivating an external brand: post online comments, write articles (like this one), speak at conferences, and volunteer on the boards of local nonprofit organizations. While those are all useful activities in principle, they are extremely ineffective in practice unless you also do the following.

Establish a personal point of view

No one wants to read your blog or listen to your presentation if you’re simply restating conventional wisdom. Take a hard look at your skills, knowledge, and experience and ask yourself if you truly have a personal point of view on some topic of current interest to the IT community. Perhaps your experience qualifies you to opine on the nuances of successful dual cloud operations or DevSecOps engineering or endpoint security.  If so – and only if so – then use your personal knowledge and experience to join the current debate. Avoid presenting insights that are common industry knowledge. 

Network

You actually have to work on developing an audience for your blogs and external presentations and you do this through professional networking. Networking is more than going to a conference and exchanging business cards with strangers. Network connections need to be sustained through periodic interactions, either social or business-related. For example, you might congratulate a professional acquaintance on the success of her college football team or reach out for advice on a pending procurement decision.

Remember, true networking occurs when leaders help one another be successful.

Look for reasons to interact with key members of your network on an intermittent basis such as sharing an article, asking a question, or expressing an opinion on the latest IT news headline. Remember, true networking occurs when leaders help one another be successful.

[ Feel a bit of dread at networking events? Read: How to work a room: No-fail networking tips.]

Polish your writing and speaking skills

The people you work with everyday must read what you write and listen when you speak. Tap this captive audience to hone your communication skills. Put extra effort into improving the clarity and sophistication of your internal communications with business colleagues. Refine standard presentations and reports in ways that directly address the needs and interests of your target audience. Think about ways of presenting results in business terms and business context, not in IT jargon. Efforts such as these will boost your internal reputation and improve the effectiveness of your external communication skills at the same time. Practice may not make you perfect, but it can make you a better speaker and author (in many cases, much better).

Guidance from a timeless resource 

If you’re planning to launch your personal branding campaign this year, I suggest picking up a copy of Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Although it’s over 70 years old, Carnegie’s book provides timeless advice on the virtues of perceptive listening, displays of gratitude, willingness to admit mistakes, and even smiling. More than 30 million copies have been sold, and it’s still in print. It’s actually a book about personal branding even though that’s not its stated intent. It describes behaviors that can enhance an individual’s reputation and allow them to succeed in the business world. Carnegie’s homespun suggestions should be treated as essential elements of any personal branding campaign.    

[ Learn more about the role branding can play in IT talent recruitment. Download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era. ]

Mark Settle is a seven time CIO with broad business experience in information services, enterprise software, consumer products, high tech distribution, financial services and oil & gas.  He has led IT organizations that support the internal business operations, product development activities and customer-facing service capabilities of multiple Fortune 500 companies.

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