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Building Your Brand For People of Color:
It’s All About Trust!

By Sue Hodgkinson

When it comes to building your breakthrough personal brand as a person of color, trust is the name of the game and although it may sound straightforward, creating a brand centered around trust requires both pro-activity, extra attention and consistent focus. First, consider the 5P’s of Leadership Brand®:

Persona: the emotional connection and reaction you elicit in others as a result of your personal attitude, energy, vision, values, worldview and behavioral style

Product:  Your skills, intellect and how you bring it forward to make a leadership impact in your organization

Packaging:  How you wrap your product (yourself, and your ideas)

Promotion:  Creating your strategic market position by determining who needs to know about you and what it is you choose for them to know

Permission:  Your own sense of self-legitimacy and self-confidence.

One aspect of Persona your brand has become so important in this new, recessionary era that it deserves very focused attention as you navigate your way forward. The single most important thing you can do to build your brand and job security today is generate and sustain trust. This idea has a number of important dimensions, and is particularly challenging for people of color who often already face the challenge of ‘distance due to difference’ from traditional core power structures in organizations. Trust is made up of four critical component parts:

1. Deliver!  Deliver what you promised, and deliver it really well. Create a brand that is distinctive based on others’ complete confidence in your ability to deliver.

It might sound obvious, but delivering on stated commitments actually isn’t something everyone does, on time and as promised. Today’s high-risk environment means that if you don’t deliver, even on mundane matters, a question mark shows up around your brand. Create a sense of dependability for yourself by acknowledging request with ‘will do,’ or ‘done,’ and then do it!  Also, keep that disciplined ‘to do’ list, and update your manager ahead of deadlines to assure him/her that each commitment is on track and will be delivered by x date.

2. Be sure key decision-makers would say ‘you have my back’. If you are prone to gossip, or to fail to stand up for others when the moment counts, you are a liability, and therefore a potential threat to others who are already anxious in this job environment.

One executive said he knew his colleague had his back when the colleague phoned him at home one evening to warn the executive of a potential issue that might arise in a meeting the next day, so he could be prepared to handle it. In effect, the executive needed to be prepared to handle criticism about an aspect of his operation; without the call he would have been blindsided.

3. Be honest, but be smart about how and when! Trust is all about integrity and integrity is about being honest and making and carrying out decisions that are consistent with your core values. It’s one thing to make difficult decisions—even painful ones—that are part of doing business in difficult times, but it’s quite another to act in ways that are in violation with your core values. Senior leaders look to others on their teams to level with them, and give them the truth, even when the news is not good. But no one, especially in the high-risk employment environment, wants to be criticized in public. So, deliver the message, but if it’s a tough one do so one-on-one, in private. And share it only with the person(s) who needs to know.

4. Work to connect, personally, so others would say they genuinely ‘know you.’  When a manager has to hire between two or more people for one slot, the odds are she or he will make the selection on which individual they ‘knows’ better. Perhaps you have been in this position yourself. Everyone today is interested in lowering the odds when it comes to personal risk, and selection is part of this. Take stock of your network:  how diverse is it? Who are your champions, today, who still hold positions of power and influence in the organization? The ranks of professionals of color in many organizations today has diminished significantly due to downsizing. Proactively reaching out, whether you feel comfortable doing it or not, is 100% in your control. You can close the gap of distance that difference can so artificially create. And your manager has an obligation to open doors for you for networking as well.

You can connect personally with anyone!  All it takes is your willingness to be proactive and to be sincerely curious about your colleague. Stop by their desk, or call them on the phone, and say hello or to follow up on a project. Rather than jumping into the project, however, make time upfront to ask how the person is, what they are doing for vacation, etc., and then stay with that more social piece for a mere five minutes!  ASK a few follow up questions to show your interest in their vacation. Answer with sincerity when they ask you about yours; offer an insight into who you are as a person when you do. You will be your own judge of whether you connected with your colleague simply by how you feel five minutes in!

Today’s work environment is fraught with peril and challenges, but creating and sustaining a brand of trust is a crucial, controllable commitment you can make—and expect from others—as you move ahead.

Susan Hodgkinson founded The Personal Brand Company in 1994. She is a leadership development expert, award-winning executive coach, professional speaker and creator of the Leadership Brand Management and Personal Brand Management methodologies. She holds a MBA from Simmons School of Management and is on the Executive Education faculty there as well as adjunct Faculty at the World Economic Forum in Geneva, The Ross School of Business at University of Michigan and Babson College Executive Education. She is a frequent presenter and keynote speaker at national conferences and author of the new book, The Leader’s Edge: Using Personal Branding to Drive Performance and Profit.

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