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.

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