3 questions that strengthen your leadership brand
A strong leadership brand is characterized by uniform behaviors, across the entire organization, that are in alignment with the company’s brand-message and values. This article shares 3 strategic questions we can ask ourselves, and other stakeholders, that will help strengthen those behaviors.
Meet Frank, a fictional representation of a real-life phenomenon happening in our companies right now. Frank is a newly appointed director at one of many business units in a global IT firm. His company’s organizational structure, like many modern companies, is very horizontal, allowing for greater collaboration and innovation across the many business units.
One challenge, however, is that his company has grown very large, with tens of thousands of employees making up the many business units around the world. The vast geographical spread, and large quantity of business units within the organization raises the challenge to effectively communicate and collaborate across the different business units raising the risk of the right hand not always knowing what the left hand is doing and so on.
Frank’s history as a manager made him an excellent strategist who has a strong track record of exceeding expectations in an environment where he is the decision maker. Historically, Frank has always enjoyed great success leading a single team within his business unit. Motivating and directing his subordinates toward exceeding expectations was something that felt easy to him. His analytical skills and keen sense of business really helped him strategically plan and implement new strategies that enabled his team to rise to every challenge that has come his way in the past.
However, now, with this promotion, he is not just leading one team, but he is in charge of an entire business unit consisting of multiple teams across multiple territories. Frank is discovering that his analytical and strategic skill-set is put to the test on a daily basis within his own business unit as he’s already witnessing communication, trust, and engagement issues within a number of teams.
Adding to the challenge is the discovery that collaborating and innovating with his peers from other business units requires a great deal of attention, time, and energy from him as he needs to build trust and nurture those relationships if he wants his own business unit to meet its targets for the coming year since his business unit’s success relies heavily on the collaboration and support of the many other business units throughout the organization.
Where Frank is struggling, like so many of my clients around the world, is with the amount of time and energy that is required for him to earn, and retain, buy-in from stake-holders of other business units, but also continuous buy-in from his own teams within his own business unit. And of course, having to do all of this with his own tremendous workload.
Frank’s heavy workload combined with continuously earning buy-in from all stake-holders is taking its toll on Frank leaving him often with the feeling that he is drowning under the pressures of his work demands.
Frank also knows that if he wants to enjoy further growth within the company and hopefully rise the ranks over the years to come, he will need to ensure that he becomes visible to his superiors, as an inspirational manager and leader who is capable of earning, and maintaining, buy-in from all stake-holders throughout the organization, while simultaneously exceeding performance expectations. Unfortunately, due to the broad hierarchy of the organizational structure, there are many great and passionate directors at Frank’s level, meaning that he really needs to ensure he is able to shine much brighter than anyone within his company so he can ensure greater visibility when the time comes.
An important realization for Frank will be that he no longer enjoys the luxury of simply moving a team of subordinates who get paid to follow directions, as was in his previous job, but is now in a position where he has to earn every stake-holder’s trust and willingness to collaborate with him on every project. In other words, Frank has to learn a new skill-set of not just appealing to the brains of his people, but also to their hearts, if he wants their continued buy in.
What Frank might not know yet is that inspiring people toward voluntarily buying into your mission, and also shining in the process, does not have to be an energy depleting and time costly task that robs one of serious productivity potential, but instead may be an energy and time-saving investment that greatly improves the organization’s bottom line. The defining factor for Frank will be in how he brands himself as a boss, colleague, and as a leader.
In his book, “Theory and Practice Of Leaderhship”, Roger Gill explains that leaders with a strong leadership brand enjoy much greater commitment from employees and stakeholders, meaning that when we focus on building a strong brand as leaders, we begin to earn the commitment and buy in from others resulting in less effort from the leader over time. A strong Leadership brand is therefore an investment in time and energy, that over time, will yield great returns.
In my work, as an executive coach, I deal with many executives who, like our imaginary Frank, need to juggle many hats, from being a manager, to a team leader, to a motivator, to a relationship counselor, to a sales-person trying to earn buy-in from peers and superiors, just to get stuff done and meet targets. Some of my clients are really successful at this already and are simply looking for ways to shine even brighter as a leader, as where others are feeling their light slowly fade, under the pressures of life and work, and are seeking help to re-ignite their own inspirational torch.
