A surprising way to create a powerful personal brand at work
When I was very young, my parents divorced, which resulted in me receiving the best gift I could have ever received: a grandfather who doted on me as if I were his daughter.
Growing up, I had a very special relationship with my grandfather. Even closer than I had with my dad.
“Gramps”, as I called him, would drive me to school, take me to my dance and music lessons, drive me and my friends around to 7-11 and McDonald’s for PopTarts and vanilla shakes.
We even had a tradition where every Sunday morning he’d pick me up and take me to the local diner to have chocolate chip pancakes…where I’d always dig the chocolate chips out of the middle of them like an archaeologist digging for bones, and then leave them looking like limp donuts.
3 years ago he passed away, and it was a devastating blow.
But since then, I’ve always reflected on the nature of the relationship we had. What made it special? What was it that was different than what I had with my parents? What did I get from him, that I didn’t get from anyone else?
I realized that there were a few very important things he did.
Simple, profound things that, oddly enough, translate into how you can truly make a name for yourself and create a powerful personal brand at work…without the icky feeling that accompanies trying to be ‘strategic’ and ‘make the right political moves’. Which, as I’ve learned, don’t sound fun to people because it feels like you’re trying to be manipulative and it violates your values.
So what was Gramps’ secret sauce?
Secret Sauce Ingredient #1: He didn’t play the role he was ‘supposed’ to play
The one most important thing I felt from my grandfather was unconditional love. I could tell, through his actions, that he saw me as his daughter, and not a granddaughter.
The way he felt so responsible for me–from making sure I got to all of my lessons on time, to offering to drive my friends home, to making sure he spent quality time with me–these were all things he didn’t ‘have’ to do. He could have just been a ‘grandparent’ and took care of me when my mom needed him to. But he went above and beyond because he saw himself as a father, and fathers do things different than grandfathers.
What might this look like for you?
If you have a certain ‘role’ you were designated to do at your company, how could you expand the definition of what that means?
For example, let’s say your specialty is in process improvement. You probably spend a lot of your time thinking about systems, operations, and how to make things more efficient.
But what if you mentally expanded that to thinking you were both a process and PEOPLE improvement specialist? Someone who’s thinking about making systems better, but also making the people you work with better, too.
What would you be doing differently?
Now, I know that a concern is: “Hey, sounds cool, but I don’t want to do this if it means more work is going to be added to my plate. I don’t want to be at the office until 9 PM every night.”
And, I know that in some environments and with certain people, it can be hard to ‘care’.
So when you’re doing this, expand the definition of what you do in a way that aligns with your strengths and what you’re excited about. For me, I AM a people person so I would love to pay more attention to how I can help people improve at work, especially if they were struggling with time management or dealing with a tough co-worker.
But for you? Maybe you’re excellent at helping people improve the quality of their meetings or creating an agenda. Such a small, simple thing that could mean so much to someone else who struggles with it.
And the best part? This doesn’t mean doing MORE. It means doing what you already do…in a DIFFERENT way…so that you are still working the same but getting even better results. Even if your new ‘role’ translated into one thing you do different, that’s a win!
Secret Sauce Ingredient #2: He was reliable as the sun rising every day
Another ‘special sauce’ Gramps had in his arsenal was that he was as reliable as clockwork. Any time he said he was going to pick me up at a certain time, he would not only follow-through, but get there 15 minutes early and honk his horn like he was about to make a PSA.
And even though I’d get annoyed sometimes, especially if I wasn’t ready, I always knew I could count on him. And when he couldn’t make it, he’d always tell me the night before so I wouldn’t be waiting.
How do you think you could become even more trustworthy and reliable?
A great way to think about this is understanding what the people you work with every day value. Maybe one guy really cares about promptness to meetings and being responsive to emails. Maybe another woman really cares about you ‘over-communicating’ and giving status updates–even if something isn’t going to be done on time.
One of my favorite articles is: Work Like a Spy: An Ex-CIA Officer’s Tips for Business Success. A powerful principle this spy talks about is ‘being a chameleon’ and understanding what different people value and giving that to them. It requires taking your observational skills up a notch and really paying attention to what seems to get the best response from people.
And the best part about this? Improving this consistently does wonders for your reputation, even if people already see you as being pretty easy to rely on. Even just improving your responsiveness to emails or messages in Slack for who it matters most to can be a game-changer, because it will put their perception of you in an even more positive light.
Secret Sauce Ingredient #3: He was the ‘Zen master’ I didn’t know I needed
I can recall many precious memories where Gramps and I would sit on his couch and he’d ask me deep, philosophical questions, like: What do you think it means to have an identity? Why do you think you’re here? What values matter most in the world?
It’s not like he had any magical answers, but the fact that he engaged with me in this way was very powerful for me. It laid an important foundation to how I think and approach life now. I’ll never forget one of the last things I heard him say: “Always be seeking answers, Felicia. Always be seeking.”
I’m certainly not saying you need to start engaging in deep philosophical discussions with your co-workers and bosses, but I AM saying that it’s worth it to ask those deeper personal questions to take a relationship from ‘surface level’ down to the real, juicy stuff.
Even something as simple as noticing your co-worker is tired or overwhelmed and saying: “Hey, it seems like you’re pretty exhausted right now” and letting them tell you what’s going on their life…and you seeing if there’s a way for you to jump in and help…is wildly effective.
Even if you don’t ‘do’ anything, you’ve given this person a chance…FINALLY!…to talk about how they really feel. It’s rare that people feel someone cares enough about them to take the time to ask those questions. A part of it is because we’re afraid of having to listen to someone for 5 hours, but the authentic gesture is profound and worth that bit of extra time. In reality it’s likely more like 10-15 minutes more of your time.
Every day I miss good old Gramps. And while this may be an ‘unconventional’ way to build a powerful personal brand, I know these work wonders when they’re applied.
Because his actions showed me that approaching people from a place of love–not making excuses for them or justifying them or having delusions about who they really are–but just love, makes every action you take that much more genuine, and your warmth and care will be felt. Perhaps silently appreciated, but deeply felt, and down the line, you will see this come true with how people treat you and talk about you.
What’s one of the ‘secret sauce ingredients’ that you’re going to try to apply? Leave a comment below and tell me. I’d love to hear, and respond to you personally.