Leadership Brand: What it is and why it’s important
A company’s “leadership brand” exists and exerts influence regardless of what’s been articulated or not. E.g., how employees, investors, and customers experience the leaders form the reputations of the executive leadership team and the developing leaders in their wings.
To encourage confidence in investors and customers, communicate that your company can meet brand expectations, and strengthen the leadership of individual employee-leaders, devote attention to what differentiates a company’s leadership brand.
In Building a Leadership Brand, published in the Harvard Business Review, Norm Smallwood and David Ulrich dissect prominent leadership brands. What sets these companies apart and ensures their highly regarded reputations is their development of leadership brands that are directly tied to their company differentiators. Much like product differentiators, successful leadership brands build on a company’s identity, not just the desirable-yet-generic backbones of good leadership. Smallwood and Ulrich emphasize that focusing on developing strong traits in individuals does just that—develops individuals—rather than leadership teams.
The desirable-yet-generic fundamentals of leadership have a role in building a leadership brand; but the differentiators cannot stand out if the foundations are missing. Core requirements include mastery of strategy, seamless execution, talent management and development, and deep personal proficiency.
Additionally, crafting a leadership brand starts with a defining statement. Much like a mission statement, the leadership statement integrates business goals and desired customer experience with leadership skills. Who must your leaders BE to support your business goals?
Reviews and evaluations should assess leaders against this statement; however, reviewers should measure performance from both the employees’ and the customers’ perspectives. How an individual manager or report perceives a particular leader does not guarantee company success. More precisely, what defines company outcomes is consistency across the company, and leaders’ mutual ability to deliver the desired employee and customer experience.
As organizations develop, assess, and implement leadership brand standards, companies must continually track and analyze the long-term success of a leadership brand. As context evolves, so should a leadership brand and its definitions of unique, differentiated leadership.
Nancy Winship is the Vice President of Waldron’s Leadership and Organization Development practice, and helps executive leadership teams define and shape their unique leadership brand. Nancy is available at for questions about leadership brand development and its practice.