Your personal brand is someone else’s experience of you after you have left the room. That is something you have to create and it has to be true to your values.
Today’s episode is with Tracy Borreson. Tracy is a mompreneur and brand identity coach who helps people create their own personal brands.
Finding your brand is a journey; it doesn’t just happen in an instant. Find out more with Tracy as she joins Dr. Kevin Sansberry on the show.
The Toxic Leadership Podcast
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Dr. Kevin Sansberry II is a behavioral scientist and executive coach with expertise in toxic leadership, human capital strategy, and creating inclusive cultures of belonging to enhance organization performance. Over the years, Kevin has focused on providing research-informed solutions in various settings such as higher education, nonprofit, sales, and corporate environments.
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Personal Brands And Why You Are More Than Your Job Title With Tracy Borreson
This episode is with Tracy Borreson. Tracy and I focused on the concept of branding and the work environment. This notion is interesting as we think about toxic work environments. Think about this. What is your organizational culture’s brand? How does it impact behavior and retention? When we talk about toxic leadership, how does it impact satisfaction and decrease in toxicity? In this episode, it’s great to learn about her thoughts related to this topic.
We have a special guest, Tracy Borreson. How are you doing?
I’m doing great, Dr. Kevin. How are you?
I am excellent. I’m excited for the audience to get to know you and learn about your personal brand but before we get into the branding conversation, let’s talk about you.
I would love to share my personal brand with everybody. A lot of people, when they’re doing an intro, they talk about what they do. One of the things that I believe about a personal brand is that it’s multi-dimensional and there are lots of things that make up a human. One of the biggest things that I like to share with everybody, first and foremost, is that I am a mother. I have a very rambunctious son who refuses to potty train. It has been the greatest joy and the greatest challenge in my life to be a mother. I wouldn’t be who I am if that was not part of who I was.
One other fun thing about me is I am a huge nerd. If you want to quote Star Wars, Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings to me, I’m all about it. I had a coffee chat with someone who was like, “Your thing about Yoda.” I was like, “A Star Wars fan. Yay.” I am Canadian. I live very close to the Rocky Mountains, so I enjoy being in nature for the day, not overnight. I’m at the stage of my life where I like to sleep in a bed and have a shower in the morning. I am a tea drinker. I’ve had a couple of very bad experiences with coffee. I know that a lot of people love their coffee but I’m a tea, so if you book a virtual chat with me, it is a tea chat, not a coffee chat.
My background work-wise is in marketing. One of the biggest challenges that I had in my career in marketing was the concept of what am I doing here? I’m putting all of this effort and energy into creating beautiful advertising campaigns to tell people things they don’t need. I used to say it was fun while it lasted but I’m not sure I had a lot of fun doing it.
My dad is in business. Both of my parents didn’t get university education, so it was very important for all of us to get university educations. I have two younger sisters as well. I went into business and then I was in the corporate world. You have this corporate hierarchy that you’re climbing up. It was what it was and it never felt super rewarding. I get to thank my son for showing me that there are better ways to spend my time. Since I had him, I got to go on this transformation of what does it look like to own my personal brand? What is Tracy here to do? That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.
Work is not separate from life. It is a part of life, just like your family and friends.
I appreciate getting to hear so much about your journey. We go all the way from tea to the Rocky Mountains and from the sun to work. I love hearing the multi-dimension that you brought to the table. You made me think about a brand. You used to say it was fun while it lasted but then when you got out, you realized it wasn’t so fun. When we talk about companies and think about work, describe to me what you see as the brand for work. How was work branded?
There are two perspectives you can take when you look at branding. I’m going to start with what people think a brand is, which is what things look like from the outside. When they think about brand recognition, they think about things like a logo, color or tagline. I like to use Nike as an example. That’s what the brand looks like from the outside. When you think about the concept of work and the brand of work, as we grow up, there’s a whole bunch of input that we get from different sources. Our parents, schooling, communities and faiths “teach” us what work is.
Many people are living with this concept that work is hard and is something you do outside of your life. One of the things that I often speak about is the concept of work-life anything, work-life balance and work-life blend. This concept of work being separate from life doesn’t make sense. It is a part of life, just like your family or your community service as part of your life but it is not a separate thing from you. While we’re growing up, that’s what it’s sold to us as this thing that’s separate.
