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What Kind of Leader Do you Want to Be? Tips for Identifying Your Leadership Brand

by Kathy Kurnyta on

As research and media has repeatedly suggested, our bosses have a profound impact on how much we like our jobs –  and often, on our desire to leave our jobs. As the saying goes: “People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.”

Yet in coaching leaders, we find many bosses have not put much thought into their leadership brand. That is, they haven’t thought about what it means to be a leader or articulated why someone would want to follow them. When we asked why they haven’t done this, lots of reasons come up:

  • Too busy and results-focused at work; it’s difficult to take the time to really think about what kind of leader you want to be
  • Have been successful without it; you’ve progressed through the leadership ranks and people choose to follow you without defining your brand
  • No one has complained or given negative feedback; you must be doing everything right

Why Your Leadership Brand Matters

Even if everything seems to be moving in a positive direction for your leadership now, without defining your leadership brand, you could be limiting both your potential and others’ potential to make an impact on a larger scale.

Moreover, in our Best Boss research, we found that one of the key characteristics of a Best Boss experience is “Leading from a Higher Purpose” (i.e., demonstrating a purpose beyond personal self-interest and self-profit). As such, if you are unclear what your higher purpose is as a leader, or how important it is to who you are as a leader, it will be harder to mobilize and motivate others toward that vision and higher purpose, and be seen as a “Best Boss.”

As we head into the New Year, there’s no better time to identify your leadership brand in preparation for the year ahead. So: why would someone want to follow you?

How to Craft Your Leadership Brand

Here are a few prompts to help you reflect on your leadership brand and identify HOW you want to be seen by others so you can continue creating value for yourself, your team, and your organization.

  1. Think about your worst boss experience. What characteristics describe this person’s leadership style? How did they treat you? How did that make you feel? Write down these qualities and behaviors you DO NOT want to exhibit in your leadership style. Then, think through your own interactions with others (e.g., staff, broader team, peers) and consider whether any of these behaviors emerge in your interactions. If they do, make a plan and commitment to curb them.
  2. Next, think through your best boss experience (or a mentor, if you have not had a best boss in your career). What characteristics come to mind when you consider this person’s values and behaviors? How did they make you feel?
  3. Based on those two opposite experiences, write down the values that are important to you as a leader.
    • How do you want others to describe you?
    • What do you want your legacy to be?
    • What results do you want to deliver in the next 6 months, one year, etc.?
    • How do you want to contribute to your organization, industry, etc.?
  4. Identify what is stopping you from living out these values. Is there resistance that you are facing toward certain characteristics?
  5. After identifying your values, create a leadership brand statement. Write this down and practice it like you would an elevator speech. Examples include:
    • “I want to be known as a strong developer of talent so that I can motivate others to high performance.”
    • “I want to be known as a driver of change so that I can positively impact our customer experience.”
    • “I want to be seen as genuine and present in my interactions with others so that I can build strong followership.”

To keep your leadership brand top-of-mind, ask yourself every morning as you review your day ahead: “How do I want others to view me in this situation?”

Putting your Leadership Brand into Action

After completing this exercise, spend a minute answering the following questions to solidify your plan for action:

  • What is your leadership brand?
  • Is there anything stopping you from living this out?
  • How does this impact your decisions on a day-to-day basis?

As you continue to implement this, remember to ask for feedback on a regular basis. Don’t wait for constructive feedback, but rather create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing feedback with one another as an everyday occurrence. This feedback can be gathered in various forms (e.g., through trusted colleagues and advisors or a survey-based 360 to offer others anonymity), and will help you to gauge progress on exhibiting your leadership brand.

Do you have a leadership brand statement? How has articulating it made a difference in your ability to create value?

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