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  • Umbereen Nehal, MD, MPH

Personal Brand: 5 Steps to Lead with Your Strengths

200K followers and counting: It is a bit surreal to consider. Now that I'm starting at MIT Sloan School of Management for the one year Sloan Fellows executive MBA program, am sharing best practices with my cohort of executives from around the globe.


First, if you are a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professional, I likely already put you off with the word "brand." Maybe you associate it with calculated manipulation, by industry marketers with degrees in psychology, to sell.


To that I say: "Get over it." That is your bias and one that needs to be acknowledged, examined, then discarded. Do not block your own self with false assumptions. In fact, HR stands for Human Resources and such professionals work for an organization to manage people, human capital, as another asset. Shouldn't you manage your own self as an asset and personal resource? Then once you know yourself, tell your story.


Any good scientist knows that good outcomes are never about the method itself. All methods are flawed. What matters is if what you are doing is in service of a mission, is done with ethics and advances your unique vision to make the world a better place. Authenticity is created by you and not dependent on the method of communication.


1- Who are you? Inventory yourself

There are a number of formal and informal inventories. This page, intended for HR (Human Resources), is a nice overview: https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/pages/0615-personality-tests.aspx I prefer a combination of the MBTI and the Strengths Finder. Apart from pre-set boxes, you should assess yourself through reflection. Think back to your childhood or youth. What were your natural strengths or where did you excel? What activities did you do and why?


2- Where have you been? Reflect on your journey to date

Why did you make the choices you made? What felt like a good fit? What felt like a struggle? What accomplishments do you have and what awards can you document? Can you find metrics to capture what you have done (budget size, direct reports, rate of growth, improvement, number of projects)? Who were/are your role models and mentors? What inspires you about them?


3-Where are you now? Assess your current situation

Are you happy where you are? Do you feel energized or drained on most days? Assess what energizes and drains you both physically and spiritually. What are the things that are good and what are the things you want to change? Is there an area you want to expand or strengthen? Consider getting a coach to help you evaluate this.


4-Where are you going? Imagine and expand, then vet, validate, and narrow

Break this down into the next year, five years, and 10+ years. First generate many potential options. Then apply a realistic lens to your imagination. Are there certain problems you really want to solve? Is there a role you want? Do you need additional training or experience? Is there more than one path to a specific goal? What are the costs and opportunity costs of choices? What is your family situation, financial picture, health status? Do you like structure of larger companies or do you like flexibility of smaller settings? Do you want to work for yourself? What is your risk tolerance? Do you want to transition roles or sectors? Do you want to expand your influence through boards or additional roles? It is okay to not know.


5-Who are your people? Intentional relationship-building

Relationships work best between two people who know who they are, can share their strengths, and align on goals or shared values. Steps 1-4 set you up for successfully growing your network through authentic relationship-building. Be intentional in who you connect with or message. Use your knowledge of yourself to have an "elevator speech" that can capture "you" in 3-5 lines or a minute. It is okay to have a direct ask of someone. Listen for win-wins, alignment, and/or complementary strengths. Connect with those who have accomplished what you want to do are are in that general field. Be sure to connect with those junior to you as well. Mentors grows you and maintains growth mindset.


Bringing it together In an over-busy world with information overload, identifying and articulating your "personal brand" is like a business card that helps others know who you are, what your goals are, and how to connect with you. You personal communication strategy should then correspond to your strengths, goals, and network development plan.


“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” -Oscar Wilde


“Develop yourself so much, that before every decree, God himself will ascertain from you: 'What is it that you desire?'” -Allama Iqbal

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