Building a Strong Personal Brand

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This is the second article in the Propel Her – Defence Women’s Leadership Series by Lyndsay Freeman and Shamsa Lea.

Do you know what your professional reputation is? Are you controlling/shaping it?

As defined by Jennifer Wittwer, CSM in her book ‘Against the Wind’, your personal brand “…is your reputation. It’s your calling card. It’s what you’re known for and how people experience you. It’s about bringing who you are to what you do and how you do it”. 

Everyone has a brand, whether deliberate or not. Colleagues, subordinates and supervisors will naturally form opinions based on their interactions with you. If they perceive you as value-adding, they are more likely to engage you for opportunities. Personal brands influence the ability to sell ideas, likelihood of promotion, and relationships with superiors, subordinates and peers. By spending some time developing your brand within the military, you are taking active control of your own professional reputation and shaping it to match your future goals.

Building a strong personal brand is particularly important for women as they are more inclined to let their work speak for itself and believe this to be enough to achieve success and recognition. How to best engage in self-promotion while remaining authentic is a common dilemma for women, but if the contribution of female participation in the military is to be realised, then brand development is essential. Find a level of self-promotion that you’re comfortable with as it is “… a leadership competency that is essential for communicating your talents and establishing your credibility. It’s the art of telling your story in an authentic way” (Against the Wind).

Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Research your professional reputation. 

Seek feedback on your current professional reputation and use it to define the value you bring to your specialisation and the ADF. You can ask trusted peers, subordinates and former supervisors for their constructive input. Read over your previous performance reports and look for themes in your strengths and weaknesses. What are you good at? What do you need to work on? What are your unique career experiences?

2. Develop your ideal ‘brand’.

What do you want to be known for? You can link your brand to emerging trends in your specialisation/corps, but the best approach is to find what you are truly passionate about and use that authenticity to shape and build your brand. If your passion can be linked to key strategic policy, capability development or other key aspects of the ADF – even better! Alternatively, you may focus on transferable skills that are agile enough to be applied regardless of the situation (e.g “she’s really great at forming teams rapidly in response to a planning requirement”). As you promote up the ranks, the focus moves from technical mastery and towards professional mastery, which is the ability to form networks and manage stakeholders. Your goal might be to be promoted, or it may be to pursue a specialist or strategist role that focuses on expert knowledge, and not necessarily rank progression. Either way, you should be able to define the vision for your brand statement in a few sentences or less (also called the ‘elevator pitch’).

3. Design a strategy to get you there.

Identify the gaps in your knowledge or training. A mentor within your specialisation can be a useful tool in advising on ways to fill these gaps, as well as identifying and reaching out to people who have a career pathway that inspires you. A leadership or career coach can also assist with the tools you need (see below for resources that are available within your service).

Social media is a powerful tool in establishing and promoting your personal brand. Your personal branding on social media doesn’t necessarily require overt self-promotion, but simply communicating your passions and interests to a Defence audience ranging from the MINDEF/ CDF, through to recruits/trainee officers undertaking training, as well academics, private industry, politicians, and everyone in between. Keep your brand, image and tone consistent, as well as respectful and in line with Defence values and Social Media Policy at all times. 

The ADF uses Twitter and Facebook (and to a lesser extent, Instagram and LinkedIn) to share information and promote the good work that Defence is doing. The amount of personal development and networking opportunities you will come across, particularly on Twitter, is a key advantage to your career progression and highly recommended once you find your personal brand.

4. Engage with your network and share your goals.

Engage your mentors, sponsors and network and share your goals with them. When they come across opportunities that align with your personal brand, they will think of you. Prove your worth! Your brand must be authentic. For example, if you want to be known for being a technical expert, you need to keep up to date with the latest research in your field. If you want to be known for being a leader who develops their people, you need to take performance reporting seriously and spend time coaching your team. A personal brand that is hollow will crumble quickly.

5. Review and evolve. 

Your personal brand is constantly evolving as your circumstances, goals and opportunities will change over time. Employ a growth mindset and periodically look for ways to refine your goals. You have unique knowledge, skills and attributes that -when leveraged- will propel you ahead of your peers. Spend some time deliberately managing your brand, and reap the benefits in your career. 

Further resources.

As above, a leadership coach can help you define and develop your brand statement and set goals. 

  • Access to the free Air Force Leadership Coaching Program is available on the Defence Protected Network (DPN) through Air Force Adaptive Culture
  • The Navy Leadership Coaching Program is available to all ranks- further details are on the DPN through the Directorate of Navy Culture or

About the authors

Lyndsay Freeman is a mother of two and a Transport Officer in the Australian Army. She is a Chief of Army Scholar for 2020 and is completing a Master of International Development Practice, specialising in Gender, Peace & Security, at Monash University. Lyndsay is passionate about the ADF’s pivotal role in advocating for women’s empowerment across the globe. Twitter: @LyndsayFreeman8.

Shamsa Lea is an Air Force Logistics Officer, leadership coach and sessional academic at University of Southern Queensland. She has been engaged in female recruitment, retention and progression activities in Defence for a number of years, with a specific interest in helping ADF women achieve their leadership potential. Twitter: @ShamsaLea.