… and if you’re not, you should be!
mav·er·ick (măv‘ər-ĭk, măv‘rĭk)
- An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.
- One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter.
independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence: maverick
politicians; a maverick decision.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English
Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2007, 2000 by Houghton
Mifflin Company. Updated in 2007. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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At first sight, it might seem odd to use the word "maverick" in relation to
personal branding; after all, Sam Maverick, the cattleman who gave his name to the word, refused point blank to brand his cattle. But his name has become synonymous with people who are unique and stand out from the "yes men" around them, and the fact is that the people with the strongest personal brands are often regarded as "mavericks" by those around them.
I’ve said before that everyone has a personal brand, whether they know it or not, but that’s not totally true: we ALL start life as mavericks. A new born baby has no personal brand. It is a blank slate, free thinking, with no preconceptions, no attitudes, no expectations. Over the years, various institutions stamp their mark on us – first family, then culture and a succession of schools, then the companies we work for. Their influence extends into how we think, how we talk, how we dress, the
people we mix with, and every other aspect of our life. And all of these make up our personal brand.
It’s what we do with those influences that mark out the kind of personal brand that we build for ourselves and the
more I’ve thought about it, the more it seems to me that there are 3 levels
of personal brand:
1. The ‘Herd’ brand
Most people – who have never thought about their personal
brand – end up reliant on the labels provided by society, schools and employers to provide them with the
credibility they need. And because these other brands are so important to their
professional progress, the need to conform becomes paramount, so you see whole
professions where everyone talks and dresses the same way, thinks the same way,
has similar values, and so on.
When they want promotion, these people work harder than
their peers, get in earlier and leave later. They keep their head down, don’t
rock the boat, and hope that senior management will notice their contribution.
When they want to change jobs they scour the listings for
ads that say things like “must have 5 or more year’s experience in a major
consultancy or blue chip financial services organisation and an MBA from a top
school”, because those are their key selling points: who they’ve worked for,
where they studied and the qualifications they have.
2. The ‘Personalised’ brand
At some point, some of these people decide to have a little
more control over their branding, and how they are seen by the outside world. They
realise that, while you can go quite far in a profession by adopting the herd
brand, there comes a point at which you need to stand out to get ahead, and so
they start to personalise their brand. These are the people who adopt something
a little unusual to help them stand out – clothing, mannerisms, speech patterns
can all be ‘tweaked’ for that little point of differentiation. Imagine wiping most
of that old branding off yourself, and choosing what you allow to stay on, for
example a useful past employer or school that you attended.
These are people aiming for promotion to the next level in
their career: the FD who wants to get to CFO, the junior partner in a
law firm who wants to make senior partner. They are trying to stand out from
the herd, but they’re doing it to stay at the front of the herd; it is still
important to them to ‘belong’, so they will still conform, and still actively promote
the external brands (employers, professional affiliations, etc.) that they feel
their target employer or customer will want to see. And they’re still hoping
that the quality of their work will get them noticed, but that they will be
seen as enough of an individual to
make them memorable and get them noticed.
The problem is that these personalised brands are often a
reaction to the herd brand, and so what the person is projecting is not their
own personality but rather the opposite of the herd personality. A personalised
brand therefore needs to be managed extremely carefully because it can easily look
like someone ‘trying too hard’, and at worst it can come across as inauthentic,
affected, or just plain eccentric.
3. The ‘Maverick’
The final level of personal brand, the maverick, has let go of
all the baggage of their past career. They are their own brand and they don’t
feel the need to name drop to gain credibility. They want to get hired/promoted
on their own terms, and they know that people come looking for them if they
have a strong enough brand. They know precisely what makes them unique, but they
don’t need to think about it because it is part of who they are – and everyone
who needs to know, knows it. Their thinking is their own, and they are not
afraid to voice an unpopular opinion or piece of advice when they know it is
right. They refuse to do something just because it’s “what is expected.”
When they do name a brand, it is with a very specific aim in
mind; for example
Otherwise, they stand on their own merits, with no pretence.
The maverick builds their brand around their own personality, so if you want to
be a maverick you need to understand who you are, and why that makes you
special. You also need know exactly where you want to get to: what represents the
pinnacle of success in your chosen career.
Many of these people end up running the show, of course, either
because they find the corporate environment too restrictive of their
individuality or because they realise they can create far more value to clients
on their own, without the corporate overhead. In business they may set up their own company or firm (Richard Branson and Donald Trump come to mind); in entertainment they may end up as the world-renowned star or chat show host (Oprah and Madonna).
Some of them, however, may stay in the mainstream of their
profession, and use it as a springboard to the top (Jack Welch, Lee Iacocca).
Now I headed up this post with a bold claim: that you are a
maverick. Why did I say that? Because you have an interest in personal branding;
you’re already thinking beyond the corporate brands that helped you get to
where you are, and you want to get further.
So, are you a Maverick?
Take a long, hard look at how you’ve been presenting
The herd mentality is “here we are, this is what we do, now who
wants to buy, what are they paying and when will it be my turn?”
The personalised brand thinks “here I am, look at how special
I am. Now who wants to buy, and how much more can I get them to pay for being
The maverick mindset is “what does my market really want, how
much is it worth to them to have it and what is it about me that makes me the
ONLY person who can deliver it to them?”
Are you ready to step out of the herd?
Coming soon: the Maverick Personal Brand™ workshop