What's the Importance of Building a Leadership Brand?


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Creating a leadership brand should be an integral aspect of business strategy, transcending traditional leadership roles to establish a consistent, organization-wide approach that aligns with the company's core values and objectives.

As explored in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article titled “Building a Leadership Brand” by Norm Smallwood and Dave Ulrich, this concept emphasizes the importance of molding leaders who embody the firm's values and promises to its customers and stakeholders, shaping a brand beyond products, services and individual leaders.

What is Leadership Branding?

Leadership branding is about more than the individual achievements or characteristics of a leader. It's about molding a culture within the organization that reflects its core values and objectives.

As Jeff Bezos of Amazon articulates, "Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room." This implies that a leadership brand is the collective perception of an organization's leadership, shaped by its actions and decisions.

In a 2019 article, Smallwood and Ulrich from the Center for Creative Leadership state, "A leadership brand reflects a company's commitment to its values and how it achieves results through its people. It is about how leaders interact and influence others to produce outcomes that align with the company's vision and mission​.”

Building a leadership brand involves aligning the actions and values of leaders with the company's mission. It requires a consistent approach across the organization, ensuring that every leader embodies the brand's core values regardless of their level.

Jean-Noel Kapferer, a noted branding expert, emphasizes, "A brand’s strength is built upon its determination to promote its distinctive values and mission." This highlights the importance of a unified vision and mission in shaping a strong leadership brand.

Examples of Strong Leadership Brands

Companies that have successfully developed strong leadership brands often integrate their leadership practices with their brand promises. This approach results in a consistent generation of leaders well-aligned with the company's values, contributing to stable and sustained success.

In that same 2019 article, Smallwood and Ulrich mention companies like Amazon, Disney, Microsoft, American Express and Apple, often admired for their people and market leadership. They are known for developing managers with talents that meet customer and investor expectations and deliver on their promises about their products and services.

Such companies embed their brand promises into their culture and integrate them into their policies and employee expectations​.

Value Proposition in Leadership Branding

A clear value proposition is essential in leadership branding. It conveys the organization's unique benefits and values, setting it apart from competitors.

This involves identifying what the company does well and how its leadership approach contributes to these strengths. The value proposition should be compelling, meaningful and distinct, clearly articulating why the company and its leadership stand out in the marketplace.

Consistency and Clarity Lead to Value

A leadership brand is a strategic asset that its leaders build, driven through its brand drivers with a clear and consistent message that is honest and resonates with stakeholders. Companies that successfully develop a substantial leadership brand benefit from consistent leadership practices, a clear value proposition and a reputation that resonates with stakeholders.

This approach to leadership branding is essential for long-term success and sustainability in a competitive business environment. It will yield intrinsic brand equity and external perception, building exponential value in the marketplace.