Color Outside the Lines

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I swear it was my elementary school teachers who unleashed the rebel in me. They were always telling me what I “couldn’t” do rather than fostering my inner passions. And coloring outside the lines is a great metaphor for authentic personal branding … because our personal and professional lives intertwine, whether we want them to or not.

Two opposite examples come immediately to mind, and probably should never be used in the same sentence, but … Tiger Woods and Tim Tebow.

Tiger Woods tried to color inside the lines. He kept his personal and professional lives separate and apart, thinking (or possibly hoping) that no one would ever be the wiser. His brand (which was really nothing more than a facade) was clean cut, family-oriented, and wildly successful … good guys CAN finish first. It was also a complete farce. When you act one way to an adoring public and completely opposite behind closed doors, it is only a matter of time until the truth bleeds over the lines. Our personal and professional lives do overlap, and no amount of effort to keep the colors from crossing the lines will work forever. Particularly not in the Internet era.

Tim Tebow is the epitome of an authentic personal brand. Much has been written about him, both his athletic prowess and faith on the field and his leadership and faith off the field. He is who he is, like him or hate him, he is the real deal. Because he is the same person on the field as he is off the field, his lines are so blurred you can’t tell where personal ends and professional begins.

We’ve seen more than our share of brand damage to finance executives in the past few years. Those headlines seem to be almost daily, but certainly weekly. The colors seeped through closely guarded lines and for some, caused irreparable damage not only to the individual but to many companies.

Where do you fall? Do you color inside the lines … working diligently to keep your personal life from detracting from a professional facade? Or, do you blur the lines and embrace the power of authentic branding … recognizing that how you are hardwired has contributed to your successes both in and outside of your career?

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4 thoughts on “Color Outside the Lines”

  1. This is one tough subject for many. With Tiger we are witnessing perhaps the single biggest personal brand collapse in history and its being driven by personal indiscretions deemed important, ironically, by a country with a divorce rate at 50% or higher. Its got nothing to do with his athletic ability. Tim Tebow is all together a different story. There are hundreds of NCAA athletes of similar character and brand who are unknown on the national scale because they haven’t been in the limelight. Nevertheless, the comparison is valid, but that’s not the point I want to make.
    There certainly has been a cultural shift in this country with respect to how much of your personal brand is truly relevant to your employer. Anti-discrimination rules prevent an employer from asking even simple questions that you may choose to disclose online. Since we are talking about Tiger I’ll give you an example. Would the fact that an individual had been divorced three times influence your hiring decision? If no, what if commitment was your number one hiring objective?
    The importance of personal fit to an organization has also evolved over time. It used to be and perhaps even still is in larger companies largely irrelevant what your personal life is about as long as you can do the job you’re being paid to do. Personal demands become more relevant in smaller companies where the lines of commitment to the cause often blur.
    You can be genuine and have an authentic personal brand without disclosing much of your personal life. Once you do, however, there is no turning back. That’s why it is a tough subject for many.

  2. It is a tough subject, Mike, and the whole online identity process is still evolving.
    I still believe that when you bring authenticity to the table … that is, you are who you are regardless of where you are … you have the strongest positioning. Choosing to disclose or not disclose parts of your personal life is not the point I was trying to make … choosing to be authentic is.
    Tiger was not “just” a great golfer. He had a squeaky-clean, wholesome, family-oriented image. If his PR department had positioned him as a bad-boy, philandering golfer … he would still be a great golfer with his brand intact.


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