Time to Rebuild: What to Do If Your Personal Brand is Killing Your Career

Contributed by CEO Coach Henna Inam

Do you have a personal brand? Trust me. We all do. “It’s what they say about you when you’ve left the room,” says the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos. But what if what they’re saying about you is killing your career?

I had an executive coaching client who was absolutely brilliant. She could see several steps ahead of anyone else on strategy & execution details, was the go-to person when the impossible needed to be done and no one had the guts to do it. There was just this one tiny issue. She didn’t know how to manage people. She left bodies in her path and this was preventing her from getting additional bodies reporting to her. While she had made some progress in this area, she couldn’t shake off the bad reputation. Do you know the skeletons in your personal brand closet? How do we shake these off?

Five Steps to Rebuilding Your Brand

In my work on different brands as a P&G and healthcare marketer, I experienced several situations where we had reputation crises, some of which involved taking brands off the shelf for quality issues. We disappointed our retail chain customers and our consumers. I would go often with our sales reps to “take the heat” in these meetings with our customers. Here’s what I learned that can be applied to turning around our personal brand reputations.

1) Do a “Brand Audit” to discover the issue. Sometimes a crisis precipitates a “brand audit” but we don’t have to wait for that to find out what people really think about us that could hold us back. We can talk with people we trust to be candid with us. What do they really say about you behind closed doors? Is this a trust issue? How big? As much as we’d like to believe we are rational beings, my hundreds of interviews with senior leaders show that we make emotional decisions. If we don’t trust an individual it will even color the strengths we perceive in them. Get ready to ask about the details, specific circumstances and behaviors that eroded trust.

2) Make a decision whether you actually want to change and why. Once we know what the issue is, we need to accept it, and make a decision. Do I genuinely want to do something about this? Changing ourselves (new habits, behaviors, and mindsets) takes hard work, and if any effort to change is in service of a short-term motive (e.g. a promotion) people will see right through it.

3) Create and execute your action plan for change. Get clear about the behavior shifts that are required and what mindset shifts need to happen to sustain new behaviors. Start to try on these new behaviors and leadership practices. Working with an executive coach or a mentor is really important here to get outside perspective and accountability.

4) Openly acknowledge your mistakes and ask for help. Meet with the people who are your largest detractors. Meet with those influential in the organization, who need to know your intent and support you. Large product brands have taught us that they can turn around their brand image after disasters. Tylenol is a good example of this in their safety tamper incident. They apologized, put the customer safety first, fixed the issues, and came back stronger. We actually establish trust (and increase the value of our brand) when we are sincere in our desire to accept and correct our mistakes.

Here’s what that looks like: “I’ve received feedback that I (note behavior here). It’s something I’ve decided to work on and I would like your help and candid feedback.” Then just shut up and listen. Don’t defend. Don’t justify. Just listen with compassion (for yourself and others). Apologize for the lost trust. This requires courage and vulnerability. Share the leadership brand you aspire to be and ask what needs to be fixed. Then do it.

5) Plan to fail and be resilient. New behaviors require practice to get them right. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Acknowledge to yourself and others that you’ll be clumsy at first. Especially under stress, we resort to old behaviors. Ask people to help hold you accountable. When you fail, go back to #4. Redefine success as pulling yourself back up, wiping off the scraped knees, and getting back on the bike.

This work is not easy, but if our intent is in the right place, we always get there, and we get there stronger. Our setbacks and failures are all part of the learning process that develops muscles that move us closer to being more authentic, human, and humble leaders. And that is what creates enduring brand value.

Henna Inam is CEO of Transformational Leadership Inc., a company focused on helping women achieve their potential to be transformational leaders. A former C-Suite executive with Fortune 500 companies, her passion is to help leaders be successful, deeply engaged, and create organizations that drive breakthroughs in innovation, growth and engagement. Connect @hennainam. Subscribe to her blog at