Have you ever been stopped at a light and taken the opportunity to use the car ahead as reading material? The decal stickers on the vehicle ahead might display anything from a Calvin & Hobbs cartoon, the phrase “My Child Is an Honor Student,” a Jesus fish magnet, or a Baby on Board construction sign. Whether we’re aware of it or not, we profile people based on these decal stickers. In a similar vein, you have decals on your back as well. And that is your personal brand.

A personal brand is a unique combination of experience, skills, and personality that you want the world to see in you. It is an ongoing process of developing and maintaining a reputation and impression of an individual, group, or organization. For this reason, it can feel counterproductive to monitor or cultivate your personal brand while working within a larger organization. Doesn’t it suggest that you’re not a ‘team player’? How can both coexist? Won’t you inevitably begin to sacrifice one brand on behalf of the other? Not necessarily true.

Jay-Z, rapper and entrepreneur, once famously rapped, “I’m not a businessman, I’m a business, man.” This clever turn of phrase gets to the core of a personal brand’s value, regardless of whether or not you happen to be a celebrity. We all have brands. In short, the brand is how you are perceived by the people who know you. It’s what people say about you and your work when you leave the room. The reality is you’re going to have a brand regardless, so why not be intentional in crafting it? Your brand should not be contrived but genuine and authentic to you. Who do you want to be? What’s your purpose? What are the core values and principles that are true to you and your life, whether at home, work, or in the community? The fact of the matter is that sometimes those characteristics don’t come naturally. In those cases, you may have to work at them. Ask yourself, how do I make these a reality and show up in a way that people begin to say this about me?

On a personal level, you are giving off a brand impression and awareness continually. Are you the one who shows up late for meetings? Are you the difficult one? Are you the one that’s unprepared or unable to handle conflict. All of these are a part of your brand image. More popularly, people use the term emotional awareness as knowing when feelings are present in ourselves and others. This emotional intelligence works in concert with developing our personal brand.

Perhaps the best way to think of it is as individual “climates”. Everybody has a weather system floating over their head. When you walk into a room, everyone else can see it and experience it except for you. We have to be mindful of this and work to cultivate the brand that we want folks to experience. Thereby, you (and your accompanying brand) can be the “breath of fresh air” in any company lucky enough to have you!