Alexander Michael Gittens is a business strategist, author and speaker and lives in downtown Toronto, Canada. Recently, we spoke on a video call and I found Alexander’s ability to engage authentically and his passion for excellence, very uplifting. He has been an achiever in more ways than one and yet believes in gratitude, staying grounded and connecting to his higher purpose. An award-winning pianist, TEDx speaker, a champion for global charities and initiatives and international amateur baseball player – Alexander has a lot of tips and lessons to share on personal branding.
- What according to you is personal branding?
My definition is going to be pretty close to the dictionary definition, but how I apply it something different. I think branding is any kind of promotion you do.
You are looking to drive a specific action – whether that converts someone into a buyer, whether that is about gaining awareness, whether that is to get your message out or perhaps for altruistic reasons.
“Personal,” of course relates to you. It’s about self-promotion or getting your own voice out there and looking to achieve the desired outcomes you want with your voice.
2. Do you consider yourself a personal brand? How do you know it?
There are the inward signs and there are the outward signs.
The inward signs have been there my entire life. I felt like I had something I wanted to say, but I had no clue what it was but I always in the wrong place and felt I was little bit different than the people around me.
I come from an immigrant family. I wanted a way to express myself – in a way that wasn’t just sports and music. I think it became more important as I got older — very, very important to do things in my way and to find myself.
A lot of failure happened to get there, but when I did find myself and my path it became important for me to share those lessons and experiences with other people.
I think that’s where the outward signs started to come, when I started to only put out content that was aligned with my own experiences and my own values.
3. What does one do to go about building a personal brand?
With my clients I always say, branding = consistency.
Rather than merely what you want the world to see, your branding is what you consistently do.
That consistency starts with habits. Even in the things people don’t see – your diet, your nutrition and the way you handle your relationships… The way you handled things that happened in the past that weren’t great for you. Being consistent on those things with positivity, with energy and intentionality – that is part of your brand.
At the end of the day, if you consistently put out high-quality content with a specific focus, you’ll have a strong brand. If you put content that is sometimes high or sometimes low, then you will have an inconsistent brand.
4. What are the attributes of a personal brand? And what do people associate your brand with?
It’s not going to be handsome! That I can’t control 🙂
I hope that I am intelligent. I hope that I am value-led. I hope that I am true. Abraham Lincoln has this great quote where he says that he isn’t bound to win but he is bound to be true. I hope that the way I present myself is a way that it means a lot to me. I hope that everything I put isn’t about someone feeling good or getting little bits of information. But, it is about providing actual tools so that people in their own time and their own energy can create a unique expression of greatness for themselves, for people they love and the world around them.
So more than inspiration or motivation, it is about providing solid tools and actions that can get you to the best version of who you are.
5. Based on your observations and learning who according to you is a personal brand? What characteristics do you admire about them?
It’s so weird, I was talking to one of my clients and we were saying branding is consistency – whether it is consistently good or bad. We have world leaders – won’t mention any names but some are very consistent in the way that they do things. And they have built strong brands but it may not be a brand that we want to be associated with.
Be it a celebrity or an athlete or a politician or a thought leader, my biggest thing is consistency. Does this person go deep into the things that they care about? Is everything well researched, is it beautiful, is it light, is it harmonious, does it have light and levity – those are things that are important to me.
People like Barack Obama could mean a lot to me, even though I am probably the least political person and I am not really interested in politics at all. But I liked the fact that he built his career on the same values when he was a community organizer and helping people in some bad neighborhoods and when he was the President of the United States. And even now with his production and film company telling great stories.
For me, there is no one person that makes me feel that I want to be like them. I think that’s great since I see traits in many different people where they have that consistency even if it is not the way I operate, I aspire to be that deep and true in everything I do.
6. What steps did you take to build your brand? How do you know it is working?
This is something that is so important to me. It is beyond conscious – it is intentional. It is moment by moment. Literally, a lot of the things I did in life I was trying to get to a certain place. If I get money, then people will respect me. If I get education, people will listen to what I have to say. And then I’ll matter.
So, doing one thing to get to the another. Trying to get a certain reaction and I just wanted to focus on my individual actions. So literally the steps that I take is, I asked myself, is this moment that I’m in, representative of my entire values and legacy?