Either way, our ability to appeal to the hearts and minds of stake-holders and earn their commitment to our causes, as well as followship, is not always a skill that comes naturally to the average manager. For that reason, I would like to share with you 3 simple questions that I use in my coaching to help managers better evaluate their effectiveness in earning commitment from numerous stake-holders when building a stronger leadership brand for themselves.
Leadership Brand Question 1 – What do you want your brand reputation to be as a leader?
According to authors Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, a strong leadership brand is distinguished by a series of leadership attributes that are aligned with the organization’s mission and values, combined with producing consistent results.
Earning a reputation as a leader is not just about what you are doing as a leader, but more importantly, what people say you are doing based on what they are witnessing with regards to the attributes you are demonstrating and the results you are producing.
When asking yourself the fundamental question, what reputation you want to have, you will need to clearly define for yourself, what leadership attributes you will need to exhibit. When doing this exercise with my clients, I ask my client what leadership attributes they want to be known for, which is often described in the form of an adjective, such as: “I want to be known as a transparent leader” or “I want to be known as a transformational leader”, and so on.
With leadership attributes only being half of the equation, the second step would be to identify what measures need to be in place to measure the results of the attribute. For example, how will you, as a leader, measure your success as a “transparent” or “transformational” leader, if those are the attributes you choose.
Leadership Brand Question 2 – What do you need to do to earn that reputation?
In my coaching of leaders, I have a saying: “Leadership is not about what you do, but about how people see what you do.” People will never be moved by a leader who locks him or herself up in the office, behind closed doors. At the end of the day, leadership must be visible to those stake-holders, from whom we want to earn buy in.
Labelling yourself with an attribute of the type of leader you want to be known for is simply not good enough. Instead, this question addresses what behaviors are fitting for the attribute we choose. For example, in the case of a transparent leader in the previous question, what behaviors would need to shine through every moment of every day to consistently demonstrate you are a transparent leader.
Much like in corporate branding, a brand message is only as strong as the consistent behaviors of that company in accordance to that message. Marketing experts ensure a company’s brand message is consistent by examining every touch point with every consumer and making sure the consumer is consistently exposed to the behaviors fitting to the brand message.
As a leader, it’s important to identify every single touch point that is exposed to you. From e-mails, to phone calls, to meetings, to social gatherings, every touchpoint within your organization needs to receive the same clear message, through your behaviors, what type of leader you are. The more consistent your leadership brand message is, the more clear your message becomes.
In time, that message will begin to earn you trust and loyalty from those stake-holders who buy into what you are offering as a leader.
Leadership Brand Question 3 – What do you need to start doing differently today to earn buy-in?
Saving the toughest question for last. Now that we have identified the type of leader you want to be known for and you have identified what behaviors would be required, the last question is more reflective.
Now is the time to be brutally honest with yourself and ask yourself what behaviors from the previous question you are not demonstrating clearly enough yet and what you will need to start doing differently today to earn that reputation.
Unfortunately, for many people, the ability to constructively critique ourselves requires a deep level of conscious awareness that they simply do not have, or don’t have the energy for. Our ability to be reflective is heavily influenced by our energy and stress levels. When we find ourselves in a state of constant stress and fatigue, it can be tempting to put off this exercise for another day, when things might be more convenient.
The trouble with this approach is that there will never be a convenient moment and life will always get in the way of positive change.
If you struggle with finding the time to be reflective, I recommend seeking feedback from a few of your stake-holders and asking them 3 things you could change to become the leader you want to be. It’s amazing how honest people can be when they have your permission to potentially hurt your feelings.
Once you have identified a number of behaviors you need to change today, I recommend setting a goal to just change 1 at a time. The Centre For Creative Leadership says it best: Leadership is a process, not a position. Building your leadership brand will not happen overnight. It is a journey of positive change, but a journey that is tremendously rewarding and will yield many great rewards when practiced consistently.
Building these 3 questions into your leadership development will greatly improve your effectiveness at building your personal leadership brand and will likely improve greater buy in from all stake-holders within your organization. As a result of this, you will manage to achieve more with less effort, resulting in greater performance markers for you, your team, and everyone connected to you. This, in return, will help you gain much greater visibility across many levels within your organization, no matter how broad, or deep, the organization is.
