Labeled: The Limits of Personal Branding
This post is the fourth in a series in which the CC/PL team highlights the leadership ideas and experiences of company grade officers. Interested in contributing? Read more here. This post is from 1LT Mandi Rollinson, a US Army AG officer who uses her sonic screwdriver to upload OERs to HRC. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the Shadow Proclamation.
The recent blog entitled “Branded: Why Personal Brand Matters” describes a scenario where a leader fails to practice self-reflection to the point that the leader coasts on the behaviors that led to accolades, believing that their past success would continue to supply their future worth. However, the discussion merely scrapes the surface of perception management and fails to discuss additional downfalls. While there is the risk of not possessing enough understanding of one’s own behaviors, there is also the risk of overcompensating for perception management to the point of being consumed by that fear.
It is true that “seeing the way that the world sees you changes the way you see yourself” (Robert Girardi), but I’ll just call “branding” by what it really is: self-awareness. Being emotionally aware regarding your own actions can lead you to understand why subordinates, peers, or superiors around you act the way they do. While you should not pursue this to the point of mind-reading, this practiced skill can help illuminate others’ possible intentions. That being said, attachment to how others perceive you can quickly get out of control and transform into not only how others see you, but how you want them to see you. That hyper awareness (or even fear) of perception management can escalate into your falling victim to the very act you strove to avoid.
I knew a commander who fell into this category. Instead of focusing on investing in his soldiers or learning the background behind each of the company’s requested personnel services, he poured his energy into perception management. Examples of this include a need to have an immaculate company area and not allowing subordinates to speak up so he would not appear to be out of control of the company. That is to say, he focused solely on how he thought that an act might look to a possible observer. There’s quite a bit of personal uncertainty there — he thought long and hard about how an act might look to someone who might see it. He was so worried about how he might look when he did something that he frequently appeared incompetent and not confident in his actions and decisions.
Worse, because he was so worried about perception management, he completely ignored options that would have laid the groundwork for him to have a successful command: hearing out the ideas of subordinates, letting them make their own decisions with his guidance, or even disagreement as a means to achieve learning (for either participant). This is not only about taking accolades too much to heart that can lead you down the road of insufficiency, as the original blog commented, but also allowing potential future critiques to limit your decisions. When the pendulum swings too far on the spectrum of self-awareness, either direction can be equally disastrous.
The balance of knowing yourself and being sufficiently aware of how others make sense of your actions, without succumbing to or falsely predicting those perceptions, is a practice much like that of a sport. It is showing up with your skills and experience, practicing to make those better, and learning a few new ones from your teammates. To persuade without manipulating, to convince while still providing choice, and to lead while maintaining the truest self-image — that is the personal brand I’ll be striving for.