“We’ll lead not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”

– Joe Biden

To understand the meaning of personal brand equity, it is important to look at its separate parts:

Personal brand: Similar to a corporate brand, it is who we are, what we stand for, the values we embrace, and how we express those values.

Equity: Refers to value. Therefore, personal brand equity simply implies the value of your personal brand.

It can be argued that personal brand equity is perceived value, and different people might value my personal brand differently. There is some truth to this, but only a little. If I ask you to consider the following names and to rate them according to their personal brand equity, I think the ranking around the world (assuming that you know who these people are or were) would be the same 99,9% of the time: Nelson Mandela, Tarzan, Osama bin Laden…


“You too are a brand. Whether you know it or not. Whether you like it or not.”

– Marc Ecko

In the previous names listed as examples of personal brand equity, I deliberately added the fictional character of Tarzan into the mix, because someone’s personal brand equity gets formed by our perception of them. Furthermore, our perception of someone is our reality, which implies that even a fictional character has a specific personal brand. When it comes to each of us, as individuals, over time people will get to know our real personal brand and the equity of our brand.

However, if we aspire to become the brand that we think people would find appealing, then: (1) we won’t be able to maintain it or be happy to live this brand, because it is not really who we are – it is not authentic. (2) Not all people will like this brand because people have different preferences. This will then disappoint us, because our intentions of pleasing others, as opposed to being true to ourselves, will fail.

People can only fool others for so long. This applies to their real, personal brand, too, because it reflects who we really are and the way that we show up wherever we go. If we cannot live our personal brand, then our personal brand equity will effectively be zero.

Design your own personal brand

We need to become the brand that we consistently want to and can sustainably be. Perhaps while reading this you are thinking that you are happy with your personal brand and its equity. You are fortunate. You might also think that you are mainly happy with this aspect of your life, but that you could make some tweaks. The last possible place where you might find yourself is entirely unhappy with your personal brand equity and wanting to do a total makeover of your brand. Some people might tell you that this is impossible, because of your personality, ingrained values or circumstances. As someone who believes in leadership and people development, and who practises it as a full-time profession, I would beg to differ. I have experienced it first-hand. People can change, and people do change…


“To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” – Tom Peters


If you have any trouble designing your personal brand, then simply think of the corporate product or service brands that resonate with you, and what you aspire to. Gain a clear understanding of what they represent and what they stand for. Based on this, you then need to choose whether your personal brand must portray you as being ‘exclusive’, or ‘value-for-money’, or ‘rugged’ or ‘fast’, just to name a few examples.

You are in charge, and you need to decide what your brand must look like and what the value of your brand will be. Like so many corporate brands that have reinvented themselves, there is no reason why you, too, can’t reinvent yourself – especially if it will be better for you and those around you.

Lead by example 

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another, it is the only means” – Albert Schweitzer


Are you a role model for others? I once read that we should live our lives in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie at our funeral one day. Leading by example is a big part of this.


“My life is my message.” – Mahatma Gandhi


If we have strong personal brand equity, then we will act in a way that not only shows others how to act but typically inspires others to look up to us and try to follow our, hopefully good, example.

By working on creating our unique personal brand, we not only have a responsibility towards ourselves but to others, too, to ensure that the equity of our personal brand is of such high value that those around us would like to follow our example. We should do this not only because it is the right thing to do, but because they will see the benefits that are generated in terms of achieving our personal dreams and goals as part of our successful self-leadership journey.


“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.” – Kobe Bryant


Beating, or at least keeping your promises


“Formula for success: under promise and over deliver.” – Tom Peters


The content of the above quote is a key part of increasing the equity of our personal brand. As we get older, we grow wiser. In my first marriage, I used to make a promise to my then-wife to get home after, for example, a work function, at a specific time that was maybe a little bit difficult to make. Why would I do that? I am not sure. I probably wanted to impress her by saying that I would be home earlier, rather than later. Then I would sometimes miss my own deadline by a small margin, which would make me feel guilty, and she would question why I had arrived home later than promised. It was all my own doing.

In my second marriage, when I communicate my timings to my wife, I typically add 15 minutes to the actual time that I expect to be home. That way, I am the hero every time without the associated feelings of guilt.

I have shared this story simply to illustrate that again, you are in charge. If I had initially moved my promised arrival time by 15 minutes, it would not have affected my first wife in any way, but the fact remains that I over-promised and under-delivered. People with strong brand equity under-promise and over-deliver every time.


“Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.”

– George Washington


By the way, we should never use the word “promise” unless we are prepared to pay the necessary price to keep it. I know a couple of people who promise things just in passing, to try to look like a hero at that moment, but they never honour their promises. They don’t realise the harm it does to their personal brand and that, over time, it projects a message of: “Don’t believe what I promise you.” Talk is cheap. If we say something, then we need to do it, because then people will learn to trust and respect us. As successful self-leaders, we need to own what we say. To us, over-promising and under-delivering is not an option. If we do this, we not only disappoint others but ourselves, too.


Other personal brand equity boosters

I would also like to summarise and share with you other areas of personal brand equity that I have encountered in my life: 

  • Working hard as a core value. We can’t expect to get a different result in our lives if we are not willing to put in the required effort and hard work to achieve our personal goals.
  • Standing up for what is right. Most of us hate what is wrong, but only a small group of people are willing to stand up and publicly voice their objections.
  • Respecting others. This increases the value of our personal brands by, for example, respecting others’ time by being on time.
  • Being a pleasure to be around. These kinds of people attract others to them like a magnet.
  • Honouring others. Whenever I hear somebody publicly honouring or acknowledging others, I just think so much more of that person who did the honouring.
  • Simply smile. Do this, even more, when you interact or just simply walk past a stranger. People with smiles light up our world…


“Peace begins with a smile.” – Mother Teresa


In the digital age, be careful with your personal branding

In today’s digital age, we are encouraged to do things, like define our audience. Following the advice of experts, we prepare elevator pitches on who we are, grow our online presence, and perhaps even start a blog. Yes, this is part of the ‘new’ way of doing things in a digital age, but we need to be careful that we don’t allow external forces and our desire to satisfy the needs of others, influence who we are. Our personal brand is much more than our online persona. How we show up at home, at work, in the way we speak and how we interact with others, ultimately define our personal brand.


“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

– Jeff Bezos


Author Dr. Hekkie van der Westhuizen shares practical self-leadership tips, tools and interventions in the form of stepping stones that will assist you along the journey to becoming the best possible version of yourself.


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