Jian Ghomeshi and the perils of personal branding

Posted October 28, 2014 in Latest News & Insights

“Be sure your sins will find you out”. My mother’s eyes were lit up with glee as she chanted the minister’s sermon words with great vigor at her four kids. I remember very few church sermons from childhood, but I do remember that one. It came back to me this week as the Jian Ghomeshi story started unfolding and has got me thinking about how, no matter how perfectly curated your personal brand is, it can all fall apart based on what lies beneath the highly polished surface.

There’s no shortage of things being written about the Ghomeshi situation. Whether you believe him or not, you can’t turn on any form of media without being bombarded with opinions, editorials and speculation. Initial reactions were of support – he’s a nice guy, CBC are idiots, who cares what he does in his bedroom – to pause and hesitation – there are 3 women not one? Being punched in the face doesn’t sound like Fifty Shades of Grey kink…

Regardless of where the truth lies, one thing for sure is that Jian Ghomeshi is a seasoned personal brand builder. He is savvy about the various accessible venues – his confessional came out on Facebook – and obviously knows how to get ahead of a story. Of course, none of this will matter much if the allegations made against him turn out to be true. As the cult of celebrity seeps into the mainstream, and average office workers having access to the same online profile builders as a media savvy guy like Ghomeshi, we all need to be aware of the pitfalls of personal brand building.

Your personal brand typically starts from a foundation of good work. Where it goes wrong is when the ego overtakes the work. With a laptop and a few hours invested, you can craft an amazing image of yourself online. If you’re really savvy, you can even write a book or start a podcast to give yourself a platform to express your views.  And, if you do it right, maybe you’ll get a gang of followers on Twitter. Maybe you’ll be asked to speak at some industry conferences. And, maybe – if you’re not careful – all this attention and interest will get you to start believing your own hype.  Your ego will start demanding that you feed your brand image.  You may start embellishing the truth to sound better (lying on your resume, inflating your titles or experience).  If you get away with this and the message of your “greatness” gets reinforced, your sense of entitlement will increase.  You may even start abusing whatever power your position affords.  You’ll begin to think of yourself as infallible, indestructible and irreplaceable.

And you will be wrong.

We are living in a world where the pressure is on for quick fixes, quick results and quick money. We want quick promotions and instant success and crafting a superficial personal brand can seem like a great way to short-cut hard work and ethical leadership.  Instead, we are building houses of cards that, with the slightest nudge, will collapse.

Our world needs leaders whose personal brands are built on a foundation of integrity and good work…not on “spin that sells”. Build your brand authentically and keep your ego firmly grounded in reality. You’ll be happier and you’ll never have to worry about your “sins” finding you out.  Phew!

Happy leading!


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