Today, the world heard the bizarre news that Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, has died.
Talk about a strong personal brand. Here’s a guy who was absolutely unique—unlike anyone else. You may love him, you may hate him, but one thing is certain: you know him. You understand who he was, what he has done, what he stood for and what he was all about.
In my work, I advise business professionals on ways to strengthen the articulation of their brands, and as I think about it, Michael Jackson provides some strong guidance for anyone looking to present a strong brand to their world:
#1: Live Your Talents: Michael Jackson could sing and dance. That’s what he spent his career doing, and that’s what he should have done. He was a consummate entertainer and he always did his thing. Be what you are. So many people spend a ton of time trying to shore up their weaknesses; stop focusing on that.
Focus on your strengths. Don’t try to be an accountant if you don’t get excited about numbers. Hire someone who does get excited about numbers. You must find a way to express your God-given talents and abilities.
#2: Embrace a signature style: Sometimes, something that’s a little bit over the top can serve to reinforce and heighten your brand image. For Michael Jackson, the moonwalk and one glittery glove became synonymous with his brand, a part of who he was.
What could signify what type of leader you are? One of the participants in our Signature for Success program is a gentleman with a hard-to-pronounce, hard-to-spell Chinese name of Xingcheng, so he goes simply by “X.” To strengthen his personal brand, he has begun to link his name with excellence and execution. It’s memorable and effective and epitomizes what his leadership is all about.
What’s your signature “moonwalk” move?
#3: Pursue a signature project: When you think of Michael Jackson, you cannot help but think of the music video Thriller. At the height of the MTV era, this video became the quintessential video of all times, a video that guaranteed him a place in rock history. I have seen LEGO minifigure parodies of the song, the dance used as an exercise regimen for prison inmates, and delightful renditions done in my own living room by my nine-year old daughter over 25 years after it was produced.
So what project are you passionate about? How can you take your ordinary project—a routine competitive analysis, your basic marketing plan, your standard corporate event, and turn it into something career-defining?
#4: Love Yourself: One of the great tragedies about Michael Jackson was that he was unhappy with how he looked physically. Over the course of his career, he altered his skin tone and facial bone structure radically. For many, his appearance was never an issue in the first place. We are all our own worst critics. Self-perceived negatives are often only in our own minds and would never be in someone else’s minds if we hadn’t brought a spotlight on the issue in the first place.
Focus on what matters, the talents and intellectual gifts you’ve been given. People respond positively to those who are “comfortable in their own skin.” If you focus on the value you are contributing, people will accept you as you are.
#5: Execute Your Vision: Michael Jackson was undeniably an entertainer extraodinaire. He had a vision for himself and his art that he pursued relentlessly. Find your courage, have faith in your vision, and bring it to fruition. The result could be a lasting icon of business prowess, something everyone refers to one day and says, “That was unique! That’s the way to do it. That was groundbreaking.”
#6: Keep going: Whether it’s big or small, you can overcome ANY adversity. Maybe you’ve been fired, maybe you had a disastrous project that went terribly wrong…whatever career setback you’ve seen, don’t feel like it’s the end of the world. Despite all the allegations of child molestation, Michael Jackson is still revered by millions, and I’m certain that in the days and weeks to come, we’ll see tributes and memorials galore. As I always say, I don’t care how much baggage you are carrying with you about your career. Even a heavily loaded plane can take off…it just needs to begin moving forward.
#7: Evolve: There was so much to Michael Jackson’s career, as the youngest of the Jackson Five singing I’ll Be There to the fashion statement of heavily embroidered, padded-shouldered leather jackets to the ownership of Neverland and his upcoming (completely sold out) comeback concerts in London, Michael Jackson continued to grow and develop as an artist and as an icon. Evolution is inevitable and desirable. Manage your career and manage the evolution of your personal brand.