You do this for money and then you use your money for the things you want to do, except it doesn’t have to be that way. What an actual brand is based around is an experience. A personal brand is people’s experience of me. A workplace’s brand is people’s experience of whatever part of that brand you are interacting with at the time. It’s something that people forget. When it comes to it, the brand of work would be your own experience of what work is to you. It would be the experience that you have had with work in the past.
A lot of those people have that. “This is what I do. I go 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, punch my card, get my paycheck and that is what work is.” It’s been funny for me because since I’ve started my journey in entrepreneurship and I’ve had the opportunity to evolve my personal brand to be 99% of the time being the authentic me, my experience of work is very different. This is work for me. I define that in my category of work. My husband has worked with the same company for years. It’s a large company. He’s in middle management and has a different experience of what work is.
When we were both in corporate, we had the same definition of what work was but now that I am on my entrepreneurial journey doing what I love, he’s getting to see that his old experience of work isn’t what it has to be. Just like every other type of brand, there is a possible evolution. The good news is if your relationship with work is just work and it can’t be fun and aligned with your personal values, you have the opportunity to change that. Hopefully, it was some insight from this session. You can always follow me where I hang out because I talk about it all the time.
The reason why I asked is because as you were sharing your perspective and how you’ve transitioned and transformed how you brand it, I saw that you weren’t talking about logos and colors. I saw where you were going with that. A lot of times, we’ve grown up or been indoctrinated in this notion of work-life balance, work-life whatever but at the end of the day, it’s so dichotomy. We view them as two different things.
Some people do that as a defense mechanism because if this toxicity that I work in, if that’s the brand, if that’s my life, if that’s where I spend most of my time, I’m going to feel bad about being here. That defense mechanism may come up like, “That’s just work. It’s just work. Work is supposed to be like this.” As I’ve found in my research that I do on the people that I work with, it doesn’t have to be like this.
It’s only like that if you allow that to be part of the brand and how you define your experience. I appreciate you sharing that perspective because that connected with me. We talk about toxic leadership here. Based on that notion, tell me your experience into that construct as you think about toxic leadership and toxic behaviors.
I’ve gotten way more insight into understanding what toxic leadership even is. Thanks to you, Dr. Kevin, because now, I have new insights to share. Maybe it is the defense mechanism thing. Looking back on some of the work, I’ve had some great and empowering work cultures. I’ve started to call them toxic leadership microaggressions. If you look at an entire day, it’s not like eight hours of my day, I felt like it was a toxic culture but there were so many things that poked at me.
When I left corporate, I was in a senior leadership position. I was a vice president. I always thought that, “I’m a vice president. I get to have some authority in making decisions.” The environment is talking the talk but not walking the walk and this is pretty common. All the values on the wall were amazing and you’re like, “I am going to join this organization. We’re going to be all about this.” Then it didn’t show up on a day-to-day basis. What poked at me was when I tried to show up living those values, it would get shut down.
This is a pretty common one. Cares about people was one of the company values. As a manager, I was a big believer that everybody has their way of doing things. If I can facilitate the people to show up in an environment that is most conducive to them doing their best work, then I get their best work. I put a lot of energy in trying to create those individual microenvironments for my employees to be able to show up and do their best work.
I have the authority to do that for my own employees but my employees were at a quarter of the company. There are still a majority of people who were not showing up to live the values every day. It seemed like I had the authority and the space to lead authentically but it was kind of fake because I couldn’t do that at management meetings.
My team couldn’t interact with the rest of the company the same way because the rest of the company wasn’t focusing that way. Our KPIs were not based on the types of things that I believed in. It was like little microaggressions everyday. My definition of what those things are and what toxic leadership presents itself as to me is a misalignment with my personal brand. I would do it this way and this is not the way they’re doing it.
In that situation, it’s not something you can ignore, to be honest. It’s something that you could try to ignore and get numb to. It’s called detachment. That’s a defense mechanism that a lot of people do. Though you detach, you still feel it every time you act outside of that personal brand or those values. I’m glad you took it to the personal level because for our audience who operate businesses, HR leaders, CEOs, VP of marketing, or employees are maybe faking it. It’s not fake it to make it in this case because you probably weren’t thriving.