Lead With CARE
“Leadership isn’t about being in the front, it’s about elevating others, even when you’re in the back.”
Our capacity to lead with utmost effectiveness depends on four simple behavioral traits that, when applied together, form a powerful approach to inspiring and motivating greater action in people that we care about. This article highlights those four behaviors and explores some of the research behind them.
It doesn’t take much effort to look around and identify examples of people in leadership positions behaving poorly. From presidents of countries to CEOs of companies, there still seems to be much confusion in this world with regards to what effective leadership looks like.
In my role as an Executive Leadership Coach, I have had the privilege of meeting many great leaders who acquired my services with a desire to be even better. On the other had, I have also had my share of experiences with many managers who underestimated the amount of time, energy and commitment that’s required to be the best leader they could be. Some of those managers have, with coaching, managed to successfully transform themselves into the leaders they deserve to be, as where others were not so effective.
Those managers who may not be naturally inclined to be people leaders sometimes struggle with the concept of emotional intelligence and its role in inspiring and motivating others to pursue a common goal. In a recent conversation with a very strong manager who possesses excellent managerial skills, we were talking about the importance of human relationships in leadership and when touching on the subject of emotional intelligence, he confided in me that he reads many leadership books. What he struggles with is that while literature is telling him he should be more empathetic and compassionate, he walks away feeling even guiltier and feeling incompetent.
The good news is that emotional intelligence, and being a people leader as being a skill that can be learned by anyone with a little effort. Of course, there are those who were born with a predisposed talent toward being people leaders and there are those who were not born with that talent, but do have a desire to learn how to be a better people leader.
For those clients of mine, who were not born as natural people leaders, I have developed a simple 4-step model to help guide them in their practice. It’s this model that I would like to share with you today. It’s called: Leading With C.A.R.E
Lead With C.A.R.E
Our ability to lead effectively is dependent on whether or not we earn followship from those people we want to lead. To allow ourselves to be inspired and want to follow another person’s example is a delicate might be a complicated psychological process. At a fundamental level, however, leadership is earned through trust, which when consistently earned and positively reinforced, molds into loyalty by our followers.
C.A.R.E is a model that I developed a number of years ago to help organizations improve customer service, but have since also been using as a leadership development tool as it is also extremely powerful on an individual level.
C.A.R.E is an acronym that stands for: Connect on a personal level, Anticipate Needs, Relentlessly Pursue Greatness, and finally, Empower, Elevate, and Encourage Others.
The model has since helped numerous executives improve their effectiveness as leaders, but interestingly, it also works wonderfully as a Service Model for all staff as well as a Sales Technique.
The reason for this is because Leadership, Customer Service, and Sales all require a level of trust and loyalty from others.
Connect On A Personal Level
It goes without saying that building loyalty and trust is easier with people we know well. In his book: How To Win friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie spoke of 6 simple ways to make people better like you. As simple as those 6 ways are, in the craziness of today’s high-paced and disruptive world some of these basic techniques can easily be lost, or not practiced enough to generate that fundamental human connection required with leadership.
Those six ways are:
- Be genuinely interested in others
- Smile a lot
- Remember and use people’s names
- Be a good listener and encourage others to do the talking
- Think and speak in the best interest of others
- Sincerely make others feel valued
The second step in developing a deeper level of trust is in our ability to anticipate the needs of others and act on those needs with a sense of urgency.
In a 2014 article by Forbes Magazine called: Stop ‘Listening ‘and Start Anticipating Your Customer’s Needs, the author illustrates that great brands don’t listen to what is being expressed, but rather attempt to listen to what is not being said, but is being felt, so they can act before the customer expresses their needs.
A catastrophic error in leadership is that managers have a tendency to wait until someone speaks up about a particular issue before addressing it. Generally speaking, people do not speak up until things have escalated to an unmanageable degree. In 2014, Harvard Business Review published an article: “How To Get Your Employees To Speak Up” and offer a number of tips to help improve communication from our staff. A great suggestion was No 1. “To zero in on the source of Silence, which is 100% necessary when anticipating needs. We tend to pay attention to those people who are most verbal, when in fact; we should be most concerned about the ones who are most quiet.
