Connections and authenticity are important to your personal brand, El-Lakany tells Young Professionals
With a varied career in non-profits, the financial sector and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (known as “Freddie Mac”), Riham El-Lakany, BJC’s marketing and communications senior vice president, has a wealth of insight into developing and marketing a personal brand. She shared some of those insights, along with personal experiences, during the BJC Young Professionals Connection group’s online spring event, “Marketing Your Personal Brand,” May 4.
BJC chief people officer Jackie Tischler introduced El-Lakany, and marketing and communications consultant Brenna Slavens moderated the session.
El-Lakany joined BJC at the end of January. A native of Egypt, she began working for non-profit organizations specializing in women’s issues and reproductive health rights. She transitioned into the financial sector, gravitating to mission-driven companies that focused on improving people’s lives, she said.
A lifelong interest in health care drew her to BJC. “Health and education are the most important gifts you can give people,” she said. “You cannot overemphasize the impact of health care on people’s lives.”
Defining your brand, making connections
El-Lakany told the group that to market your personal brand, you first must define what you want that brand to be by determining what’s important to you. Then, you need to find out how others perceive you and see if that fits with your brand. Finally, she said, you need to plan how to get where you want to be.
She noted that a personal brand – specifically how one is perceived — can be dynamic and change relative to the environment. At one company, she was told that she was “too nice and not outspoken enough,” she recalled. But at the next company she worked for, she was told she was too outspoken and too assertive.
Young professionals shouldn’t be afraid to seek out mentors and sponsors who can help them learn skills or give advice, El-Lakany told the group. She related how once at a business event, the company CFO delivered bad budget news, but did it in a respectful, powerful and effective way. Afterward, El-Lakany later asked the CFO if he’d be willing to mentor her on delivering bad news effectively. He agreed. Later, he became a sponsor for her — actively promoting her professional development in the company.
The story illustrates the importance of connecting, El-Lakany said.
Mentors don’t always need to be higher up in the organization, she noted. Co-workers or even family or friends may have valuable feedback or connections.
“Network, network, network,” she said.
Some things are non-negotiable
El-Lakany also told the group that being your authentic self is important to your personal brand.
For instance, she said, she’s found using her hands to gesture as she talks — a trait common among people from the Mediterranean region — helps her communicate effectively and is something she won’t change, although a boss suggested she should.
Early in her career, she said, it was suggested to her that she change her last name because it was “hard to pronounce.” But she refused. In her tradition, women take their father’s last name — even after marriage.
“There are some things that are non-negotiable,” she said.
To close the session, El-Lakany was asked to share the best advice she had ever received. She said her father, whose successful career connected him with popes and presidents, as well as rural villagers, told her, “Always treat everyone with respect. Learn something from everyone. And treat everyone the same.”
Watch the program recording.