Kellie McElhaney, PhD, founding director of EGAL at Berkeley Haas, speaks at the 2022 Diversity Symposium.

How to craft your story and create your brand star

By Anthony Whitten

Résumés loom large in the lives of many MBA applicants and graduates: Where you’ve worked, lived, and been educated. They distill your story into crisp prose. But what about everything that they leave out?

“You can’t check your life story at the door when you go to work,” is how Kellie McElhaney, PhD, put it when she spoke at the 2022 Berkeley Haas Diversity Symposium. This annual event convenes current and future business leaders for two days of thought-provoking discussion and exploration of diversity, equity, and inclusion issues.

Kellie is the founding director of the Center for Equity, Gender and Leadership at Berkeley Haas. EGAL’s mission is to educate equity-fluent leaders™ to ignite and accelerate change. “Equity fluent leaders,” Kellie said, “intentionally use their power to drive positive change and build an inclusive and equitable world.”

After sharing some of her own unofficial story—fierce feminist, mental health survivor and ally, chief inspiration, and chief agitation officer—Kellie dove into a presentation, titled Crafting Your Story that engaged participants in understanding their own stories and creating their own personal brands. Referencing Jeff Bezos’ definition of brand as “what other people say about you when you’re not in the room,” Kellie used a Venn diagram that illustrated one’s personal brand as the “overlap between how you see yourself and how others see you. It is your job to be the chief marketing officer for the brand called you.”

Encouraging the audience to begin defining their personal brand, she asked everyone to turn to their neighbor and describe themselves in five adjectives. There was just one guideline: A prohibition on the word ‘authentic.’ Kellie explained, “Authenticity is really about being the author of your own life. In this exercise, I want you to be specific about your brand attributes, to identify the uniqueness you bring.”

For five minutes the room bubbled and buzzed with chatter and energy. Arms reached out, hands scratched heads, fingers waved.

Without sharing their adjectives, Kellie also asked people to share with the larger group what they have been told they are “too” much of, noting that “being ‘too’ anything is seen as bad.” Among the ‘toos’ voiced by the audience: Independent. Angry. Ambitious. Demanding. Career-oriented.

“The best way to deal with a ‘too’ is by turning it around,” Kellie said. “When people say I am too emotional, for example, I reply, ‘Thanks, you are right. Empathy is my superpower. Here’s how that serves me and you and the team . . . ‘“

The next step in creating your personal brand is developing your “brand star.” The five adjectives chosen in the first exercise, become the points of that star.

At this point, Kellie invited everyone to delve more deeply into one of their adjectives, again collaborating with the person sitting next to them. The conversation, Kellie urged, should include what the adjective is and what it is not: Compassionate, not selfless. Understanding of others, not a push-over.

Those conversations, and the room, were quieter and more concentrated. Heads nodded and shoulders shrugged. People had a hard time returning their attention to Kellie as she urged people to continue their reflection on all five adjectives. Refinement of your brand star includes putting substance behind each adjective and road-testing them with people who know you well.

Another step, she suggested, would be to relate your brand star to your core values. “It also is useful to reflect on how your brand attributes relate to your group identity: gender, race, class, religion, among so many others.”

Be fearlessly authentic!”

Her final challenge to the audience was to “complete your brand stars intentionally, to test them with people in your personal and professional worlds. But don’t conform your brand star to anyone else’s thinking. Be fearlessly authentic!”

Watch Kellie McElhaney’s full presentation, Crafting Your Story, from our 2022 Diversity Symposium and learn how to present your own personal brand for your Haas MBA application.

Watch Diversity Symposium Coverage

Posted on December 8, 2022
Anthony Whitten
Anthony Whitten is the Director of Diversity Admissions, a school-wide DEIB team role. Before working in higher education, Anthony spent 12 years as a public high school teacher in Virginia. He taught courses including journalism, US history, and economics and personal finance. Anthony completed his Bachelor’s in History and African American Studies at the University of Virginia. Additionally, he holds masters degrees in Educational Leadership and Policy from Portland State and Teaching from the University of Virginia.