Can too much personal branding be bad for you? In a recent conversation with Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson, she pointed out what I’ll call “the paradox of personal branding” – the fact that you can indeed overdose on too much of a good thing.
What’s not to like about a smart, realistic focus on how to manage your reputation in the workplace? Hopefully, it can enable you to home in on your strengths, compensate for weaknesses, and make you a better (and better-respected) professional. Indeed, says Edmondson, personal branding is good “if it leads people to be thoughtful about how visible and transparent everything really is.”
But there’s also an underbelly. She’s studied fear in the workplace and realized the extreme and sometimes outsized level of discomfort employees can feel at the thought of speaking up. On one hand, they’re driven to “stay safe” by not standing out from the crowd – and on the other, they’re pulled to distinguish themselves through “brand you” and a march toward authenticity (real or imagined). “How do you stand out? How do you manage your reputation but not be too cautious at the same time?” she asks. “It’s an impossible problem – until you forget about that problem and worry about something a little bit more meaty.”
The antidote, says Edmondson – author of the new Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy – is to focus on something larger than yourself: “If we go after something of importance that we care about, we’ll learn new skills and we’ll thrive and connect and network. If we go after the network – how do I find the right people so I can get myself into a position where I can write my own ticket? – you might miss the boat. But go after the problem, and you’ll both develop and demonstrate your value to others.”
In a competitive marketplace, personal branding is here to stay – and it can pay career dividends by focusing you on where you want to be and how to get there. And few would disagree with the benefits of a more authentic workforce that is willing to speak up for what they think is right (though, per the knock on millennials, they might get annoyed in the process). But the true secret of leveraging your personal brand is to ensure it’s not just about you and your ambitions, but the value you can bring to the world.
How are you living out your personal brand? Are there causes or projects you feel are central to your identity?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.