In my related blog post, The Brand of You, I introduced a framework around leadership brand, as well as a few tools and practices to help you think about and develop your leadership brand. To briefly recap – your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s not what you say…it’s what other people say about you that counts here.
You already have a brand whether you realize it or not, so it’s important to get conscious about it and proactively shape and define how you most want to show up and be seen in the world, influence others, and get results.
Here, we take the ideas one step further – from knowing and exhibiting your ‘current’ brand to considering your future, or ‘aspirational,’ brand. When you contemplate your career development path and goals, it’s important to realize that what got you here won’t necessarily take you there. It requires you to reflect on “if this is what I desire and where I want to go, then what needs to change or evolve in order for me to get there?”
Your Leadership Brand
Here’s an exercise to help you create your aspirational leadership brand: Think out to a future point – 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years – and envision that you have the most rich and fulfilling life you can imagine (both personal and professional). How might your current way of showing up and presenting yourself need to change or evolve in order for you to achieve this vision? Here are a few questions to guide your thinking:
- What is the impact you most want to have on others or make in this world?
- How would you define your purpose or intention?
- Is this tied to a particular position or role you aspire to?
- What top three things do you want to deliver?
- What do you want to be known for?
- What is your reputation?
- How can your brand be boiled down into one bold, powerful, enrolling statement for you to use as your slogan or motto?
- What action steps will you take to create your future brand?
- Select two images that represent: 1) How are you known now. 2) How you would like to be known in the future. Post these in a place where you will see them every day.
In my executive coaching work, I partner with clients to help them define both their current and aspirational leadership brands. One recent example was with a nonprofit executive who held the role of COO in her organization and was an internal candidate for CEO.
She had held the COO position for ten years, was highly competent and experienced in her role, and well regarded by her colleagues. In preparing for her candidacy and the interview process, she needed to present herself in a new light, as the leader who was ideal to transition from leading a key organization function to leading the entire enterprise. It was helpful to clearly define her current brand as well as her aspirational brand not only for her benefit, but also to help the board of trustees and search committee visualize her as the right leader in this role.
She vividly imagined herself appointed as CEO and being in that role for a year, experiencing great success for herself, the organization, and its people. In doing so, she was able to define her future brand in a vivid, concise way. She compared this to her current brand and was able to develop specific actions needed to begin “acting as if” she was this future brand now. Her colleagues and the board were able to see her enhanced level of executive presence, influence, and confidence, which served her exceptionally well in the process, and was ultimately key in her being appointed as the new CEO.
Many people dismiss image building as superficial and unimportant; however, leaders benefit from knowing how they come across to others and how their behaviors impact different people. A lack of awareness and focus on this can derail or prevent leaders from advancing on their career path.
A study of 150 senior executives who attended CCL’s Leadership at the Peak program shows that the image, or brand, leaders convey has a significant correlation to perceptions of their leadership skill. In this study, leaders who conveyed a strong vision were rated higher on several important factors than those who conveyed a weaker vision – factors such as the ability to lead change, being dynamic, competence in strategic planning, being farsighted, inspiring commitment, being original, and having a strong executive image. Each of these factors is tied to specific behaviors and can therefore be improved through awareness and practice.
As in the CEO example above, once you identify specific elements for how you’d like to evolve your brand, seek out specific ways to practice in order to test drive and ‘anchor in’ new ways of being. Here are a few ideas, and you probably have some thoughts as well:
- Lead a project that might be a stretch opportunity, demonstrating your ability to be seen outside the scope of your current image and brand.
- Consider your area of expertise and seek out opportunities for public speaking where key influencers or stakeholders can see your leadership in action.
- Take a more active role in speaking or presenting at board meetings.
- Whenever possible, be seen as a strategic thought leader – to solve a problem, leverage an opportunity, etc.
You may also be interested in reading this related blog post: The Brand of You
Resources and Suggested Reading:
Criswell, C., & Campbell, D. (2008). Building an authentic leadership image. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.
Kossek, E. & Lautsch, B. (2008). CEO of me: creating a life that works in the flexible job age. Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Peters, T. (1999). The brand called you. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
Schawbel, D. (2010). Me 2.0. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing.
About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.