“Your Career Success Hinges on One Word — Do You Know It?” – by Verne Harnish


There’s one career decision that separates those who get remembered and have a major impact on the world from those who get forgotten.

And sadly, 99% of people will go through life never achieving this one simple goal.

It’s determining which word or two you want to “own” as your personal brand—among your office mates, within your company, in your industry and beyond.

Successful commercial brands are great at grabbing ownership of words in our minds. Volvo means safety. Google is synonymous with search.

So are great entrepreneurs. Richard Branson has taken over the word virgin, and Donald Trump has trumped other competitors by turning his last name into a well-known brand.

So how do you figure out what words you should own? You’ll get some ideas by asking yourself some key questions: What are you best at? What are you the go-to person for? When colleagues describe you to someone else, do they say you’re the queen (or king) of X? In what areas of your field do you have critical knowledge others lack? I teach entrepreneurs how to grow their firms, so I chose “The Growth Guy.”

Many people resist defining themselves in a short phrase. Often, it’s not easy to do. Sometimes, they think that by narrowing their focus in life to one thing, they’re limiting themselves.

What many don’t realize is that being crystal clear about who you are will open the door to lots of other interesting opportunities. My colleague has a friend who was Mr. Social Media for his firm and leapfrogged other more senior executives to the top of his organization.

Maybe you’ve read about advertising illustrator Brian Sanders. His iconic drawings from the 1960s helped inspire the show Mad Men. Just recently, at age 75, he was recently hired to create an advertising campaign for the hit TV series. He’d stuck with his style, and the creators realized no one could do “figurative illustrations” —his genre — better.

There’s another reason to choose the words you want to own. If you don’t take control of your personal brand, you run the risk of getting permanently branded with a label you don’t like—like That Guy Who Always Stays Late Doing All the Grunt Work in the Office.

This may have already happened. In that case, figure out what words really define your mission, and get busy making sure others know what they are. Register the URL for those words. Get the Twitter handle. Blog under that name. Write a white paper or book on the topic. The more you use the words, the more others will associate you with those words— so choose wisely.

Then get the media to independently anoint you the owner of those words—whether it’s in the company’s internal newsletter, a trade publication, the local newspaper, or the national press.

The payoff can be huge. Consider Vitamin Water creator Darius Bikoff. Sharing his story with the media—and getting known as the “godfather of enhanced waters” —has become his calling card. Thanks to his blog and book about lean startups, Eric Ries has guaranteed that his name invariably comes up in any article on the subject. And if you hear “4-hour” anything, you can’t help but think of Tim Ferriss, whose bestselling book The 4-hour Workweek cemented his ownership of those words.

Not all of us are destined to be famous for the words we want to own, but it’s still worth figuring out what they are. Defining who you are and what you’re all about (focus!) is the first step to achieving great things. Share this article with five trusted colleagues/friends who can help you find your word.