When Your Skills Aren’t Valued, Lead With Your Personal Brand Instead

Illustration by Dreamstime
Illustration by Dreamstime

Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where your gifts and skills don’t line up with the type of skills that are valued in your environment.

You might get shut out or pushed down because of it. It is stressful and uncomfortable.

When this happens, there is a tendency to go on the defense — to prove that you belong there, and to try and show that you can be more like them. But you’re not.

When you try to do this you put yourself on a bad foot.

You are not at your best. You are caving into the pressure and expectations of the group, and trying to win them over by being something false, that you are not good at.

Use your brand to turn the situation around

When I talk about the value of building your personal brand, solving this problem is one of the big payoffs.

Having your personal brand defined lets you put your best foot forward with great confidence all of the time, especially when you are in a situation or environment where you are not comfortable.

If you are clear about your personal brand, you don’t need to be defensive when you don’t fit. You can use it to sell your strong points.

You’ll be more confident and more impressive.

Here are some examples of ways people have used their personal brand to go on the offence, build confidence, and get an advantage.

Example 1: “Boring old person” in an Internet startup

I loved this feedback from a woman who heard me speak on personal brand, and put the idea into action.

She found herself bidding for work in an Internet startup company full of hip 20-somethings. She was initially concerned that she would not fit with their culture — like she might be viewed as their mother! As a result, she was concerned she would be under-valued even though she believed she could help them.

Don’t even try to fit in.

But with her personal brand in focus, she decided not to even try and fit in, and not to worry about it. Instead she decided go in unapologetically with her personal brand which was about focus, achieving clarity, and translating ideas into revenue.

Staying on brand made it easy for her to engage this group. It removed the stress and the uncertainty. By focusing on her brand, she gave herself the opportunity to sell her strengths without hesitation.

She was able to demonstrate truly authentic confidence. Instead of being cautious and defensive and trying to earn their respect on their terms, she wowed them on her terms. She got the job.

Example #2: Business person in a technology organization

This was me at various points in my career. Although I have a technology background and an engineering degree, I am a business leadership expert, not a technology expert.

I know many people who have this particular problem in technology companies. The environment doesn’t respect you because you are “not technical enough.”

What I did was to go back to my brand, and build my confidence, from an authentic position of strength. Instead of defending my right to be there by trying to convince them that I was technical enough, I went on the offense.

“You don’t need another one of you.”

I would say:

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The last thing you need is another technical person. We have plenty of them around here, and I’ll never be as smart as you on technology. What I contribute is an understanding of the people who use our products and what motivates them. I can translate all this technology into things that they not only care about, but want to spend their money on. I can help bring revenue in. You don’t need another technical person, you need one of me. (Implied, respect me. I’m different, but I can do things you can’t.)”

It put me on solid ground. It made me feel confident.

I didn’t’ care if they thought I wasn’t technical enough, because I had real value to offer. It gave me strong executive presence, because I was using the part of my brand of being straightforward, business-focused, and making real and useful connections with people.

I did not need to be defensive (or technical). I became respected.

Example #3: Program manager in an engineering organization

Another non-technical person I work with used a similar approach in a highly technology focused engineering organization. She was being challenged on her lack of engineering pedigree. Did she really belong here? Many people thought not.

Pedigree doesn’t matter. Results matter.

Instead of getting defensive she said, basically,

You’re quite correct I am not an engineer. That’s a good thing. I wouldn’t be as good at my job if I was an engineer. What I contribute is an ability to drive complex projects through to completion. The fact that I don’t get involved in every technical detail is actually an asset. I can keep the program focused on the finish line, and get it out on time and on budget. That’s what you need, not another engineer doing a deep dive on technical detail.”

Steady confidence

When you have your personal brand defined you are more powerful and more impressive for two reasons.

  1. You are leading with your strengths, so you’re good at what you are doing and it truly impresses others.
  2. But even without that, by using this approach you give yourself the gift of confidence. You give yourself solid ground to stand on. You define the terms you are going to interact on, and it’s a place where you feel comfortable. You give yourself an advantage no matter what the situation.

Your executive presence soars when you are confident.

Next time you feel like you don’t fit, and people are undervaluing you, don’t try to be like them. Lead with your brand. Lead with your strengths.

Being clear about who you really are, and what you are naturally good at and building that into your personal brand, is a great way to increase your confidence and your value.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her latest book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at patty@azzarellogroup.com .

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2 Comments on “When Your Skills Aren’t Valued, Lead With Your Personal Brand Instead

  1. @Patty: Great article and very useful if followed. Unfortunately the vast majority of job seekers and employees have no clue what their personal brand is nor how to go about measuring it. If they did, then the employment landscape would really be transformed.

  2. It’s so important to know your own brand and be comfortable with it.  I spent the last 10 years as a lawyer in creative technology companies, marketing the legal department as creative and innovative like the techies.  My personal brand opened doors to many interesting opportunities.

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