What You Need to Know About Having a Personal Brand

(Master Sgt. Eric Amidon/U.S. Air Force photo)

I recently taught a personal branding workshop for transitioning military personnel at a local military installation. Afterward, a gentleman approached me and stated, "I'm a surgeon in the military. I'll be a surgeon in my next career."

He was excited that he'd found a career path and was anticipating a (likely) smooth transition out of uniform. Then he wanted to confirm, "So I don't need a personal brand, correct? Social media, narrative, elevator pitch, image -- those don't apply to me, right?"

What Is a Personal Brand?

A personal brand is a feeling, an expectation of an experience of being with you -- working with you, hiring you, contracting you, etc. Brands give us an emotional connection to value that we desire. Product or company branding is the same idea; we create emotional connections between products and target consumers (for instance, drink this coffee and you will feel successful and confident) and between companies and their clients (i.e., hire this company and you will feel valued, appreciated and safe).

Personal branding is not just about "packaging" yourself or selling yourself as something you are not. Your personal brand lives in your reputation, in the minds of the people you target. It identifies what makes you unique and clearly communicates that uniqueness to an audience that needs you.

Branding is all about the emotions that drive behavior. We move close to things that make us feel good and away from things that cause us pain.

Everyone has a personal brand because we're all known for something. You may not be known for what you want to be known for, but you have a reputation. Your reputation may have been the guiding force behind most of your success to date, or it may have been what has held you back from achieving your dreams.

Why a Surgeon Needs a Strong Personal Brand

While a surgeon might believe they operate, head down, in a sterile operating room, there is more to it than that. Hospitals hire surgeons who are technically competent; who will show integrity, hard work, patient care, compassion to families; and who will work well with other staff. Competence, skill and experience are only part of the experience; the way that surgeon interacts with others also determines whether hospital leadership promotes, advances and supports the surgeon in critical situations.

Today, patients also have choices in the medical professionals they request and hire. Reputation matters. If I can choose between two competent, skilled and experienced surgeons -- one who receives rave reviews for his compassion and follow-up, and the other who is perceived to be difficult to understand by his former patients -- I'll choose the former.

Everyone Needs a Strong Personal Brand

My rule of thumb is that everyone who interacts with other people needs a strong personal brand. If perception drives opportunity, then managing that perception is critical. If their colleagues see them as pushy, arrogant and dismissive, the surgeon might find his career opportunities limited, or their hospital privileges watched more closely. If he is perceived as warm, thoughtful and supportive, the nurses and other doctors he works with will endorse and advocate for him.

Ultimately, your brand is your legacy. It is the way you are known today, and how you will be remembered when you leave. Your legacy is the most realistic representation of how you lived, behaved and interacted with others, and how they felt about you. So, yes, even a surgeon needs a personal brand to ensure their values are perceived by the people they seek to serve.

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