Back in 2008, when the global financial crisis was in full swing, I wrote an article about how building a strong leadership personal brand can not only help you navigate tough times but also to control the impact that financial ups and downs might have on you, your work, and your career.
Even though today’s economic downturn is far less severe than in 2008, it still has the potential to trigger similar fears and anxieties. With that in mind, let’s revisit the topic as a reminder that how you communicate your personal brand as a leader has a direct influence on the outcomes during times of uncertainty.
In particular, your reactions to the economy, your thoughts about the economy, and your actions related to the economy can impact the ultimate outcome for YOU™ – the Trademarked YOU. In fact, your reactions, thoughts, and actions are three of five activities that communicate your individual brand each and every day (along with how you look and sound.)
REACTIONS. If you want to see someone's true personal brand, watch them react to adverse events. How you react in crisis situations says a lot about who you really are. The key to mastering your brand as a leader (whether of yourself or others) is to remain consistent over time. Remember that you can't always control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to what happens to you. That's how strong personal brands are built.
So, think about the brand you're presenting through your reactions to the economy. Are you hiding in a corner with your head buried in the sand? Are you talking “doom and gloom” with your friends every chance you get? Are worries about the economy keeping you awake at night?
Take a deep breath, and keep a calm, clear head. You will make better decisions when you stop yourself from shifting into a fear-driven state that may cause knee-jerk reactions you regret later.
THOUGHTS. Thoughts are things. That may sound like a radical idea to you, but scientists are proving more and more that thoughts exist in the world in a very real way, and they have a strong influence on what happens to you. So, become aware of what your thoughts are telling you about the economic situation. Sit back and take inventory of how you feel about the financial climate right now. What emotions come to mind? Fear? Anxiety? Anger? You will act – and also build your brand – based on those feelings. So, if you're full of angst, consider the possible actions that will stem from that.
Here’s how psychiatrists put it: Your thoughts drive your emotions, and – in turn - your emotions drive your behavior. And those behaviors are responsible for creating the results – the ultimate outcomes - of your life. It’s good old cause-and-effect in action, with the ultimate “cause” being your thoughts. So, even if you can’t quite get on board with believing that thoughts are things, at a minimum, your thoughts have the power to undermine your leadership personal brand if you’re not careful.
So, be sure you make your thoughts productive. Take proactive steps to manage your money well. Focus on what you do have that is positive, and focus on what you are grateful for. Chances are you are better off than you think. Don’t keep your thoughts pinned on what isn't perfect or what could go wrong. Think about how things can go right.
Watch your words! What you say stems from your thoughts, too, so be mindful of how you "talk" about today's economy. Just calling the situation a "downturn" (which is a key word you see spread all over magazines, newspapers, and television) creates anxiety. Reflect on the crisis in 2008: The U.S. government called its economic package a "bailout." Doesn't that sound like Congress is trying to save a sinking ship? They couldn't have chosen a worse word. And remember that the media thrives on creating drama in order to sell their publications or to get you to tune in to newscasts. That doesn't mean the drama is always as cataclysmic as it sounds. Sit back and objectively analyze your own situation before deciding if it truly is a “downturn.”
Maybe you know people who are talking today’s economy as though the world is about to hit another recession. What kind of personal brand are those people communicating? What good will a brand like that do to make their economic prospects brighter? No one wants to be around someone with a negative or a defeatist attitude. So, don't fall victim to branding yourself in that way. It will do nothing to help you build a better financial future for yourself.
If someone you know tries to suck you into their big black hole of doom, politely excuse yourself, or focus on something more constructive. Stay positive in your conversations, and it will make a world of difference. Be an example of how to respond, and remind others of what is truly important. Just like in the market crashes of 1929 and 1987, this, too, shall pass.
ACTIONS. If you still find that the economic situation is keeping you up at night, objectively assess your situation, and make a plan. Are you anxious because you're too far in debt? If that's the case, take decisive action by seeing a financial counselor. (And if your financial advisor talks negatively about the markets, find another one!) Sit back, and calmly consider: What feels "right" to do? Set some goals, and take at least one action each day to move closer to that goal.
There are always ebbs and flows in our finances – whether personal or global. The trick is to find productive ways to make things better. If you purposefully work at remaining consistent with your desired leadership personal brand, you'll be one step closer to moving out of the storm.
How will we look back on this in the future? Reports about both the 1929 and 1987 market crashes have shown that people who kept a calm demeanor and stayed the course ended up doing better in the long run - from both a financial and an emotional standpoint. And you can be sure they built strong personal brands in the meantime, too.