Andrea Learned

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Bright Lights. Brand Reflection.

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I’m irritated. This past weekend, I had yet another conversation with an incredibly smart and talented woman, seriously lauded in her own professional right, whose supposedly innovative employer would prefer she not burn her light too brightly. As in — the company does not support her getting recognition for her incredible expertise via her personal Twitter account, LinkedIn profile or speaking gigs. This is their stance, whether or not the brand name is directly referenced or not. Are you kidding me?

While I could potentially make this about women, this is probably a non-gendered issue. It’s likely about company or organization leaders who aren’t themselves keeping up and possibly becoming irrelevant. So, they defensively snuff any upstart “lights” — even in their OWN companies. How does this make sense? It doesn’t.

A Thousand of Points of (Brand) Light

Here’s the thing: in a world of startups and organizations striving to differentiate, the personal brand of that person at the top is RARELY “all that” and even so, he or she is likely not leveraging their thought leadership to any wise degree or for any intentional impact. The reasons why this is the case might include: the leader is “too busy” and, hey, they/their company is already quite famous. The press, after all, comes to them (famous last words…).

I call foul. These days, leaders are actually seen as smarter business thinkers when they understand — and leverage — the “a thousand points of light” adage. As a leader, you, being so wonderful in every way (which is likely not really the case), are not foundation or differentiator enough for your company’s continuing success.

On the other hand, you, as the clever person leading an innovative and disruptive organization, will get major recognition for identifying and strongly supporting the personal brand development of your in-house rising stars. In reflection, you look beyond brilliant.

Snooze And Lose

Too many companies lose incredible brain trusts and future-forward innovators when people like my friend decide their careers and passion demand a more rewarding advancement path. It’s worth noting, too, that under-supported rising star leaders who DO stick it out with such shortsighted employers are destined to become less than their best working selves. Ultimately they don’t do your company as much good as they would have, for lack of acknowledgement.

Of course, your organization’s shining stars know who they are. They’re highly motivated to become better known as industry experts and thought leaders on social media. They are professionally ambitious, and so are also chomping at the bit to do speaking gigs or to be interviewed by the press. Trust them and they’ll reflect incredibly well on your brand.

In fact, these bright lights are primed to be a huge part of forwarding their company’s overall brand name and trust, particularly in a business-to-business space.

Exponential Lost Opportunity

If only I could publish a list of the names and incredible LinkedIn profiles of friends who’ve recently experienced this, along with the names of the companies or organizations that could not see the forest for the trees. The shame of it.

Instead, your company has a choice. Why not take the smart, no-lose course? When you have an incredible light in your midst, set them free to get known for their brilliance. You’ll end up looking all the wiser for having identified, hired and supported their rise in your company and industry.

The most brilliant founders and CEOs will get comfortable — and intentional — about supporting and encouraging the career advancement of their wise hires. As a result, those leaders will benefit greatly — and for years — from the reflection of “their” bright lights.

That little light will shine. Let it shine.

First published on Medium, February 1, 2016.

Image via Flickr/Creative Commons