I hate the phrase fake it to make it. This is what people do every day. They show up and fake it for eight hours. Here’s the other thing. This is the biggest impact that parenting has shown me. I’m going to go to work and fake it for eight hours. I have created no energy and good vibes for myself all day. When you come home and your kids don’t want to eat their broccoli, you don’t have any energy left to deal with that. Parents feel guilty constantly because they are yelling at their kids or they wanted to play but they don’t have the energy. It’s because we go into these work environments that suck our soul out of us for eight hours. Then we thought of commute, which is probably also frustrating for most people.
Toxic leadership is a misalignment with your personal brand.
To commute isn’t their favorite part of the day. It’s going to erase eight hours of not feeling like yourself. Unless you have things in your day that reward and celebrate your personal values, you don’t get energy. You can’t create it. It’s gone. We’ve built these environments where they’re built around sucking the life out of you and feeding you back to your family being like, “Be a productive human now. Come back and do that again tomorrow and the next day.”
Here are two days at the end of the week where you’re probably still working, but you’re supposed to refresh. To me, this is beyond, “Let’s do some meditation and add some nice things to your day. Let the Band-Aid fix it.”
I have some numbers that I’ve put together to help give people an understanding of that. You’re getting the right amount of sleep you were supposed to get, so you’re getting eight hours of sleep a day. You’re doing the whole work-life balance thing so you have eight hours of work and eight hours of life. I don’t want to ever tell anyone that sleep is not important. Sleep is super important. You need it to refresh your body.
When you are sleeping though, you’re not actively living your personal values. It’s not a thing. You will race 33% of the time you have in your life to live into your personal values. If you do that same thing with work, that’s 66% of your life that you are not living into your personal values. Even if you failed 100% of the remaining time with things that make you feel good like exercise and meditation, which you can’t possibly do because you have to go shopping and pay your bills, you would only ever be at 33% of the time feeling like your values were being celebrated. That’s not 50%. That’s not a balance.
That’s why work-life balance is not a thing, to be honest.
You should stop talking about it. Not just us but society.
That whole phrasing was a trick, to be honest. You did the math. Look at it. People don’t spend eight hours to work. It’s not a thing.
This is the thing. When I was working in corporate, I was working consistently 50, 60-hour work weeks. Even for me now, I’m like, “I was doing it because I loved my job.” No, I was doing it because I didn’t have any other things that brought me value more than that did.
You probably thought that was you, who you were or who you are. Your job became your personal brand. As we think about that, let’s dive into that personal brand standpoint. I see the person, in this case, finding out what their brand is and having the agency to know they have the power to define their own brand outside of anything else. Let’s go there. When I say personal brand, what is that?
Everybody has their definitions of things. My definition of a personal brand is someone else’s experience of you after you have left the room. What do they remember? What do they feel about you? What was that mark that you left on them? Every single person who is living and also who is dead but only while they were living, has a personal brand. You have one. You have personal values. They drive your actions either by default or by design.
The concept of owning your personal brand is related to you showing up with those personal values driving your decisions and doing that on purpose. It will just happen. You have personal values. Sometimes you’ll be like, “This person fell over and I want to help them up.” You have a personal value of being helpful or taking care of people. If I’m going to say, “I did a workshop on values and my number one core value is authenticity,” which probably doesn’t surprise anybody because I ended up in personal branding.
If I don’t have the ability to show up as me in a thing, I don’t do it. I got invited to participate in a show, not this show, a different one. The show was like, “I need you to do this and this.” I’m like, “This is not how I show up and talk about personal branding.” I declined. It wasn’t aligned with who I am. When you take that additional incentive to make those decisions of what you’re going to do in your work, personal life, community, sleep habits and eating habits based on those things that are important to you, that is where you get that energy from.
