Real Power is Personal Power  — Lionesses of Africa

by Thembe Khumalo 

Here’s a quick story.  It’s about a young women called Lerato who had a very successful career, following an equally successful time at Harvard Business School. She had made a name for herself working in some of the most exciting, sexiest organisations on the continent – starting at Jumia, moving on to MTN, working closely with Dangote himself, promoted to the C Suite at Coca Cola. She was a devoted and loyal executive – and she had the salary, perks and power to reflect this. She joined a fashionable, but credible church where she quickly became a deaconess. People wanted to hear from her. Doors opened magically in her wake. She felt powerful.

When she decided it was time to step out and start her own business, she took a break for a month or so (she had earned it after all) and then she went on to start building her business, looking for customers… making calls, chasing leads. A surprising thing happened. She didn’t get the resounding success she had come to expect. People no longer leapt to impress her. Instead of doors magically opening she found that she struggled to get past the gate keepers. You see she was no longer Lerato form MTN, or the right hand woman of Mr Dangote. She wasn’t even Lerato from Harvard Business School really. She was just Lerato from.. well… nowhere.

Real power is personal power. It’s the power you have to get things done beyond your title, your employer, your school, your church, and any other labels you wear. We use power for influence – affecting the decisions, behaviours and thoughts of others. We use power for income – to increase our net worth or buy the things we want. We use power for impact – making the change we see.

Real power is the power you have in your individual capacity. And people learn about that power from how you show up in the world – your personal brand. Now you already have a personal brand – we all do. For the moment we emerge from our parental homes as young adults we are already known for something – the pretty one, the smart one, the Mabhena girls, the MSU graduate. We emerge already with labels attached to us and we slowly forge our own paths and those labels change.

What investing in your personal brand means is that you get to write that label deliberately, consciously. That you choose the stories that people will tell about you, the stories that matter to where you want to go.

I know that power is something that everyone on this platform understands because we are all accomplished, ambitious and exceptional women. There is already a narrative out there that has brought us this far. What you want to do with your brand is to command that narrative to meet your goals. That is the process we call personal branding. Sharing a narrative about you that helps people to see and understand the you that you want to be.

And we use all kinds of tools and processes to shape that narrative, that experience that people have of you. At Brandbuilder we generally start with purpose – what is your purpose in this world. We do this, because when you don’t know the purpose of thing, it’s easy to abuse it, or misuse it. Once we clarify your purpose we can set about pulling together all the threads in your story that speak to that purpose, and using them to weave together a path to your goals. We figure out who needs to hear the message you have for the world and where best we can reach them. Then we look at the tools you have at your disposal, your skills, experience, networks, personality. We use those tools to help you build a purpose-powered, values-driven, well directed, mindfully managed brand that can stand unencumbered and even unsupported if need be by the labels your job or school or church provide.

This is not an event, but an ongoing process of crafting and telling your story. The platforms and opportunities for telling that story are vast and unlimited – they include the obvious platforms like social media, bios and headshots, speeches you will make, talks you have given, CVs and resumes, books you will write. But don’t forget that the most effective learning people do is experiential – your executive presence, gravitas, how you choose your words, and of course, your elevator speech.

I would encourage you therefore not to dismiss the idea of personal branding – not if you’re interested in personal power. If you are still interested in in expanding your influence, in growing your income, increasing your impact, then you should be interested in building your brand. And I imagine that each of us here is interested in personal power – which is the only real power any of us have.

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