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Personal Branding and Leadership:  The Danger of Ignorance


We wrapped up our Personal Branding elective yesterday here at the Barret Graduate School of Banking led by the incomparable Emily Mays.  For content creators, sometimes life just hands you the perfect situation that goes right along with something at work and provides a great illustration.  For songwriters, we think of this as the muse.

And, yesterday was one of those inspired moments in life that you couldn’t draw up if you tried nor can you ignore.

(I am going to need to be purposefully vague in the details so I will apologize in advance for that but not so vague that the point is lost.)

I was talking with someone during my afternoon pipe time about what happened in their day and it came up that they ran into a large contingent of employees at a large organization where they used to work.  There was no bad blood and there were lots of hugs and smiles and laughter around reminiscing about the old days.  As it turns out, this large organization was having one of their keystone events of the year and had invited nearly all of their key stakeholders (employees, customers/clients/partners, etc.).  So, irrespective of the details…it’s a big event with a multitude of key people who engage at all levels (professionally and financially) all in town and all in one place.

The ol’ gang enthusiastically invited the person with whom I’d been speaking with to come to the cocktail hour and see more people!!  Sounds like a great time and who wouldn’t want to slip in a big cocktail party and see more familiar faces!  The gang’s first words out of their mouth after extending the invitation….”Don’t worry, X won’t be there!  X wouldn’t come down from on high to mingle with us”

X is the CEO! The “us” is upper/middle management.  Definitely key employees who have brought a significant amount of money to the table.

The organization’s brand is solid.  The CEO’s…is so negative that key employees in the middle of an event aimed at growing relationships with the organization’s brand have the idea that X won’t come downstairs to X’s own organization’s event.  Oh, by the way, some of the “ol’ gang” was not just employees, but what you would consider to be customers (and not small ones).

It would be easy to be dismissive of this and think “well, they shouldn’t be talking about their leadership in this manner” and there’s something to that, I guess.  But let’s be honest with ourselves here…are they wrong?  X didn’t show up, by the way, and rather than dusting off the Employee Handbook to throw at them, let’s examine the reason for this behavior.

X’s personal brand is one of arrogance and being dishonest with employees.  This has been noted by employees for years as well as some of the customers/clients/partners.  Now, what do you think is going to happen when the inevitable happens and someone hires away those employees?  Their first calls are going to be to their former relationships and move that money away.

I just couldn’t get over the fact that the selling point to come to the event (other than free drinks and seeing friends) was the CEO won’t be there.  X’s personal brand is so bad that it is “addition by subtraction” at a networking gold mine behind an amazingly strong corporate brand.

There is a great deal more that I could talk about but it would require me to divulge too much but just let this story sink in.  A bank could be doing great…it could be a game-changing bank that is leading all peer groups and setting all kinds of records for being amazing.  What if that CEO’s (or any management for that matter) personal brand is so bad that at the bank’s own event his/her absence is a good thing because of perceived arrogance and dishonesty with staff?

One or more of the following will happen if a bank finds itself in a situation like this:

  1. When key people leave, they take their contacts with them. While, yes, there is value to the corporate brand there is a great deal of value in the relationships that generate the business.  It’s often said that people don’t bank with banks, they bank with people.  I don’t know that this is always true.  There is some value put in the bank as an entity unto itself…but…it NEVER overpowers the relationships built with and by the employees.


  1. Customers get sick of dealing with….jerks. Nobody wants to feel like they are lucky to be doing business with an arrogant jerk.  At some point, they leave.


  1. Anything that comes out of the mouth of this type of CEO is going to be ignored by the team. I know that may be a gut-punch to that CEO and they probably don’t believe it or they challenge the team to test him/her and see what happens.  Here’s what will happen…they’ll go along to get along and then either leave or quietly quit.


  1. It would be incredibly difficult to create brand evangelists either from employees and customers in this type of situation. The customers might become brand evangelists for the team or their personal banker…but not the bank.  Why should they?  They’re not worth evangelizing for!


  1. Markets, like nature, abhors a vacuum. At some point a competitor will rise and steal away that which is good about the bank.  It might not be a direct competitor.  It might be another industry entirely that takes key people who leave because they’re sick of dealing with it.  In today’s digital environment, it might not even be brick-and-mortar competitor.  It may not be immediate…but just give it time.


Understanding the mechanics of personal branding is massively important.  It can make a good bank (or banker) great.  It can be the difference in being the banker in your community vs being a banker in your community.  But being a lender, we’re taught to examine the risks of something negative that happens and when we consider the impact of a negative personal brand by leadership (even at an organization with an ENORMOUSLY valuable brand) the need to concentrate on personal branding goes beyond becoming an influencer or something like that.  It is crucial to the success of your bank and to ignore it is to invite the rooster into the hen house…and you wouldn’t recognize the danger until it is too late.


written by


Byron Earnheart is the Programming Director for the Barret School of Banking in Memphis, TN and the host of the “Main Street Banking” podcast…the only podcast solely devoted to community banks. He has over 15 years experience in the financial services industry; 11 of which have been in banking in various roles from teller work to branch management. He spends his time playing guitar and singing in Delta Heart (the “house band of the Mississippi Delta”), writing music, cooking, reading, and enduring the University of Tennessee Volunteers athletic seasons. He is married to his wife Kelly of 11 years and has two children, John Aubrey (11) and Mary Laura (7). If you'd like to hear Byron's music, check him out on Spotify:
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