How to build a great leadership brand: Essential steps, strategies and examples
What is a leadership brand? Sometimes, the answer depends on who you ask. If you ask someone to cite an example of “brand leadership” they might identify powerful companies that stand out in their industry or have a significant market share, like Coca-Cola or Apple.
However, more often, the term “leadership brand” actually refers to a type of personal branding. It looks at how people present themselves as a leader in their company or profession.
For instance, when you think of Elon Musk, you might immediately also think of Tesla and SpaceX. However, you might also think of his unique leadership style, and how his strong personal brand has influenced the growth of his companies, and his online presence.
Musk’s unique approach to leadership has helped deliver greater brand equity to every company he owns. Plus, it establishes him as a thought leader in his space, someone virtually every other person in the tech space has heard of, and may even respect.
Today, we’re going to explore the power of the personal leadership brand, and how you can develop your own, to stand out in a competitive market.
What is a leadership brand? A complete definition
A leadership brand is a specific type of personal brand. Just as your wider personal brand reflects your priorities, strengths, and the values you stand for, your leadership brand identifies how those things influence your leadership style and processes.
A personal leadership brand shapes your reputation in your industry, as someone capable of guiding, motivating, and inspiring others to achieve specific results. It’s how you adapt your personal branding to demonstrate your leadership skills to team members and other professionals.
Let’s look at a couple of examples. Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States in the 1860s, is considered one of history’s greatest “senior leaders”. Though “branding” wasn’t a clearly defined concept in his time, Lincoln still had an excellent brand image.
His conviction, courage, and commitment to serving others identified him as one of the most memorable, and respected individuals of his time.
Moving a little further into the future, we have Richard Branson, the CEO of the Virgin Group. While each of Branson’s corporate brands has its own identity and image, Branson has a clear personal brand of his own, enhanced by his effective leadership approach.
When people think of Branson, they think of unconventional, adventurous business strategies, and innovative thinking. Branson is a thought leader, and someone regularly referenced by other companies looking at the power of effective leadership.
Why is a leadership brand strategy important?
Just like a personal brand, a corporate brand, and even an employer brand, your leadership brand is something that will develop naturally when you take on a leadership role. However, it’s also something you can strategically craft before you enter a position of power.
Developing a leadership brand strategy is an excellent way to ensure you’re conveying the right identity, values, and message as a leader. If you haven’t got much of a defined leadership brand, or the one you have isn’t right for the position you want, you could be missing out on opportunities.
When you develop your own personal leadership brand, you invest in your personal growth, and ensure you’re illustrating not just what you deliver, but how you deliver it.
It can help people, including yourself, define who you are, understand your personal strengths, and even make you more memorable.
Here are some of the top of benefits of consciously creating a leadership brand strategy:
A leadership brand is a compass for personal growth
A clear leadership brand strategy can enhance your ability to achieve your goals. Whether your career path is heading towards a higher-level position, or you simply want to demonstrate your value to your existing company and teams, a brand strategy can help you.
It offers an insight into the personal values you should be living by, the strategies you can use to gain a competitive edge, and your strengths and weaknesses. This can guide you towards making better decisions in your professional life.
It can unlock new opportunities
A strong leadership brand is a great way to ensure you’re demonstrating your unique values and leadership strength to the right people. If you’re looking for a better role, or want new responsibilities, demonstrating your ability to lead effectively will help you reach those goals.
Great leadership branding can attract the attention of new employers, new clients, and even have a positive impact on your company’s brand. Just look at how Tim Cook’s branding efforts have helped to strengthen the impact of Apple, just like Steve Job’s brand before him.
Your personal leadership brand gives you a competitive edge
When you have a well-defined leadership brand, it helps to differentiate you from competitors in your field. This is particularly important for entrepreneurs and consultants who need to attract the attention of consumers and clients.
Norm Smallwood, for instance, the co-founder of the RBL Group, is one of the most renowned leadership thinkers in the world, because he has such a strong leadership brand. If you can shape an effective leadership brand, you can shine as the go-to resource in your industry.
How to develop a personal leadership brand
So, how do you get started with leadership branding? The process is pretty similar to developing a personal brand. The only difference is that your focus should be on demonstrating your leadership skills, ability, and style.
Step 1: Define your values
The first step in building a successful leadership brand, is deciding what kind of leadership brand you want to create. This means identifying your values, and how they shape your leadership decisions.
Think about what matters to you when you’re guiding others.
