Should a leader be concerned about his or her personal brand as a leader? This question often evokes polar opposite responses. Some argue intensely that a leader, especially a CEO, should only be concerned with the corporation’s brand. Others argue that it is imperative that leaders spend time building their own brand – believing that leaders don’t belong to any company for life, and that their main affiliation isn’t to any particular job.
Before we continue to explore the answer, let’s agree to a common understanding on what is meant by leadership brand. It is the packaging of the asset that relates to a leader’s personification, creating an indelible impression. Leaders should not be solely defined by their job title or confined by a job description. In 1997, Tom Peters was among the first to argue that leaders should be concerned with and build their personal brand. It is important to highlight that a leader’s brand is not self-promotion; it is the positioning of the leader and his/ her career.
To get an expert insight on personal branding, I turned to Phenomena ME, which specialises in personal and corporate branding. They quickly pointed out that a leader’s brand couldn’t be separated from the leader for the simple reason that a leader is a person. They also added that corporations should leverage the personal brand of their leaders to build the corporate brand. Jeff Immelt of GE, Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, are company brand ambassadors who also built their own personal brand. That short list is representative of the reality that nearly all of the Fortune 500 leaders are brands in and of themselves.
As a business leader you know that the branding of your business is important and the same priority should be true for yourself. So, it appears that it is acceptable for leaders to build their personal brand while they are representing their company’s brand. The problem arises when leaders work to build their personal brand at the expense of, or avoidance of, the corporate brand.
So, starting today, realise that you are a brand and that you can benefit by a positioning strategy to advance your own brand. You will need to think like a brand manager and answer this question: “What is it that you do that makes you different?” This will help you to figure out how to distinguish yourself from all the other very smart people walking around who are similar to you.
Maybe we should refer to building a personal brand as managing your reputation – the opinion that others have based upon your identity. A reputation separated from experience is fraud, so a personal brand needs to be built on reality. You no longer live in a time when reputation is constrained by organisational walls. In the decade of social media, as a leader you should take an active role in managing your reputation. Just as with the corporate world, people make buying decisions based upon reputation, as a leader they choose to follow you based upon your brand reputation.