Tell us a bit about who you were before the change? What was your personal brand (i.e. how other people perceived you)? What were you known for?
Before I changed the direction of my personal brand and became more focused on developing my personal brand, I was focused on being a career scientist with an academic, expert style. I wanted my work to be front and centre and I thought that being almost indistinguishable behind my work was the best way to be. Being front and centre would have felt like ‘showing off.’ I also didn’t want to step forward for fear of being told I was a ‘show off’ or arrogant. I also worked alongside a person who was most comfortable as the charismatic showman in the room and, whilst I used to be concerned from time to time about being seen as the Magician’s Assistant, I had hoped that the academic quality of what I brought to the whole picture of the work we did with clients would be appreciated. I think the quality of my work was appreciated – but I was definitely also being seen as the Magician’s Assistant rather than the real driving force of innovation and quality in the work that was delivered.
How would you compare today’s version of you to the one before?
I now realise that my clients want and value a personal connection with me and not only my work. My presence and attention has value as well as my ideas. I am now seen as the woman with the bright ideas, the insights and experience, as well as the one that can be trusted to accompany global leaders on their growth journeys. Today’s version of me is much more rooted in the deeper sources of value that I can create beyond the articles, book chapters, presentations, proposals or reports that I can write. I am also far more confident about standing in that value and expecting more from business partners, being unwilling to give away my power and value to situations that are not true partnerships.
Tell us where you are now and how your brand has changed?
My brand has changed not only by me stepping forward much more in front of customers so that they get to know me more, beyond the work that I produce, but also by being more willing to share my challenges and difficulties. I learned a valuable lesson from my own coach that it’s important to be a whole person within our business, not only the shiny person but the one that is ‘shining on skinned knees.’ It can be all too easy to imagine that the highly experienced and competent people that I coach have very few insecurities or challenges of their own. But the reality is that even the most senior leaders can find themselves painted into a corner where they think others expect them to always ‘be perfect’ and feel unable to share with others their deepest concerns and fears. By being willing to step out of that personal brand blind alley myself and share the darker challenges, people feel as though they can trust me to work with them beyond the shiny exterior.
What made you think you needed to change? Was it a bolt of lightning moment or did it happen over time?
I had been feeling concerned about the development of my personal brand within that business partnership and had spoken with my business partner about this sense that I was becoming the Magician’s Assistant. He had reassured me this wasn’t the case at all, but I was seen as the expert, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. So there was a gradual sense of knowing that I needed to change something but I wasn’t sure what. It was a productive and fruitful partnership and I didn’t see how I could completely change my personal brand within that context. However, something happened that made me realise I needed to move away from that context and redefine and reposition my personal brand so that I was more front and centre. My business colleague called me one day in rather a panic after he had been told that he wasn’t making enough profit in his business. His call was to tell me he was unilaterally changing the terms of our agreed ways of working together. After this conversation the cost of having become in the eyes of the customer the Magician’s Assistant became apparent. Working to develop somebody else’s personal brand, as I had been, had resulted in me ending up in a more vulnerable position from a business point of view. I vowed that wouldn’t happen again and I worked hard for the following three years on entirely repositioning my value proposition and the way that I worked with clients.
How did you set things in motion? Did you leap in or make the change in increments?
I made the change over a period of time, probably a progressive change of about 3 years, but in that first year after the fateful conversation with my soon-to-be ex business partner, I invested in a lot of coaching and support in redefining my business and my personal brand. I redesigned my website and I made brave decisions about not working in certain ways any more. For example, I started to reduce any work that I did that meant I was only growing someone else’s brand and not my own. I also stepped forward more powerfully in the way I communicated – and this is an ongoing learning process for me.
What was the reaction of others? Did they support you or did they resist the change?
Overall, the reaction was very positive and clients became even happier to refer me and call me. Since then, I have also been clear that I was not looking to work in a behind the scenes role where I developed other businesses’ brands at the expense of my own and that I wanted a more equal partnership approach. Some people have, therefore, been surprised when I’ve turned down their offers that they thought I should have leapt at. I learned a valuable lesson in this. As I started to step forward with a more powerful personal brand, I attracted people who would tell me, ‘you can’t be successful without me.’ That became my new red flag for moving away from a potential partner. But I also attracted fantastic people who would say, ‘you can do this, Wendy!’ and who would support me. They were the ones who became my new partners.
What was your most valuable resource/what kept you going?
The love of what I do and the way in which it helps clients to grow is what kept me moving forward. My most valuable resource has been the circle of supporters who have cheered and nudged and celebrated and commiserated with me along the way.
How do you feel now that you’ve made the change?
I feel more powerful, more focused, more determined, more confident and more creative now that I’ve changed my approach.
What’s your advice to anyone contemplating something similar?
Keep an ear open for the people who tell you, ‘you can do this’, love them and embrace them wholeheartedly as your support circle. Nurture their confidence and their dreams in turn. Move away from anyone who tells you that you need them in order to be successful.
Thanks for such an inspiring interview, Wendy!