I have a colleague who is several decades into an incredibly successful career. He has the hard-won skills and track record to attract both top-tier employees and clients.
Over the years, he’s collaborated with several partners and mentored countless younger team members. He recently realized that the same people to whom he’d given tremendous opportunities were essentially trying to squeeze him out of his own business—even though he generated more than 90% of the company’s new business relationships.
I’m no stranger to this kind of situation. Several years ago, two of my former employees walked away with one of my firm’s top-tier clients. Underhanded and unfair? Yes. Entirely their fault? No. I neglected to protect my own personal brand while growing my company.
This scenario is unfortunate but not uncommon. And while employees need the chance to thrive, it doesn’t have to be at the expense of business owners losing out. One way owners can prevent or minimize fallout is by safeguarding their personal brand.
How Do Business Owners Put Themselves at Risk?
Let’s start at the beginning: how do employees get to the point where they can effectively oust a CEO or walk away with key business relationships? In my experience, this outcome stems from too much trust and improper delegation.
In any growing organization, it’s crucial for business leaders to trust their employees, delegating responsibility to the people who help them run their organization. But the wrong kind of delegation can leave a leader out of touch with their own company, damaging their relationships with staff and clients.
Good leaders keep their employees engaged, excited, and challenged. For instance, they might give their employees increased responsibility by assigning them to work on high-profile projects. Employees expect the potential for growth, and failing to provide it could mean high turnover—a whole other business nightmare. On the other hand, delegation that leaves the CEO disconnected from employees and clients has unfortunate consequences:
Directly training your competition
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept. I’ve trained many PR people who are excelling in their careers. Just know that as you train and mentor your right-hand people, you also give them the tools to leave and replicate what you’re doing elsewhere. There is a small subset of information in your business—or key relationships—that you may consider keeping to yourself.
As leaders, we’re expected to support and train up the next generation of employees while simultaneously growing our business. Employees don’t have the same pressures; even the most loyal employees act in their own self-interest. Again, this isn’t necessarily bad; rather, it’s inevitable. The truth is, no one will ever care for your business as much as you do.
Less client visibility
The other big challenge associated with over-delegating is that your clients get less face time with you. Even if you’re developing the strategy and working hard behind the scenes, clients still need direct interaction so that you remain top of mind.
The last thing you want is for your employees to create a better rapport with your clients than you have. You must remain visible and relevant to your clients and foster your relationships with them if you want their loyalties to lie with your company rather than your team member. Incidentally, doing so makes it far easier to navigate staffing changes that also affect your clients!
How Your Personal Brand Can Save Your Business
There is a surefire way to protect your hard-earned success: establishing, nurturing, and growing your own personal brand.
You can’t control what your employees do, but you can control how your clients perceive you by being smart and strategic about your personal brand. You may think that as a CEO, you don’t have time to focus on personal branding. You may not even be sure what personal branding entails. But I’m here to tell you that prioritizing your own brand is an excellent use of your time.
Don’t worry—building a personal brand doesn’t have to involve posting an endless stream of professional-looking photos with clever captions on Instagram. Instead, focus on what you bring to the table as a business leader.
If you’ve reached the point in your career where you’re in charge, you undoubtedly have an impressive track record, interesting stories, great client relationships, thought leadership, and so much more to share. You can (and should!) use social media or a blog to get that information out to your target audience. PR and branding are all about pursuing opportunities; if you don’t put yourself out there, your younger competitors will quickly drown you out.
During the pandemic, I rebuilt my company from an agency focused on “Team Goodwin” to a consultancy focused on my personal brand, the values I bring to my work, and the results I deliver for clients. I changed the way I operate, too. Currently, besides me, I have one full-time and one part-time employee, along with several seasoned PR consultants who are successful in their own right and share my vision for success.
Smart personal branding is one of the best investments you can make. If you don’t believe me, ask my CFO consultant, who told me the other day that I’m making more money than I ever did running an agency. I’m happier, too!