Personal branding is serious business these days. Ever since the publication of Tom Peters’ “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company, personal branding has gone from a radical idea to a career basic. Then came social media and it reached stratospheric importance. Your brand can achieve fame and status in one minute or be slandered five minutes later due to the speed of social media information being constantly uploaded on the net. To add insult to injury companies are trying desperately to attract and retain their talent to ensure business sustainability. Therefore the company brand becomes key in your employee value proposition. But it doesn’t stop here. We all heard the old saying, “People join companies and leave managers!” Indeed many would say, it is so true. This turns our attention to our leaders and their “Leadership Brand” in helping the attraction and retention strategy of our organizations. So how much thought have you given to building your leadership brand?
Plenty of people build a professional brand and create a digital identity, but few take a clear-eyed look at their leadership brand. People in individual contributor roles are especially likely to overlook their leadership brand. Your leadership brand is created by the ways you behave, react, and interact. And this is linked to your effectiveness within your company and pretty much outside as well.
Consider the role of a highly experienced professional — what we call a “hi-pro.” These individual contributors play critical roles as engineers, designers, medical professionals, marketing or logistics experts, and so on. They’re expected to take on project-management roles or be key players in cross-functional teams.
If you are a hi-pro, you can’t rely on your subject-matter expertise to get the job done. You also need to be a leader if you are going to influence others, work as a team, and get results. Similarly, high potentials need to develop leadership skills alongside their professional skills. While you’re going after the experiences needed to take on larger roles and pursue the management track, you should also be building your skill and reputation as a leader. So, what does it take to create a leadership brand that boosts both your career and your organization?
Following are some thoughts taken from different literature and also some experience across multiple organizations around the world:
1. Think “process,” not “position.” Leadership is a process, not a title. It’s about working with others in ways that establish direction, create alignment, and build commitment.
Rather than looking for someone else to be a leader, individual contributors need to ask themselves: “What am I bringing to the leadership process?” as well as, “How do I fit into the process of effective leadership in my group or in my project team?”
2. Understand your brand. Like it or not, you already have a leadership brand. You have a reputation based on how you get things done and how you interact with others. To leverage your leadership brand or to steer it in a different direction, you need to get a clear picture of how others perceive you today. Start paying attention to how you work — not just what you know or what you accomplish. How do you learn? How do you share information, make decisions, and influence others? How do you build and nurture relationships?
Just by paying attention to these questions, you’ll gain some insight. You’ll also want to check in with peers, a mentor and your boss — or seek out opportunities for formal feedback or a leadership development program — to gain a better picture of your leadership brand.
3. Take control. You’re in charge of your leadership brand, so invest in your learning and development as a leader. Your boss or your organization won’t tell you exactly what’s needed or hand you the tools and experiences that will boost your effectiveness. Take time to think about your current job and future career. How does your leadership brand support your work today? What would happen if you could be more effective? How could leadership help get you there? What do you need to learn or change in order to improve your leadership skills and hone your leadership brand?
4. Live your leadership brand. Your employer needs you to be as effective as you can be. Your co-workers do, too. But investing in yourself as a leader brings benefits to you as well. It can improve your job satisfaction and open the door to new opportunities, both now and in the future. Experienced managers and seasoned professionals tell us they wish they had developed fundamental leadership skills much earlier in their careers. With the shifting, unpredictable economic and employment landscape, creating and living your leadership brand is more important than ever.