Communicating your Personal Brand through storytelling. One of the most primal images across cultures is the storyteller whose tales encapsulate the essential elements of a culture or group. Families are shaped by the stories we were told at bedtime and throughout our lives, and the same thing happens when cultural groups or nations tell stories about themselves.
Think of the wandering minstrels who would pass on the histories of a particular group, allowing even widely dispersed groups to retain their sense of belonging to a bigger group. Stories operate on multiple levels, something which gives them their power.
For example, the Bible could be seen as a compendium of stories that communicate a certain history of the Jewish people and later the early Christians, but also a cumulative, composite story that addresses the biggest questions of life. They are able to do so because they are underpinned by a consistent narrative about the nature of God and existence.
In similar vein, stories about, say, England communicate more than just the action of the story but also something about what it’s like to be English… or American.. or Chinese. They work because they are consistent with, and support, an underlying narrative about what the country or culture stands for.
Successful leaders do something similar, using their life stories to reinforce their personal brands.
Barack Obama is a master of this, as was Margaret Thatcher. Their experiences as a mixed-race person or a lower middle class scholarship girl scaling the heights of the establishment subtly gave their public personas a real-life validity.
In our own country, we can also see how successful leaders integrate their personal stories into what they represent. A good example is Judy Dlamini, a medical doctor, successful businesswoman and the Chancellor of Wits University. It’s clear that she builds her brand’s authenticity by linking back to her own personal story. For example, an underlying theme of the Judy Dlamini brand is that one is in charge of one’s own destiny. Her teacher mother ran a tuck shop on the weekends to supplement her income, and her doctor daughter takes the same approach. Her first business was a bakery next door to her medical practice.
Similarly, her parents taught her the value of giving back, which has informed a consistent focus on community projects, adding another dimension to what she stands for. She clearly understands the power of storytelling as seen in her recent book, Equal but different, exploring the stories of female leaders.
A story is a powerful way of communicating who a leader is, and how his or her life experience has contributed to his or her personal brand. As such, it’s a way of certifying the personal leadership brand’s authenticity.
In order to be able to weave their brand into their stories, leaders obviously have to be very clear about what their personal leadership brand is, and accept that they have to be 100% consistent all of the time.
Another (former) South African leader who is brilliant at harnessing narrative is Elon Musk. Everything he does, from the smallest to tweet to a major announcement, is reinforced by—and thus reinforces—the story of the maverick genius and lateral thinker intent on changing the way things are done. He’s a disruptor, but not for the sake of disruption.
When a leader’s brand and his or her story interconnect in this profound way, they reinforce each other, and help the leader control how he or she is seen.
In the next blog, we’ll look at how a leader’s brand has to align with the brand of the organisation he or she is leading.
Click here to read It’s Your Story – Tell it Properly
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