What's your leadership brand? Think you do not have one? Guess again!
The term leadership brand is based on two important discriminates: branding and leadership.
First, let's define branding. Simply put, branding is the perception that people have of a product, service, company or person. A brand stands for something; it is associated with an idea, an emotion, a standard of quality or a unique concept.
We think of brands as mostly related to products and organizations … for example, Heinz 57; Exxon; Lexus. Think of brands that have powerful positive connotations for you. What characteristics do you perceive? What emotions does the brand evoke?
In business, companies put tremendous efforts into building their brand because strong branding results in premium price, higher reliability, better reputation, and extremely, higher revenue.
The same concept applies to people. Those most focused on building their brand tend to be service professionals and entrepreneurs who must differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.
The crucial question in personal branding is: What are you known for?
Leaders inside organizations increasingly recognize the importance of consciously developing their own personal brand, apart from the brand of their company. Why should corporate executives be aware of and develop their personal brand? The reasons are similar to those involved in corporate or product branding. When individuals have a reliable reputation, this equals a strong personal brand, which in turn leads to higher earning power, better opportunities for promotion, and more interesting opportunities. In summary, they are more in demand and get more of what they want.
Now, let's consider leadership and its relationship to branding. The essence of leadership is contained in the following question: Do people want to follow you? We've all known executives who had "position power" but failed to connect with and inspire those they led.
So how do we combine leadership and branding? Ask yourself the following questions: What aspects of leadership do you want to be known for? In other words, what feelings do you evoke in people so they positively talk about you, refer you, promote you, and want to do business with you?
Let's take the case of Peter, a highly talented executive director of a Fortune 500 company. Although he was an intelligent, ambitious, no-nonsense manager, Peter was twice turned down for promotion to vice president. He was incredulous when others moved up and he did not. His boss, sensing Peter's frustration, recommended he consult with a coach.
Peter was originally skeptical when we encouraged him to reflect on how he is perceived and leadership brand. He really pushed back, asserting that personal branding is insubstantial, that it recognized more to the sizzle than the steak. "Why should I spend my time on soft stuff like politics? What I'm known for is results, and that's what really matters." He strongly believed that his performance and numbers should speak for themselves, and that leaders should not have to "blow their own horn."
When we conducted a 360 ° feedback survey with Peter's co-workers, we uncovered some critical information about how he was perceived by others. He was, indeed, acknowledged for his drive, creative problem solving, critical thinking, financial acumen and industry knowledge.
In addition, he was also perceived by bosses and peers as abrupt, disrespectful and dismissive of others people's ideas. For example, when one of his peers expressed an idea in a meeting, Peter cut her off, quickly telling her that idea would not work. By doing so, Peter discredited his colleague – not just her idea – and conveyed the message "I am smarter than you; your ideas do not matter, mine do."
Although Peter was efficient, smart and engaging, he sometimes came across as boastful, impolite, dismissive and disrespectful. This, in essence, was his leadership brand.
There was a strong discrepancy between Peter's intentions and the message his actions carried. Even though he had the best interests of his company in mind, Peter was not aware of the impact he had on others. This is called a blind spot, when others see something in us that we do not.
There are two lessons we can learn from Peter. First, solicit feedback from the people around us; proactively ask for others' point of view. To gather this information, we can conduct a 360 ° online survey, or go to our co-workers and ask for their candid input on how they see us and how we impact others. The goal in this exercise is to see through our own blind spots.
The second insight from Peter's story is that we must ensure that our intentions are congruent with our actions. We all have good intentions, but too often our behaviors leave a different impression. Then we wonder why people respond incongruously to us, do not do the things we ask them to do or, as in Peter's case, do not promote us.
Having good intentions is not enough; we must display the behaviors that best convey our intentions to others.
Remember, we judge ourselves by our intentions and we judge others by their behaviors.