If you ask someone to describe a person with a compelling leadership brand, they will often struggle initially to explain exactly why that person is so effective. Maybe this is because everything that we do, say, and embody at work creates the brand for which we become known. For some, this is just too heady a realization to bear … People in this camp may feel powerless about their reputation – thinking, “Others are going to make their minds up about me. I can’t control their views.”
For others, creating a leadership brand is the world’s most golden opportunity. It means taking an active role in what you project to the world and what kind of results you get.
Yet building a vision for your brand – and then living it – is practically counter intuitive. It constantly requires us to look up from our work, from our day to day duties, and ask ourselves, “Is what I’m doing in line with the professional I want to become?” This kind of introspection can fall right off a to-do list when your priorities begin to compete.
For those smart individuals who still struggle with the brand they convey, the reasons can center around a mismatch in brand and culture. A person may be presenting a brand that earned them “street cred” at their last company but that’s incompatible with their current employer. Another professional may be leading with traits that a very technical industry prizes, rather than the more relationship oriented ones needed within their current firm. Worse still, some people put no thinking at all into what they project and convey about themselves.
Consider these questions as you proactively shape your leadership brand now — and your legacy for the future. Remember, you’re training people how to treat you and see you in every interaction you have with them.
What are the “hero stories” most often told within my company?
In other words, what traits and habits do people most respect around the office? Are heroic acts seen as going above and beyond for teammates, delighting clients with deliverables, or being active in community involvement? Take note and ask yourself if you’re behaving in these ways. If not, ask yourself how you can, at a minimum, put yourself in the path of these kinds of opportunities.
What do the most influential people here have in common?
Many top influencers have no more hierarchical power than you do. They are often seen as “plugged in” employees who are in touch with what’s going on, formally and informally. People listen to influencers. They’re more readily swayed by them than the average colleague. Are these power people vocal and unafraid to challenge ideas? Are they particularly agile and positive when dealing with change? Put your finger on why they’re power people so that you can widen your own span of influence.
Where I am an expert/emerging expert?
I can guarantee you have a specialty that can be channeled and shaped in different directions. Are you a programming genius with visions of leading a corporate team? Do you dream of becoming a programmer for only cause-based non profits? Do you want to pivot your programming skills into teaching it at the college level? We all have core strengths and skills that can be channeled. Know exactly where your core strengths are today and what avenue you want to take them down next. After all, if you don’t know where you want to specialize next, no one on earth can help you get there.
What keywords do people associate with me?
Following each important presentation or sales pitch you give, ask someone you trust for two things you did well and two things you could improve for next time. You should also be soliciting feedback regularly from your manager and paying close attention to the words he or she uses in response. Did you ask for feedback on the report you wrote and hear that you’re thorough, well read, and persuasive in your communication? On the other hand, did you hear that you need more polish or clarity? Decide if you like the words you hear and then adapt.
Do I behave consistently?
Colleagues will form their impressions of you based on repetitive interactions with you. Are you giving them a coordinated, consistent you? In writing Pushback, one executive I interviewed recalled, “I like to work on a no-surprise basis. People like knowing what they’re going to get from you.” Ask yourself if your mood or the caliber of the person you’re interacting with dictates how professional you are. If it does, you need to think about putting out a brand that people feel they can count on, whether or not the chips are down or something is going on for you personally.
Once you pin down what you want your leadership brand to look like, it’s time to focus. This will mean inevitably saying “no” to projects or assignments that don’t give you experience in your newly identified sweet spot. You may not be able to negotiate or barter your way out of every dead-end project given to you, but at a minimum, have an active voice in the matter!
The look and feel of who you are should be tied together across mediums, from your LinkedIn photo and profile, to the appearance of your desk, to the way you put ideas forward in meetings. Build your vision for your brand, share it with your inner circle, and then reward yourself when you live it. Doing so will only become more and more natural.
How are you building a leadership brand around your expertise? What’s challenged you or really worked for you?
Selena Rezvani is VP of Consulting and Research at BeLeaderly.com. Author of the award-winning book Pushback, Selena delivers keynotes and culture change at some of the world’s most recognized companies, speaking on negotiation and self-advocacy, the new rules of teamwork, and leading through change.