Are you committed to keeping staff members motivated, even during difficult times? Do you believe in a collaborative approach to reaching company goals? Are you governed by the idea that hard work is crucial to achieve the right results?
- What do you want the people you interact with to remember you for?
- Which character traits do you admire most in others?
- What moments in your life have caused you to feel proud or fulfilled?
Step 2: Identify your strengths
The next step in building a strong brand as a leader, is identifying your strengths. In other words, what makes you a great leader in any given situation? If you’re not sure what you’re particularly good at, consider asking others what they value about you and your leadership style.
You might be seen as an empathetic leader, who listens to their team in times of crisis, and commits to creating an environment of psychological safety. Alternatively, you could be considered a powerful innovator and creative thinker, who can quickly respond to problems and challenges.
You can even consider using objective assessments like the Myers Briggs personality assessment, to learn more about your unique traits.
Step 3: Find your passions
Think of some of the best, most memorable leaders you’ve ever heard of. People like George Washington, and Mahatma Gandhi weren’t memorable because they held a specific role in a business.
What set them apart was their passion.
Building your own leadership brand around your passions is a great way to ensure you’re delivering an authentic, genuine message to others.
- What excites, motivates, and drives you?
- What do you feel curious about, or want to learn more about?
- When do you feel most engaged and interested at work?
- How do you define success in your professional and personal life?
Nurturing your passions will help you to stay motivated in any role. Similarly, showcasing your passions to others will help you form deeper connections with them.
Step 4: Link your leadership brand to your company brand
If you’re building your leadership brand to improve your chances of earning a promotion in your business, or simply to enhance the brand equity of your company, you need to link it to the business you serve.
Look at your company’s vision statement and mission.
What does your company want to achieve, and how can you help it reach those goals? Are you building a company that wants to be seen as an innovator? If so, demonstrating your creativity and curiosity as a leader can help with this.
If you’re not sure of the core values and goals of your current company, consider scheduling meetings with your leadership team and managers for more insights.
Step 5: Audit your current brand
Similar to building a personal brand, developing a leadership brand also means understanding where you currently stand, and how people view you. Think about how you present yourself on social media. Are you drawing the right attention to your skills and attributes?
What kind of content do you share on your personal website? How do you interact with others in the physical world, and how do you present yourself visually? Gathering feedback from people around you can be helpful here, to gain an insight into people’s perceptions of your brand today.
Ask yourself whether the important parts of your leadership brand are shining through.
Step 6: Craft your leadership brand statement
Just like a company’s mission statement acts as a guide for defining that brand’s values, and guiding employees towards specific goals, a leadership brand statement is a valuable tool. It condenses all of the key points of your leadership brand into a single statement.
This statement can also be an excellent asset when you’re developing your career. You can use it in your resume, on your social media profiles, and on your personal website.
There are no hard and fast rules to developing a leadership brand statement. The most important thing to focus on is ensuring you highlight your abilities and skills. For instance, Marie Forleo defines herself as an “unshakeable optimist”, dedicated to helping others.
Step 7: Develop an action plan
Once you have a clear view of your personal leadership brand, and the type of leader you want to be seen as, it’s time to build an action plan.
This action plan will define how you’re going to:
- Showcase your brand: How can you advertise your personal brand to the world? Are you going to be active on social media channels like LinkedIn? Can you create a personal website or portfolio where you share content with other thought leaders?
- Improve your brand: Based on your evaluation of your strengths, think about your weaknesses. Where can you improve your skills and abilities to become more effective at leadership? How do you make yourself more valuable to your peers?
- Preserve your brand: What can you do to ensure you’re preserving the right image as a leader? Can you regularly request insights and feedback from members of your team? Should you monitor mentions of your name online?
Step 8: Be ready to adapt
Remember your personal brand, and your leadership brand are dynamic, living things. As you move through your career, learn from others (and your own mistakes), and develop new priorities, you may need to adjust your leadership brand accordingly.
It may be particularly important to change your leadership brand as you move into new companies, with different values and visions. Review your leadership brand regularly, and ask yourself whether it’s still having the right impact on your target audience.
Don’t be afraid to make changes as your career goals and own values change. Adapting your leadership brand simply shows others that you’re constantly learning and growing, to become a better leader.
Tips for strengthening brand leadership
We’ve looked at how you can develop a leadership brand strategy, and implement it into your life and career. However, building an effective leadership brand can still be a tricky process.
Fortunately, at Fabrik, we’ve spent years helping countless companies and industry professionals to build more effective brands.
