Wed 17 Apr 2013
Strengthen your future career by
building your leadership brand now
Want to start today to prepare for success later? Be methodical about creating a stronger brand.
Your brand both shapes and influences how people the talk about you, how they evaluate you, and their willingness to trust you. It says something not only about who you truly are but also about what others think you can accomplish.
A good way to prepare for both challenges and opportunities is to build your brand as a leader. Your reputation as a leader begins long before you are managing a team or holding a fancy title. Even if you’re a solopreneur or a junior staffer, you can be known as a leader. You’re showing leadership any time you spot a problem, create a plan to solve it, and then execute your plan.
Your leadership brand sets you apart from the competition. In part, it’s based on your special strengths and accomplishments – the way you actually solve problems. Beyond that, it reflects the personal qualities other people see in you – their expectations about your problem-solving and other abilities.
To build your leadership brand, identify the personal qualities you want to be known for. Then take steps to develop and display those qualities. This process can help you define and build your brand:
Step one: create your leadership vision.
A simple way to create a vision of the kind of leader you want to be is to list the personal qualities you’d like to be known for.
To start, identify the personal qualities that matter most to you. These steps can help you craft a list of leadership characteristics that feels authentic:
- Notice consumer brands you love. Think of several brands you trust and would recommend to a friend. For each one ask yourself: what makes this brand great? For example, I am a Starbucks fan, although their coffee isn’t my favorite. What I love is that Starbucks is reliable, friendly and generous with perks like WIFI and comfortable seating. So I would add qualities like consistency, friendliness and generosity to my list. Consider which brand qualities you want reflected in your reputation as a leader.
- Think about leaders you admire. List five leaders who have influenced you, whether they were teachers, colleagues or historic figures. Then list their important personal characteristics. Here are words and phrases many people use in describing leaders they admire:
- Supportive and empowering of others
- Self aware
- Always learning and growing
Consider which of these descriptors you want to add to your brand.
- Ask what would feel good. Imagine several colleagues are talking about the quality of your work and the kind of contributions you’re making on a project. What would you like to hear them saying about you? Add those words to your list.
Step two: study your list.
When you have a list of the leadership qualities you want to be known for, post it in a conspicuous place. And carry around a copy. Look at your list frequently, including each morning. When you’re faced with a challenge or decision, study your list and see if these qualities might simplify a decision or inspire action.
One technique I like is imagining what I’d be like if I did possess all the qualities on my list. I summon up a mental picture of a sort of UberBev, much stronger and wiser than the Bev I see in the mirror. And when I’m faced with a tough decision, or maybe I’m just feeling lazy, I ask: what would UberBev do?
Step three: practice acting this way.
A key to building your brand is practicing the attitudes and behaviors that will earn the reputation you want. If you’re working on a few characteristics, try a flavor-of-the month approach. Go to your calendar for the rest of the year and note a characteristic that will be your theme for each month. Let’s say, if it’s May you’ll work on reliability. Write “be reliable” on your May calendar in whatever way works best for you.
Now here’s the most important part. Think of a specific behaviorial change that could demonstrate and bolster the characteristic of the month. And take at least one step a day to create that change, perhaps in the form of a new habit.
I client I’ll call John heard in a 360 review process that his colleagues didn’t feel they could count on him. They liked him and admired his creativity, but were annoyed by his tendency to lose track of the time. “You never know if John will show up,” someone said.
Understanding that his reputation could be blocking his way to a promotion, John wanted to become known as a guy you can rely on. He decided that for one month he’d attend every staff meeting and arrive at each meeting on time, as a way to demonstrate reliability.
Because tracking performance helps turn a new behavior into a habit, John created a log. He noted each meeting scheduled in the month, whether or not he attended it, and if he was on time. If he was late he said by how many minutes.
At the end of the month John felt he’d made progress but was still struggling to organize himself to get to meetings. So he expanded the log, creating room for comments on why he was late or unable to attend, and how he handled the situation so the team wouldn’t be inconvenienced. After a few more months John was comfortable with his new patterns and felt people were taking him more seriously.
In my next blog, I’ll talk more about building new habits.