Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “What do people really think of me?” It’s a terrifying question. Face it, it’s much easier skimming the surface, assuming nothing said means nothing wrong. Of course, the question that takes real guts to ask is, “What do you really think of me?” Chances are – if the other person is honest – you may not like the answer.
Everyone dreads having their insecurities affirmed and inconsistencies laid bare. If you want to be a leader, your self-image had better take a backseat to your professional brand. Funny thing is, your brand is open to interpretation – and it might not be taken how you think. Do you pride yourself on being “passionate?” Well, one man’s fire is another man’s fanaticism. What you call “demanding” and “decisive” can easily slip into being “domineering” and “dogmatic.”
A PERSONAL BRANDING COURSE THAT BEGS THE TOUGH QUESTIONS
Branding requires self-awareness. That’s why companies invest so heavily in engaging customers and testing messaging. They are continuously closing the gap between who they are and what customers expect, so they can consistently deliver the best experience. That’s the crux behind a MOOC starting on November 6th: Shaping Your Professional Brand. Developed by the University of Illinois, this isn’t your cliché ‘branding’ course that urges students to become ‘influencers’ through blogging and public speaking. Instead, it is a reflective exercise where students ask themselves the hard questions: How do they bring real value to their teams? Even more, what are they doing now that could be holding themselves – and their peers – back?
In other words, the course trains students to be observant, open, humble, authentic, and supportive – the same traits that define great servant leaders like Starbucks’ Howards Schultz and eBay’s John Donahoe.
The course is taught by C.K. Gunsalus, who is well-known for authoring The Young Professional’s Survival Guide: From Cab Fares to Moral Snares. The head of the National Center for Professional Research and Ethics (NCPRE), Gunsalus has emerged as a leading voice on ethics and leadership during her four decade academic career. For her, professional branding isn’t a natural ability shrouded in mystery. Instead, it is a nuts-and-bolts understanding of who you are and where you want to go – complemented by a daily commitment to getting there.
A PRIMER ON COMMUNICATION
“Developing your professional persona – your public, work-related self – is not something to leave to chance,” she writes in her Survival Guide. “How you respond to stress, how you manage your time, the priorities you live by, and your reliability, relationships, and commitment (or not) to learning and growth will all get factored into how others view you. Your reputation will be formed by your actions large and small, including your reactions to life’s tribulations and setbacks.”
At its heart, the course is a primer on communication, knowing how to act confidently and respond diplomatically so students can increase their influence and minimize misunderstandings. At the same time, it also challenges them to examine how they view situations, to avoid distortions that may take root with emotion or heuristics.
“Most people can think of colleagues who energize the workplace, and colleagues who don’t,” Gunsalus adds in a statement about the course. Which are you? If you have the right skills, you can always add value, contribute to a team, and affect improvement in the contributions of those around you. This course will help you understand and develop those skills, including listening, asking questions, building rapport, understanding alignment, identifying cognitive biases, and handling situations that don’t go according to plan.”
CAN BUSINESS MAKE A DIFFERENCE BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE?
Shaping Your Professional Brand isn’t the only November course targeted to aspiring leaders. For students who look to business as a means to address social ills, the University of Pennsylvania is offering Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): A Strategic Approach. A case driven course, it focuses on best practices for leveraging company money and expertise towards making a long-term difference. ESCP Europe returns with Intercultural Management, a course packed with ideas on how to get people from various nationalities, professional backgrounds to work towards a common end. At the same time, Case Western Reserve is offering another section of Women in Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change, a look at the hurdles faced by women in the workplace – along with strategies to help them get ahead.
Finance is particularly popular in November. Notably, Yale is bringing back Financial Markets, a tour de force from Nobel Laureate Robert Shiller on the fundamentals behind the world’s financial systems. Think a market bear is in the air? Check out the University of Pennsylvania’s Microeconomics: When Markets Fail, which examines how variables like taxation, debt, and consumption can knock markets out of whack. In addition, the University of Michigan and the University of Illinois offer several enticing courses ranging from valuation to firm level economics.
To learn more about these courses — and many more — click on the links below.