You get those moments of personal brand alignment, which is joy and excitement. Not excitement because you’re shooting off party balloons and that’s fun but because what you’re doing in the moment is aligned with who you are as a person. The fact that has somehow been removed from the concept of work is crazy because there are lots of ways for us to show up in a working environment aligned with our values, assuming that the corporate structure is going to support us in doing that but it also gives you that space.
For job searchers or seekers, if you’re getting interviewed, you are equally interviewing a company. Those people who were interviewing you, do they show up with the corporate values? You can tell that in an interview. Those are the things that you can own as an individual and say like, “Is it important for me to show up with my values?”
I’m not saying you’re never going to trade your values because lots of times, people have conflicting goals and competing values but you have to pick one. This is life. We’re humans and we’re multi-dimensional but if you know that you can use those things as an anchor to make decisions so that you can have that space in your work and your life to celebrate and live into your values, that is when it’s fun to go to work.
Imagine that. You have a place where work can be fun. It always goes back to that brand and what people’s mental models are around what these constructs are supposed to be. One thing you and I agree on is us, as people, we need to find out what we value and what our brand is as it relates to that. That leads to my second question to you. I understand personal brand. What if my light bulb went off and I’m like, “How do I find out what my brand is?”
Your personal brand is someone else’s experience of you after you have left the room.
It’s a journey. It’s not one of those things where you can read it in a book like, “Two plus two equals four, great. I can recite two plus two equals four. It’s always true.” Unfortunately, personal branding doesn’t operate like that because values are complex. They’re tied to human emotions. A lot of people have been taught to avoid emotions.
Quite honestly, the fastest path to figuring out what your personal brand is to tap into your values, which means you have to tap into your emotions. If you’re very good at pretending you don’t have emotions because we’re not robots, we’re humans and all humans have emotions, it’s going to take more practice than somebody who is overly emotional.
I like to talk about emotions as if they’re traffic lights. When you have emotions that you’re excited to have, excitement, joy, fun and play, they’re green. You give them the green light because they feel good to you. You assign a green light to them. It’s like, “Go. Get more of the emotions. Keep doing this because that’s giving me emotions that I like.” Those are things that are aligned with your personal brand. The reason why you’re feeling so good about them is because whatever is happening, whatever situation or circumstance you’re standing in front of, that’s aligned with your personal brand.
I’m watching my son blow bubbles, chase them and pop them. I’m like, “This is so fun.” Family ranked very high for me on my list of values, so that’s green emotions. On the complete flip side, the yellow emotions are the most complicated, so I leave them for last. The red ones are ones where you feel angry or frustrated. You’re like, “Why does it have to be like this?” It’s because you have an innate belief, a core belief, that it’s not supposed to be like that. This happens a lot in the work environment. Where my biggest misalignments used to come in my corporate work was that, “Why are we doing it that way? That’s so stupid.”
Different people see it in a different way. Different things frustrate different people. Any of the things where you think of the words, “Why is it like that? It shouldn’t be like this,” some of those are artificial constructs that society has set on us like, “You should do this.” If it’s a societal construct and you find something that challenges that and you didn’t believe it anyway, that’s not going to frustrate you. Investigate why you’re doing those things. You’re probably doing them because someone else said you should or told you that you have to even in a work environment. Sometimes that might be someone like, “You have to do it this way.” Every time you do it, it’s like, “Why am I doing that?”
Yellow emotions are those ones that take a little more discovery. The one that most often falls into this category is fear. “I’m afraid of something.” You can be afraid of something for 1 of 2 reasons. One, because it is something you’ve never done before but is totally in line with your personal brand. You have fear because you’ve never done it before and you don’t know what the results are going to be. It’s something everybody experiences. You can have fear but you don’t want to do something because you don’t believe in it.
When you experience yellow emotions, stress is another one that falls into that category. It could be because you are living up to your greatest potential. That can be scary. That can feel big or it could be because you’re doing something you don’t believe in. When you’re feeling those yellow emotions, those are the times when it’s most important to look at. “What’s happening here? What am I experiencing? Is it aligned with my values? If it’s aligned with my values, it might be a growth opportunity. Growth is outside of my comfort zone. Therefore, it’s always a little bit scary. I’m afraid of this because if I do it, it’s not going to be aligned with my values and therefore, it would fall into the category of red.”
