This post by Dorie Clark first appeared at Forbes.
I had just finished a talk to a group of top leaders in Hong Kong. One woman approached me with a question. “I really enjoyed your talk on personal branding,” she said. “I can see how it would work well with my Western colleagues. But if I started to focus on my personal brand, I wonder how it would be received by my fellow Asians?”
I’ve certainly heard that before. As an adjunct professor for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business Global Executive MBA program, I work with professionals from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and it’s clear that ideas about personal branding – what’s appropriate and what isn’t – differ around the world. In fact, the insightful book Global Dexterity by Andy Molinsky identifies personal branding as one of the major areas that causes cultural challenges as we work across borders.
There’s a reason for the stereotype of the annoying American, constantly blathering about his or her achievements. In the United States, it’s seen as a virtue to be positive and self-confident, and talking about our successes is generally viewed in this light. Of course, people can go too far and alienate others, but they’re given a fairly wide latitude to self-promote.
In Asia, of course, the standards and expectations are different. Appearing humble is seen as a great virtue, so too much emphasis on building one’s “personal brand” may seem like an irrelevant (and distasteful) Western import. But let me challenge that assumption, because I believe – even in Asia – that personal branding is an increasingly important skill for every executive to master.
First, we’re working in an increasingly frenetic work environment. Most professionals receive hundreds of emails a day, and that’s not even counting Facebook and Weibo messages. If you simply wait for your boss and colleagues to notice your contribution, it’s likely that you may languish professionally, hoping for an acknowledgement or promotion that isn’t going to come. So how can you begin to focus on personal branding, in a way that fits appropriately within an Asian business context? Here are three strategies that will help build your profile, without attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Become a Quiet Hub. It’s hard to become known for something in your organization if you’re not known, period. A key part of personal branding is building your network strategically, and breaking out of the rut – which it’s easy to fall into – of only socializing with your team, or a few close colleagues. One friend of mine who worked at a large research hospital made a vow to have lunch with a different person, in a different department, each Thursday. If you adopt a similar strategy, within a year, you’ll have built a robust network, learned more about your company, made some friends, and ensured that 50 of your colleagues now have a better sense of who you are and what you can do.
Specialize in a Niche. One of the best ways to make yourself indispensable at work is to become known as an expert. Of course, many of the “expert” roles are probably already taken by longtimers at your company. So keep watch on developing trends and identify areas that will be important for your company in the future – maybe it’s wearable technology or expansion into certain emerging markets. If you become knowledgeable in this area (and let others know that you’re studying it closely), they’ll begin to turn to you for advice, and your brand will thrive.
Find a Wingman, Be a Wingman. For people who are concerned about appearing too self-promotional, one of my favorite suggestions comes from a study done by a team of academics led by Professors Robert Cialdini and Jeffrey Pfeffer. It showed that – indeed – people who were perceived as talking too much about their own accomplishments were not well-liked. However, it also showed that if a third party said those same flattering things about the individuals in question, people thought they were great! We could, of course, wait for a lucky accident, and perhaps someone will eventually say complimentary things about us. But if we want to ensure others are aware of our skills, it might be wise to recruit a “wingman.” Specifically, find a trusted friend that you respect and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. Make a pact with them that at the next conference or networking event, you’ll look for opportunities to sing their praises to others, and they can do the same for you. You’re taking a powerful step in personal branding, simply by pledging to say positive things about your friend – which hopefully you’d want to be doing, anyway.
Personal branding, done right, adapts to different cultures. It can, and should, look different in Asia than it does in the United States. But no professional can afford to ignore it altogether. Ultimately, your personal brand – your reputation – is the most important asset you have. With focus, it can help propel you to even greater business success.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and follow her on Twitter.