Everyone manages their personal "brand" to a certain degree--I will not disagree with that in the least. Personal brand management is the reason why kids don't want to be kissed by their mother in front of the class, why people don't show up at work naked, and even why people keep secrets from others--people avoid being seen negatively in the minds of their peers. Fine.
But when a business leader compares me to a retail store brand? When I am supposed to conform my external behavior specifically with the intent of portraying myself as a person I am not? Really? I have been told from leadership to follow these steps in managing my "brand":
1) I need to think about what words pop into other peoples heads when they think about me,
2) evaluate those words and ask myself, "do these words push me in the direction I want to go? What makes these people say these words?"
3) in the case that there are unwanted "brand associations" I need to readjust my "marketing strategy" in order to leave positive associations with those I come in contact with in the future. Areas of consideration include: how I dress, what I talk about, first impressions, types of words I use, the food I eat, the car I drive, the colors I wear (did you know that wearing blue buys you more subconscious credibility?), and about one thousand other completely irrelevant and shallow "perception management" items.
To my shock, the emphasis was overwhelmingly centered on displaying the external behaviors of an ideal business person instead of developing the substance of a person which is the catalyst for behavior. If there must be such a crude contrivication as a personal brand, then it can be nothing less than a consequence of who you are, and who you are should never be a consequence of your desired brand.
After learning about the importance of personal brand management, I became conscious of the reason behind the stereotype of the shallow and insincere business person. You know the person; the one with the extended beauty pageant smile and the strong hand shake who touts constantly his own accomplishments, who's eyes dart about the room searching for more important people to talk to even while in conversation with you, who takes your business card and sizes up your worth by your title and connections.
Perhaps that stereotypical business person is not to blame for such conduct as much as those leaders who propagate and disseminate the most certainly corrupt idea that ungenuine conduct is a necessary requisite to success. And if I am wrong, if this most perverse idea proves to be true and is ingrained in all business culture, then my ideas of standard business culture will be exposed as high minded idealism and I will not stand long in the presence of a newly perverse environment.
But to that business person who is genuine, who does not talk insincerely and determines of equal value both the person of high title and the person of meager status, he is not necessarily the business person who will go farthest and achieve the most in the short run. However, people are not easily deluded, even the best of social actors with the best personal brand and strong first impression will, in the long run, inevitably be exposed. And when the very carefully cultivated personal brand can no longer sustain the superficially yoked marriage with the true person, there will be a divorcing of the two and only the person, not the brand, shall remain.
But there are more tragedies that befall the ungenuine business person than certain eventual exposure. From close-hand experience I have seen the performances of these people and the act devours their souls, causing depression, isolation, and intense fear--fear that perhaps someone might find out and expose their duplicity. In this way the ungenuine may reap an increased degree of short term success but at a cost certainly more significant than I would care to bear.