Here are some top tips for strengthening your leadership brand, gathered from our own experiences:
1. Don’t confuse leadership branding with status
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your entire leadership brand is defined by your role. You can tell people that you’re the CEO of a company, but that doesn’t tell them who you are, why you’re trustworthy, and what makes you a good leader.
An effective leadership brand goes beyond your title, to look deeper at who you are as a human being. Think about how you present yourself, how you want to be remembered, and what unique contributions you bring to the companies you work with.
2. Know your USP
Successful leaders have something specific that sets them apart from the crowd. Think of yourself as something you’re trying to sell to another person. What key attributes would you highlight in your elevator pitch to specifically connect with your target audience?
A good way to ensure your USP (Unique Selling Point) is attractive, is to think about the people you’re trying to influence. What values matter most to them? How would they define you as the kind of leader they need to achieve their goals?
3. Be visible
An effective personal leadership brand shouldn’t be something only your colleagues and employees see. Great leadership branding can open the door to new opportunities in your career, but only if you’re actively sharing that brand with the world.
Consider how you present yourself on social media, and on other online channels. Are you constantly sharing leadership content that resonates with your values and goals? How often do you share your beliefs and values with others?
4. Prioritize authenticity
In the corporate world, authenticity is crucial to creating a brand that people can trust, connect with, and respect. When you’re building your personal leadership brand, it’s important to ensure you’re being honest about who you really are.
Don’t just tell people you’re a problem solver because that’s what you think they want to hear. Be real about your strengths and weaknesses. If you tell people your biggest strength is innovation, demonstrate that constantly, by experimenting with new ideas and thinking outside of the box.
5. Be willing to take a stand
The true next-generation leaders of our time aren’t afraid to stand up for what they believe in, and you shouldn’t be either. Business leaders, just like brands, can’t appeal to everyone. There are going to be times when you potentially alienate a lot of people with your stance on certain topics.
However, being willing to take a stand is part of what ensures you’re conveying your brand in an authentic way. Give your opinions on critical topics, and be willing to live by them, even if it means some people disagree with you.
Personal leadership brand examples
Sometimes, if you’re struggling to define and build a personal leadership brand strategy, the best way to get started is to look for inspiration. There are plenty of inspirational figures in the world that might already inspire you.
Here are some of our favorite examples to get you started:
1. Warren Buffet
With a massive net worth of $121.1 billion, Warren Buffet is probably one of the most influential investors and philanthropists in the world. His success is defined not just by his intelligent investment choices, but also his strong leadership brand.
Buffet presents himself to others as both an innovator, and an authentic human being. He combines his insightful statements with humor when sharing insights online, and at events, to strengthen his connections with other people.
Buffet also constantly draws attention to his skills and abilities, producing books, videos, and other assets that offer an insight into his unique value.
2. Oprah Winfrey
Best-known for her talk show and television appearances, Oprah Winfrey might not be the first person you think of when looking for examples of leadership branding. However, she’s cemented herself as a leader in the media industry over the years.
Her leadership brand is defined by values like authenticity and honesty. She takes a stand for the things she believes in, and she’s not afraid to be outspoken. Oprah shares her joys and sorrows with the world, as well has her unique insights on a variety of different topics.
She presents herself as an empathetic leader, with the ability to inspire and motivate others, and has earned the respect of countless people worldwide.
3. Gary Vaynerchuk
Otherwise known as Gary Vee, Vaynerchuk is a leading entrepreneur and internet personality. His personal branding is part of what has made him such a memorable person over the years. He doesn’t just position himself as a chairman and CEO.
Instead, Vaynerchuk constantly shows his leadership skills, by demonstrating creativity, out of the box thinking, and innovation. He shows his audience his motivational skills, with clear, positive messages on various offline and online channels.
Gary Vee’s approach to leadership branding, which often involves the creation of a lot of valuable content, has given him a reputation in his industry. He’s seen as a true market leader; with a deep knowledge of the industries he serves.
Unlock the value of a strong leadership brand
Building an effective leadership brand is similar to building a compelling personal brand. The main difference is that you’re focusing on conveying why people should trust you to lead them.
Being an incredible leader isn’t just about having power over others because you’re in a position of authority. Great leaders use their personal branding to earn the trust and respect of their audience.
They demonstrate clear values and skills in everything they do.
Whether you’re already in a leadership position, and you want to strengthen your impact on your company, or you’re planning on applying for a promotion, a leadership brand can give you a powerful tool for success.
It ensures you can effectively shape perceptions of who you are.
Fabrik: A branding agency for our times.