• Dina Smith

How to Develop a Strong Leadership Brand


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(Originally published in Forbes.)


Garrett had quickly risen through the ranks at his tech company, accomplishing much through his hard-driving style. Now in a vice president role, his career had plateaued and he had the uneasy feeling that something wasn't quite right. Garrett's discomfort was confirmed when his boss told him that his leadership needed to improve immediately and recommended he work with an executive coach. Unbeknownst to him, Garrett had been operating in ways that had created a strong but negative leadership brand. And by the time we met, his reputation at the company was poor.


Situations like this are potentially disastrous — and avoidable. Like Garrett, if you're a leader, you already own a leadership brand, whether you have thought about it or not. Is it the brand that you want? And will it enable you to deliver the most value for your career and organization?


A leadership brand is quite simply what you're known for. It's your reputation. And as a leader, your effectiveness and everything you do, say and embody at work create the brand for which you become known. Possessing the right brand can have a huge upside for your success as a leader. From gaining a seat at the table, to accessing opportunities, to being able to attract and hire great people, your brand matters. And having a negative brand can lead to significant career consequences — as it started to for Garrett.


So, what can you do to develop a strong leadership brand? There are three basic steps and a series of questions that you should periodically consider and address throughout your career. 


Assess your current brand


While I collected this feedback for Garrett, you can assess your brand yourself. Choose at least 10 of your colleagues and ask them to answer the following questions:

  • What three adjectives best describe me?

  • What three adjectives best describe my leadership style?

  • What are three talents or things you think I do exceptionally well?

  • What most stands out about me and my leadership style?

  • What is one thing I can do to improve my leadership brand?

When reviewing the themes in the data you collected, ask yourself: What aspects of your current brand do you want to keep and build on? What aspects do you want to change? Which elements serve you well in your role? Which do not? 


This exercise dramatically increased Garrett's awareness of his image, and he recognized several shifts he wanted to make in the way he led and was perceived.


Define your aspired leadership brand 


The brand you aspire to is an authentic and inspired vision of the leader you want to be and the results you want to achieve. Define your aspired brand by outlining:

  • Who are you? Get clear on your strengths and weaknesses, your top five values and the difference or contribution you are looking to make in this world.

  • What value will you deliver? Considering your key stakeholder groups and their expectations, what are the significant results you want to accomplish in the next year?

  • How do you want to be experienced and known? What do you want people to say after they have met or worked with you? 

Capture the essence of your aspired brand by writing a short statement that connects the dots across these three areas. Garrett created the following statement: "I want to be known for inspiring performance and being collaborative but challenging, so we can successfully launch product X in the marketplace by year's end."


When you have a draft that feels right, step back from your brand statement. Confirm that it feels authentic to you, will deliver value to your stakeholders and is an inspiring vision of the leader you want to be. And recognize that leadership brand is not static. When your role, stakeholders or context changes, you should revisit both the "What" and "How" aspects of your brand.


Be Your Brand


For your desired brand to become real, you must move from rhetoric into aligned action. In the daily busyness of doing and reacting, this is easier said than done.


As a leader, everything you do sends a message. While your words, tone, facial expressions and gestures are your primary means of communication, you're also continually communicating via your actions and choices. Consider the message that you send by:

  • how you spend your time and with whom

  • where you allocate resources and where you don't

  • which ideas and initiatives you support and which you give up on 

  • when you assert yourself and when you don't

  • how well you know your employees

This list could continue, but the larger point is clear. For your brand to become real, you need to ensure that your choices and actions are congruent with your aspired brand.


To stay consistent and congruent with your aspired brand, establish a daily or weekly reflection practice to keep your intentions top of mind. Also, consider recruiting several trusted colleagues to give you honest feedback and hold you accountable to your aspired behaviors and brand. 


Through consistently aligning his behavior to be his aspired brand, Garrett has begun to rebuild his reputation as a leader, but it takes time to shift perceptions. You can avoid having to rebuild by investing in your leadership brand now. It will add depth and focus to your leadership — and help ensure the impact you have on others is one of your choosing. Developing your brand is ultimately about developing into a stronger, more authentic and distinctive leader. And as you do, a cascade of positive results and opportunities will likely follow.

© 2020 Cognitas LLC