Disruptive. If you look at the dictionary definition of the word, there are two — almost polar opposite — expressions. They are:
1. Troublesome, unruly, badly behaved and undisciplined, or, alternatively, 2. Innovative and groundbreaking.
I’ve worked with CEOs, leaders and entrepreneurs from both categories. Early in my career, for instance, I met with the president of a small bank who had a reputation for hurling items (phones, paperweights, etc.) at anyone who dared to bring him bad news. Disruptive personal brand? You bet. And in a destructive way.
Compare this to a client I had who took over as president of a 125-year-old East Coast manufacturing business. Its corporate culture, as you can imagine, was deeply entrenched, and there was resistance to change on all fronts. With power (but not force), my client let it be known that there was a new sheriff in town and things were going to change. Within a short time, he had begun to interrupt the business-as-usual attitude and got his senior staff engaged in creating a new vision for the future of the company — so much so that a new brand (and new business to go with it) emerged.
In short, his personal brand was disruptive in an innovative way, and he used that to transform the business.
So, how can you embrace being a disruptive leader — in a good way — with your own brand? Here are some of the best practices.
1. Exhibit radical accountability.
CEOs with an innovative disruptive personal brand go beyond the garden-variety apology when things go wrong. They seek to not only fix the immediate problem but look a layer (or two, or three) deeper and address — without blame — the underlying issues that created the problem in the first place.
Destructively disruptive entrepreneurs or leaders, in contrast, hold fast to the old adage, “Never admit fault.” They are stingy with their admission of responsibility and generous when it comes to handing out the blame.
2. Practice courageous authenticity.
These leaders say what they mean and mean what they say. CEOs or entrepreneurs with an innovatively disruptive personal brand have core values that guide their choices and their conversations. They are not afraid of being vulnerable and of creating an emotional connection with others. In fact, they see it as a strength.
Destructively disruptive leaders, however, hold their cards close to their vest and are slow to reveal what they are really thinking or feeling. They consider vulnerability a weakness; and, always the political animal, they spin their story for the audience at hand.
The two points above represent the emotional side of the disruptive personal brand. But there is a practical aspect as well, illustrated in the next two points.
3. Create a CEO content strategy.
Innovatively disruptive CEOs and entrepreneurs don’t just share information, they use it as an opportunity to reveal who they are and to build their personal brand. In the same way that many disruptive brands use a content strategy, a CEO or entrepreneur can do the same. A few examples include:
• Authoring a short ebook, white paper or report
• Publishing a traditional book
• Starting a CEO blog, separate from the company blog, or having a “The CEO Speaks” category on the business blog site
• Regularly contributing articles to online and off-line publications in his or her industry
• Video blogging
• Starting a podcast
Destructively disruptive CEOs or entrepreneurs, on the other hand, often consider a personal content strategy a waste of their time and a job best left to the marketing department.
4. Leverage your LinkedIn profile.
With few exceptions, almost every entrepreneur, leader or CEO who asks me for help with a personal brand has a poor LinkedIn profile. The innovatively disruptive ones know it matters and want to fix it. The destructive disruptive shrug their shoulders and say, “No one really reads that.”
In fact, they do. Seventy-seven percent of people who are going to interact with you will check you out first on LinkedIn, and 66 percent of reporters use LinkedIn as a place to find sources for their stories.
The bottom line on all of this? The most effective CEOs and entrepreneurs bring their personal brand to the marketplace as a parallel to their business’ brand. So, for everyone’s sake, please go out there and shake things up. Be disruptive.