Your personal brand would say, “Stop.” Human emotions are complex. It’s overly simplified with the traffic light scenario. One of my favorite ways to describe it is in the book The Alchemist. At one point in the book, the boy, which the main character, is talking to his heart. He is like, “Heart, why have you left me? Why are you not speaking to me?” The heart was like, “I had been speaking to you but every time I spoke to you, your truth hurts you. I don’t want to hurt you, so I started to be silent because it hurt you less.”
It was a beautiful way of describing that. I believe the same thing about a personal brand. It is in you. It didn’t go anywhere. Even if you have 40, 50, 60 years of your life practicing not listening to it, it’s still there. It’s never too late to tap into those things but like any other skill, it takes practice. You have to practice experiencing your emotions, which is hard for some people. It’s always hard to start. The more you practice, the easier it gets. It’s that investment and commitment to yourself. Your authenticity and personal brand saying, “This is going to be uncomfortable. I am not used to feeling my emotions, especially at work.”
There’s still a lot of rhetoric in the industry about leaving your emotions at the door like, “Come to work. Leave your emotions,” which is ridiculous. It’s like telling me to leave my arm at the door. I can’t. It’s attached and inside of me. It’s one of those things that continually people are like, “Think happy thoughts.” No, you have to experience your emotions. That’s how you learn how to tap into your personal brand. As a leader, you can use that to create space for other people to do that. The sky is the limit once you start to practice.
As you think about that personal brand journey that a person would go on, let’s say, I’m a leader of an organization and I’m wanting employees to live into developing that personal brand, how can leaders do that supporting?
Here are two big things. One is creating a space but how do you create a space? You lead by example. An interesting thing about personal brands is there is no right way to do that. Every single person has a unique personal brand. The way that I show up to lead is different than the way Dr. Kevin authentically shows up to lead and that’s normal.
By me showing up trying to be Abraham Lincoln, I’m not Abraham Lincoln. I might have some of the same values as Abraham Lincoln but the way I speak, the type of energy I have, the things I think are fun, all of those things are different, which means my space manifests a different way. It also means that your employees will all manifest differently as well.
Let’s look at it like this. I like to describe it as these mini campfires. I’m the organization and I’m going to say, “This is our campfire. This is what it feels like to come and work here. These are our values. This is how we live our values.” Let’s say you came to an interview and that was what was presented to you. You’d be like, “These people care about people, learning, making a contribution and growth. I care about those things too, so I can align myself with the company.”
What I’ve done is I have my company campfire but what I didn’t do is I didn’t take that employee and plop them into the campfire. I allowed them to create their own mini-campfire with the same values. Our logs or values are the same. We get all of these employees. We have 100 employees and all these little campfires. What does that look like from the outside? If you’re standing far enough away, that’s a bonfire. That’s 100 people who are using their values in their way everyday to move that company forward to make that fire bigger. That is what it looks like. Taking an employee and plopping them in the fire doesn’t do that. All you’re going to do is still have one fire. You need to give them space and show them.
Here’s going to be the challenge if more people grab on this concept. We have not done it that way before, maybe by a few very small brands. There’s a couple of big brands that are very good at that version and ones that you’re familiar with and probably feel an emotional attachment to because those are the types of things they have built their business on. They have built their business on values. When you do that, people show up because they know.
It’s not pretend. It’s not like you’ve told them they can show up as themselves but every time they show up as themselves, you shoot them down and tell them, “That’s not how we do it here.” I showed up in a t-shirt and shorts with mismatched shoes because that’s who I am and you’re like, “We wear suits here.” Do you want me to do me the best way I can to drive the most value for your company or do you want me to be a clone? The clone is only going to do what you can do. It’s not going to do what I can do. We could have a whole episode probably about that.
If you don’t have the ability to show up as you in a thing, don’t do it.
It’s bigger thinking about embracing the differences in people. Your fire gets bigger because you invested in those differences in the people, embraced that, helped them to do that and drive your business the way they would do it. I would love to see more huge bonfires because people were supporting their employees’ personal brands.
