Personal Branding: When Reason Must Win Over Ego

11/04/2018
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Numerous companies created around January 1993, when the Czech Republic became an independent state, celebrated 25 years of existence in 2017 or will celebrate it this year. Many such companies were founded by – then – young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs who wanted to take full advantage of democracy, freedom and the seemingly infinite rainbow of possibilities that a fledgling market economy was set to offer. A quarter of a century later, the same founders are now a blessing or a curse for their companies – depending on how emotionally mature they’ve become during the last 25 years. 

Two stories, one common denominator

I was recently talking with one such founder. Let’s call him Roman. Tremendously smart, he launched his IT company immediately after the Velvet Revolution. Like any good, reliable entrepreneur who wants to guarantee the world that he means what he says, he gave the company his name. The company grew; even during the economic crisis of 2009 – 2012 it feared so well that it gained appetite to expand. Roman managed to attract a large investor; then he went shopping. From an initially small company, the business grew to become a collection of companies spread in five geographies. All these companies had also their founders and a wide variety of personalized names. This is when Roman hit a crossroad. He had to make a decision: will he insist on keeping the original name of the company he founded – his own name – and thus potentially hinder business growth? Or will he give up his name, make peace with the company destiny – including a new general branded name – and move on in a different mindset? He took the second road. Five years later, we were sitting at a table in a sunny Prague restaurant. “It was one of the toughest – and one of the best - decisions I’ve ever made. I sold myself in the good sense of the term. This made me more humble, more insightful, more reasonable. It was tough but, looking back, it was the right thing to do.”

The second story has a similar beginning. The founder, a people developer, came very early in the ‘90s in touch with a unique system of personal development that he decided to promote in the Czech Republic. Even though the system was universal, the founder decided to name the company after himself. Business grew, particularly in the golden years 2002-2008 when multinational corporations were placing massive amounts of money in people development. As time went by, work became more repetitive and the founder got bored. His own life path seemed to have a different direction that business management. In time the company didn’t manage to create a functioning team of trainers or a solid network of alumni. Frustrated by what might seem as indecisiveness and a lack of perspective for their own growth, numerous trainers decided to leave the company. The alumni, future trainers themselves, initially looked up to the company. Soon however they would plunge into confusion and frustration themselves. It seemed as if everyone was looking up to the founder and expecting him to make a decision that would put the company out of its misery. None came. The founder decided to transfer the company internally in the family; at the same time the business would continue under his name. Most probably it will take the offspring years, if ever, to step out of the shadow of the founding father. At the same time the army of trainers the company put on the market for 25 years keep looking in awe how a company training leadership cannot seem to handle its own journey – into the future or into dissolution.

 “I am more than my Channel”

From a similar realm I was recently coaching a visual entrepreneur who was about to set up her YouTube channel and was concerned about the feedback she might receive. “I care about it so much. That’s why I’m afraid that I might take things a bit personally. I’m scared that the feedback will hurt me and I won’t have the strength to move beyond my feelings and actually integrate the good criticism the channel will receive,” she said. Now you must admit – working with a client with this level of emotional self-awareness is already pure delight. Moving through her inner landscape we reached a milestone when I suggested her to look at two objects that were totally overlapping: her YouTube Channel and her Life. As I slowly split the two objects, her eyes followed Life. The more I was separating the two, the more emotional she became about the deep connection she felt with Life. “I am more than my Channel,” she exclaimed. “If I keep remembering this, I will never take business personally!”

This is probably the best piece of advice I heard from an entrepreneur for himself in a long time. It is also most probably the realization that hit Roman, the hero of our first story, and what held him psychologically during the difficult transition from being the name carrier of a successful company to managing a generally branded business group. It is also a decision that lurks ahead on the journey of many a Czech entrepreneur. With more and more company founders hitting retirement age, a systemic perspective on how to run family businesses in order to leave behind a legacy to be proud of will be vital both for the companies and for their founders. Part of such a peaceful exit might be the change in the name of the company. When such a decision makes business sense, Reason must win over Ego. While companies always remain connected to their founders through the energy of the beginnings and the vision placed initially in the company, we all need to make peace with the fact that companies are living systems that should be entitled to leave the family nest and meet their destiny on the free market.

 Making the right decision about the name of a company, particularly when it overlaps with the name of the founder, is tough. On the one hand, having a personal brand in the company name speaks of responsibility and tradition; it has been proven that such companies bring in more revenues and customer stability over time. On the other hand, sometimes a company needs a different path in order to make it into the future. What we need to remember is that a company is bigger than its founder; we might be those who brought the company to life, but if we want our “child” to outlive us we need to be able to make the right decisions at the right moment. For that all Ego must be put aside. In business and personal branding this is a precondition for leaving behind a sustainable legacy – and for enjoying a fulfilled retirement where we can look back with pride.     

This post has been first published by the Czech & Slovak Leaders Magazine in my personal column I, the Brand. Republished with permission.

I focus on strategic communications, emotional and systemic intelligence and personal and organization leadership. I help leaders and future leaders to develop their strategic communication skills, to build reputable personal brands and to boost their team and organizational leadership. I support individuals, teams and organizations through advisory, training, coaching and mentoring services.

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