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Why Building Up Your Organization, Not Your Personal Brand, Is a Better Strategy

Why Building Up Your Organization, Not Your Personal Brand, Is a Better Strategy

Zach Brooke

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There’s a lot of talk about engineering your personal brand. But what if individual brand building was wasted energy?​​

Brian de Haaff, co-founder and CEO of product roadmap software Aha! and author of Lovability: How to Build a Business That People Love and Be Happy Doing It, asks the audacious question of whether having a personal brand is worth it. De Haaff spoke with Marketing News a​bout his belief that personal brand building, especially at work, is counterproductive to goals of getting ahead.​

Q: Why are personal brands bad?

A: I don’t think personal brands are bad. It’s a question of focus. We would never say that a personal brand is something to be avoided. All great accomplishments are the result of teams, and you only have so many hours in a given day. The question is where do you want to put your focused energy? In an organization, putting the organization first is important most of the time.


Q: How can you put an organization first?

A: You can improve how you communicate with the team. You can improve the dynamics with the team. The results of your team benefit you in the long run, so emphasizing effort in a team-based environment is superior to spending the same amount of time trying to bolster your own personal brand.

Q: How do you define personal brands? 

A: We all have a personal brand, right? Everything about us is a characteristic. To answer that question, we have to take a tougher look at what a brand is. A brand is a set of perceptions that anyone important to you has about you, and those perceptions are created through interactions over time. Brands under that definition can be an organization or a person. A personal brand is nothing more than the perceptions that people you care about have about you.

Q: How do you highlight your contributions when you’re up for review?

A: At our best, all of us are operating in a transparent, supportive, goal-oriented way. Promotions are irregularly achieved based on some short-term task or objective reached. We want to be doing our work in a proactive way that’s aligned with the goals of the organization such that people can understand that we are contributing to the team and the organization. If we do that, we tend to have support throughout the organization for taking on additional levels of responsibility. No matter where you are in that process, ensure that you can clearly communicate what the goals are, what the team has achieved and—without a lot of hype or hyperbole—what you did that contributed to the teams’ success. 

Q: Say there’s someone currently spending a lot of time cultivating their personal brand. What happens if they stop and use all that time to become a better team player? 

A: The “you” actually can come out because very few of us are laden in that level of narcissism or self-focus. It gives us a chance to present a broader view of ourselves without the glossy finish that can sometimes be a distraction and keep people from actually getting to know who you are, what you’ve accomplished and your aspirations.

The same can be said within an organization. Communicating clearly and transparently gives people a better understanding of who you are. It gives you more time to actually be a good teammate and to be an important contributor to the organization. If you give good people a framework for success, and you give them more time to be successful, most of the time they will achieve something meaningful. 

Zach Brooke is a former AMA staff writer turned freelance journalist. His work has been featured in Chicago magazine, Milwaukee Magazine, A.V. Club and VICE, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Zach_Brooke.