That analogy sticks with me because, unfortunately, a lot of organizations still get caught up in that mess of cultural fit. Meaning, we want you to fit in this one small campfire, in your example. That’s good enough for us. That’s what it tends to look like. “We don’t want the bonfire. We’d rather people be clones and fit into what we already have because that’s how we do things around here.” We have to have comfort in the risk that it does take to have a bonfire. It’s not a bad risk. It’s a good risk but people have that fear of whatever it may be. If we’re a bonfire, we won’t be as successful as we were with everybody in this little campfire.
I like to think of the campfire analogy as in shining your light. The bigger bonfire you have, the more light you generate. If I am a business trying to make an impact on the world, why would I not want to shine more light?
You’re going to create more warmth.
Double win, warmth and light.
Thank you. This has been amazing. I enjoyed how you’ve been able to shape personal branding and make it make sense from a business standpoint because that’s important to a lot of people who are working in toxic workplaces or those who don’t even know they’re in toxic workplaces with these behaviors. Don’t let the environment cloud out your brand. Always be on that journey of finding out what your brand is and what you value. Your brand is not your job title. What words of wisdom would you leave our audience with?
Do you. I like to keep it simple. One of my favorite things that my clients say they take away from my coaching is this ability to ask, “What would I do?” As Tracy, if I’m trying to accomplish a thing, there’s a way Tracy would do it. It’s influenced by all the things I’ve learned, all the different ways I’ve seen other people do it and my ability to give myself my unique form of creativity to fill it out because creativity is also unique to every individual person.
If I can look at something and be like, “What would I do? Would I do that? It doesn’t feel like something I would do,” then don’t. Do you. Sometimes when you experience that, you’re going to find that you are in an environment that isn’t going to support you doing that. It can feel especially hard once you’ve had that realization. The light bulb has turned on and you’re like, “I come to work every day and I can’t be myself.”
You might have a transition period. You might need to find another job before you can quit your job. That’s fine. You have the ability to find a new job that will align with who you are so you can show up. It’s with other people, so it’ll never be a 100% aligned but it will be like, “Eight-five percent of the time, we’re doing things the way I would do things and it feels good for me.” Life is supposed to feel good. We get one life. With the amount of time that we put into work, what would your life look like if you could have values alignment at work? You can so do you.
How can people get ahold of you? How can we reach you and know more about what you’re working on?
If you want to hear what I’m talking about, LinkedIn is the best place to find me. You can find me under Tracy Borreson. I do one-on-one coaching, so I help people discover their personal brand and I do it in an immersive way. One-on-one coaching with the community so not just me, you get a whole community of people. Those communities of people are building their personal brand. One of my favorite things is watching people thrive as themselves and say no to the things that are not them. “I wouldn’t do that. I’m moving on. I’m not burning any more amount of calories on that. That’s not me. I’m good. I’ll try something different.” That’s what it looks like to work with me.
I also run a beautiful community called Your Business Peeps. It is a space for you to practice gaining confidence and showing up as your authentic self. Unfortunately, that work environments aren’t always supporting that. The social media environment depending on how you’ve curated it for yourself, is probably not doing that either, and so it is a community that is meant to give you that opportunity to grow and fail the way you would fail, be safe and supported by your other people.
My favorite way to explain it is failing and scaling because if you’re going to scale, you need to fail. Do any of those things. They’re all included on the journey of discovering your personal brand. If you are interested in checking that out, YourBusinessPeeps.com. We would love for you to come and hang out with us.
I appreciate talking to you, Tracy. This has been amazing. I see a strong connection to what you’ve talked about related to finding your brand as a potential antidote for a lot of people who are going through toxic workplaces and wanting to know what’s next for them and who they are. I hope people reach out. I appreciate your insights.
Thank you, Dr. Kevin.
Thank you all for reading the show.
About Tracy Borreson
Tracy Borreson is a mompreneur and brand identity coach on a mission to help leaders who are invested in creating authentic human experiences create a culture that represents their personal brand. With 15 years of experience in corporate marketing, as an employee and leader, Tracy consistently witnessed an inability for corporations to even recognize the existence of personal brands. So now, she’s helping leaders bring their authentic brand voices into their leadership strategies to create corporate cultures with the human experience at the core.