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On Leadership

Our most frequent client collaboration is with the leaders of organizations or institutions as they guide their teams through change—be it of a technical, business process or organizational nature. Recently, my colleague, John Gorman, commented on the differences between leadership and management and how complementary they are in deploying a complex technology solution. That led me to thinking about leadership in a larger context—that of leadership branding.

What is Leadership Branding?

I tend to define leadership branding as how others perceive you —i.e., what you are known for. The “others” may be internal (employees) or external (customers / investors) stakeholders. We all have an innate leadership identity regardless of our positions, but is it the right one for the position you have or want?

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Just like in product branding, leadership branding is letting others know what value you offer to the situation. But, unlike product branding where the marketing may directly state the value of the product, a leadership brand is more subtly conveyed. Your leadership brand comes across via how you say the things you say and by your personal actions over time.

Building Your Leadership Brand

I have found through working with new leaders that they seldom think about their leadership brand—they are too busy doing the job. Secondly, if they do think about their personal brand, they tend to think in terms of their strengths rather than how others perceive them. To help them begin the process of building their leadership brand, I offer the following tips:

  • Take an introspective look. Take the time to define your brand and defining it in the context of what you want to achieve value-wise in your position. Many articles can guide you through an exercise on leadership brand definition (for example, see HBR’s “Define Your Personal Leadership Brand in Five Steps”), but the important point is to take the time to think about it and not assume it comes naturally.
  • Be outwardly focused. Have you ever changed jobs or been promoted and found that what used to work in providing results, no longer works as well? That is probably due to a mismatch between your brand and position and/or culture. It becomes a matter of looking at your strengths through the lens of what is expected of you by the position and the company culture. Leadership brand is all about outward perceptions and consistency over time. Soliciting feedback and coaching from others can give you a fresh perspective on what people see and think about you as a leader.

Leadership branding may be a slow process but an important one to pursue. How others perceive you, and how that perception influences their decisions, not only reflects on your capabilities but your organization’s as a whole. And shaping that perception is worth all the time in the world.

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