How do we hear for what is NOT being said? We use all of our senses to listen for the quiet, observe behavioral patterns, and feel the climate in the office. This requires much more than a listening ear. The leader who can fully anticipate needs is the mindful leader who has the capacity to be fully present and in the moment.
In 2016, Harvard Business Review published an article on Mindful Leadership called: “How To Bring Mindfulness To Your Company’s Leadership”. In this article, the authors shared that with just 10 minutes of mindfulness training per day, leaders saw a dramatic improvement in three key areas that are also essential in our capacity to better anticipate needs.
Those 3 Key Areas Are:
- Metacognition: The ability to regulate our internal conversations.
- Acceptance or Allowing: The ability to let go of our criticism and judgments of ourselves and our external worlds.
- Genuine Curiosity: Taking a lively interest in our internal and external worlds.
Relentlessly Pursue Greatness
It might seem like a no-brainer that we need to pursue getting better at what we do to become more effective. However, from a leadership perspective relentlessly pursuing greatness should not be an individual mission, but an organizational one that is driven by the senior leadership.
Driving a “growth” culture throughout the organization is not an easy task says Stephen J. Gill in his book: Developing a Learning Culture In Nonprofit Organizations. Gill mentions, in his book, that developing a learning and growth culture is not the same as a “training” culture. Where training is the acquisition of knowledge and experience, learning is the behavior change that follows the acquisition of knowledge or experience. The differentiator here is in the behavior change that we want to see from gaining experience.
In a 2015 article in SHRM Magazine called: How To Create A Learning Culture, author Robert J. Grossman highlights that companies in the US spend over 162 Billion US Dollars per year on training, but the jury is still out whether or not those companies are getting a decent return of investment on that training.
Without leadership driven efforts to inspire and motivate positive action in response to training and experience, behavior change will likely be minimal. Especially in organizations where people are inundated by dynamic challenges on a daily basis, their brains will simply not have the capacity to put their learnings into positive action.
At HeadStrong Performance, we believe that before learning can happen, we must first ensure that the collective brains that make up a team or organization are primed to be able to put their learnings into action. Primers that build brain capacity can include basic lifestyle habits such as sleep, exercise, and nutrition, but also stress and resilience management. Stressed out and exhausted employees simply will not have the same capacity to apply themselves on a daily basis as someone who is well rested and centered. It’s as simple as that.
The second driver in effective behavior change from the acquisition of knowledge or experience is whether or not the individual, team, or organization possesses a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset”
Simply put, are we seeing our challenges, as failures or learning opportunities, are we focused on short-term gains over long-term growth, and finally, do we do what we do because we want the world to worship us, or do we do what we do because it feels amazing when we do it.
Based on Carol Dweck’s work and book “Mindset – The New Psychology for Success” she discovered in her research that people with growth mindsets tend to outlast and outgrow their counterparts with fixed mindsets.
Only once our people have the brain capacity to learn and possess a growth mindset, will our efforts to inspire greatness be effective. As you can see, relentlessly pursuing greatness is a much larger process than just getting better. It requires the relentless commitment to growth and learning as well as a relentless commitment to inspiring and motivating our team members to be healthy, fit, and resilient.
Empower, Elevate, and Encourage Others
A recent survey published in Psychology Today, showed that more than 80% of employees find praise more powerful than a raise. In this day and age, where budgets are dwindling, companies need to invest in every FREE resource they can to help hold on to their talent. Positive reinforcement, therefore, is essential in any relationship, but especially effective in leadership.
Focusing on shortcomings, providing feedback, and making appropriate adjustments are all part of necessary management practices says Bruce Jones of the Disney Institute in his article in the Harvard Business Review. However, where Disney does things differently is by also proactively going out and searching for those people who are doing it right. Once identified, these people are celebrated, which creates a great message of modeling performance excellence.
Jones describes that celebrating people doing it right is done at three different levels within Disney, being
- Organizational level
- Leadership Level
- Amongst Peers.
Another article from Harvard Business Review called: “Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive”, shares some statistics on the importance of actively driving a positive culture within your organization.
If your desire is to be a greater influence on yourself, your team, your organization, and even your customers, you will need to build stronger relationships. C.A.R.E could be an excellent tool to help you evaluate where you are as a leader and what you might want to focus on to become that leader you deserve to be.