So, I say I’m talking to my friend, Aniisu from Bangalore there in India on his incredible blog, this interview, this scene of my life am I okay with it representing everything I’ll ever be?
So now I can’t just say what I think you want to hear, or I can’t just give typical answers, because my whole life is being displayed in this moment. And then you get a habit, you get this consistency for having a unique voice. Because you’re always asking yourself… You’re always calibrating your values with your actions and you’re saying – is this all of me?
So, we’ve got a saying in our team: it’s above doing our best – it’s about giving our all. We put our talent, our passions and values and all of the things that brought us to this moment. All the things we want to be, we bring those into every moment. Anyone can do that, anyone can write, anyone can post, and before they post – ask themselves, “Am I okay with this post, this article, this image representing everything I am?”
It is this beautiful consistency and excellence as well, you are going to make happen. It still will never be perfect – you have to accept that. I’m on step seven out of 100, but that consistency in the process is more important than the destination or the goal because the process is everything and the goal is just one of the positive results. It’s a very specific way we operate as a team and I do that every day of my life.
7. What challenges did you face while building a personal brand? What techniques did you adopt to overcome them?
Let me be clear. I had failures – legal, financial, business… Everything that I tried to do worked for a little while. But I ended up maybe 10 steps forward and 50 steps backwards.
When you are in the place where I lost all this money, and all these scary situations I’m in is going to take me years before I come out of it. It’s a place where you have to look at yourself and say, what kind of man, what kind of person do I want to be?
Failure tends to be a better teacher than success. Because the failure was my fault – no one did it to me, there was no where to look. But in the mirror.
The challenge wasn’t about getting back up. Life goes on. I am an ambitious person – you’re an ambitious person. We push forward. The challenge was in applying that Greatness Equation: Best Possible Me, multiplied by, Biggest Positive Impact. Applying that to every moment of my life.
Maybe it is easier to do with clients but harder to do in relationships. Maybe it is easier to do with my health and nutrition but harder to do when I am dealing with my parents. So, the challenge to me, the failure and the challenge to me, is – am I going to be true to my values? There will be big moments and small moments. Trying to match your actions with your values. You then get into the habit of greatness, sounding like someone who knows what they are talking about because you are living unapologetically and with passion.
Wonderful question – but failure and the acuity in the way that I operate has been the key to everything that happened to me.
8. What did you gain in the process? What did you lose?
This is easy. I lost a lot – money, friendships, respect…
But what I gained, oh my goodness, but first a few more losses, because some of the losses were terrible. I lost my illusion of what success would look like for me. I lost that feeling that something external had to change for me to become the best of who I am. Even when things don’t go my way, it is the way I react to the situation and the challenges is where my greatness is found.
So, the Universe or the world or God, is giving me opportunities and challenges so I can hone and refine my greatness. So, I can act and respond in alignment with my values.
I lost my illusions and lost money. I gained clarity, and resiliency and a little bit of wisdom too. I am a relatively young man, but I gained some wisdom and a way to operate. And a purpose and a plan for my life.
Two things that I gained that I didn’t even think I needed – because I am a pretty happy person, I gained peace. A calmness and joy. I am a buoyant person but the joy and the excitement of working on something hard with people that I respect. Towards a goal that we may never reach. But it worth the very gift of life and worthy of our time and energy.
I lost a lot but everything I lost wasn’t worth a whole lot. What I gained is priceless and eternal.
9. How can someone starting from scratch build a personal brand? What is the first step he or she must take?
Oh, it’s a great question. I am really blessed. I have a great relationship with all the 3-4 Universities here in Toronto. I got a chance to speak at the Young Entrepreneurship Conference right before the lockdown and had a chance to work closely with students.
Aniisu, they always ask a variation of the same question – what is the one thing you did to be successful?
I tell them that is it impossible to lead, it is impossible to be compelling, it is impossible to go your own way, if you are following someone else’s path or methodology. When you watch people that you are inspired by, it is the same thing when you dream… The only benefit to a dream is to give you that impetus for action. To take that next positive step.
