This appeared in print as part of the story “Best Laid Plans” In 2007, the City of Columbia’s visioning document suggested that council...
Even though it may not always seem like it, we can control the most valuable property we own: the space that lies between our ears. How we analyze and interpret our experiences as they happen to us has everything to do with how we think about the things and people in our lives.
As leaders, we occupy a certain mental real estate position in the heads of our followers. We call it our leadership brand. Leaders who buy into this concept build better cultures; institute and execute change effectively; and produce more desired outcomes. Leaders who don’t buy into it simply tell themselves, “Others are going to make up their minds about me and I can’t control their views.”
Make no mistake about it — designing and implementing a leadership brand for yourself is challenging. It’s not as easy as making a list of the attributes you would like to have as a leader in the future. No, it requires you to look up from your daily busywork from time to time and ask yourself if what you are doing is congruent with who you want to be and how you would like others to see you.
This kind of introspection and reflection can fall right off your to-do list when the pressure is on and deadlines are approaching. You must come to the realization that the perceptions people have about you signal how they look at you and how they treat you in every interaction. With that in mind, surely we can agree it is well worth the time you invest in shaping and living your leadership brand.
Brands generally succeed because the consumer likes them, interacts with them, and wants to be associated with them. Think Nike or Under Armour, except in human leadership terms. In designing your leadership brand, here are some questions to keep in mind:
You have some specialties about you. It is entirely possible that others see those more clearly than you do. Being known for your expertise is a strong brand characteristic. What is that expertise? Is it conflict management? Is it thinking skills? Is it strategy? Perhaps you are an optimistic confidence builder? You have a go-to move that works magic for people. Be known for it, and identify it for yourself.
Be proactive. Write down the words you would like to be associated with, words that make you different and valuable. When people think of these words, they think of you; when they think of you, they think of these words. The only way you can make these associations happen is by identifying what they are and then “behaving into” those words. You need reliable, improvement-oriented feedback on a consistent basis to make sure you are navigating in the direction of your envisioned leadership brand.
This is the hardest part. People form their impressions of you based on what they see you do and their interactions with you. If you say you want people to see you as diplomatic and agreeable but you behave in an obstinate and argumentative way, how will you be branded? If your brand is going to depend on your emotions or what mood you are in at the time, it will be difficult to create a consistent leadership brand because feelings change rapidly. People like consistency in a brand; they want the same experience every time. When you are consistent, reward yourself. When you are not, remind yourself why you want consistency, and try again.
Developing and building a vision for your brand is the formative and somewhat easy part. The hard part comes when you have to live, practice and demonstrate it consistently. It is a worthy pursuit to try to own valuable and differentiated real estate in the minds of people who see you as a leader. It’s much more valuable when you can build that brand around expertise that is positive, reliable, enjoyable and consistent.