How can you lead and have your own voice if you are repeating someone else’s words and their energy? It may take a little bit longer. But, taking shortcuts is the longest way. Think, what is actually important to me? What do I care about? What is my voice? I would say that is the most important thing.
The second point is that everything you put out, everthing that has your name on it, the things that people don’t see, like your habits – make sure they are lined up with things that you care about the most.
There is a verse in the Bible which I love – it says, what good would it do if you got everything you ever wanted, but lost you, the real you? What good would that do? So make sure you stay true to who you really are. And that isn’t in some motivational speech. It is literally in everything you do. If it is not something you worked tirelessly, or care about, or your heart beats for it — or if you can’t put the time and rigor work in, don’t do it. Be yourself unapologetically and scale the highest altitude possible.
10. If you had the opportunity to change something about the way you built your personal brand, what would that be?
About my personal brand – No. Because, every time that I had an epiphany, I just deleted everything and started over. I changed everything a couple of times. And I think that’s part of the importance too. Not being afraid of starting over. I felt myself doing things that I wasn’t who I truly was.
The things I will change aren’t in my personal brand. The things I will change are in my personal life. In the process of becoming the best possible me, there were relationships that I had and family situations and business situations where I was the cause of things that I am not proud of at all. Even when they were not a 100% my fault, I left stuff go. I looked the other way. I dealt with people that I am not proud of now. And to the best of my ability, I made restitution for them, and maybe to someone else it may not sound like a big deal. I just hate that – as I was finding myself, some of the earlier relationships I was confused and lost. I wasn’t sure who I was.
For myself, I can handle it starting over, I can handle defeat. I know there have been moments when I know for sure, plus probably moments that I don’t know of, where my actions and intentions costed somebody else. Those are my biggest regrets.
There have been people who met me along the way while I was becoming my best self. If I could back I would definitely do better in relationships and the way I handled things.
11. What is your recipe for personal branding success?
My mantra for personal branding success – it is All. I want it all, I expect to give my all, and in everything I do I want it to reflect my very existence here on the planet and in legacy – after I go. So I want to give my all.
A little longer version for someone who wants to learn, is what I call the Greatness Equation. I got it here on my wristband and my team wears it all the time. That is becoming the Best Possible Me and creating the Biggest Positive Impact. If that’s an equation, both sides need to equate 10 out of 10 or 100 out of 100.
So, if I am making an impact, if it is not the most of my passions or my talent or my values, then I get a zero on the ‘Best Possible Me’ side of the equation, even if I am making an impact. So, the whole equation equals zero.
I want to make sure that in everything I do I am really giving my all. Really giving my all and am working hard to develop my talents, my passions and my values. And I am not just doing that for me. I do it for myself first, then the people I love, and then the world around me.
At the end of my speeches I have the crowd repeat it – “Best Possible Me. Biggest Positive Impact.” It’s a great mantra. In every moment of my life, I aspire to be the best possible me and create the biggest positive impact.
12. With COVID19 and other crises what steps can personal brands take?
The empathy or the lack of empathy that we’ve all seen as a result of people being in life threatening and horrible situations, has been a little disappointing at times. But it is balanced and overcome by the generosity of people to rally and to get together as communities always ha e in times of trouble.
What does that mean to an individual? At these hard times, it is about their character. If someone goes into profiteering or goes towards leverage or becomes an overnight expert, it is exposing the character of wanting to gain or profit from others misery.
Even in tough situations, if you follow the greatness equation, your goal is to create the Biggest Positive Impact, then you are always going to be asking yourself – we are in the horrible situation and the globe is affected like the past epidemic, what can I do uniquely to help?
For our team, it was donating our time, speaking at an online fundraising Gala and working with my clients and raising money to feed healthcare workers in Miami… Likewise in Hawaii. Anything that feels like you are leveraging someone else’s pain – that’s not a rule we want to follow.
Even in the most challenging situations, the way we respond and fix our attitude is reflective of our highest values. Be careful – operating outside our values, let me tell you, it is a recipe for disaster.
Even when things are tough, if you have the right attitude, it may take a little longer but you’ll like where you’ll go.
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- Personal branding for corporate communicators