Friday, July 5, 2013

The Mark of Leadership

According to Wikipedia, branding can be the permanent marking of wood with heat, the marking of animals to imply ownership, or the application of specific marketing techniques to separate one product from another. In short, you can brand objects, animals, and other things, but can you brand your leadership?

Much has been written on the idea of leadership branding with a focus on the leader’s role within an organization. Leadership branding, like branding in general, includes concepts such as identity, distinctiveness and reputation. However, most of what I have read explores these characteristics in terms of the uniqueness of the team and not so much about the individuality of the leader.

Leadership is idiosyncratic and effective leadership exists outside the artificial confines of the typical organizational leadership paradigm. In other words, one size does not fit all despite the organizational pull to conform to the skills of the most dominate leaders or those in top positions. I think of leadership branding in terms of one’s personal leadership vision… how do I utilize my inimitable mix of personality, performance, and process to be the best leader I can be?

Our personality is how we present ourselves to the world. As leaders, our success is often measured on various personality traits, some of which have no bearing on our leadership ability. How well we perceive our leadership abilities is a personality trait that directly correlates with how well others perceive us as leaders. Our challenge is to be confident, not arrogant in our abilities while always seeking to improve ourselves as leaders. According to Peter Drucker, “Leadership is lifting our vision to higher sights, the raising of our performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.”

What would it take to make you a better leader? This is the primary question behind the concept of performance. Our performance as leaders can be summed up in the development of the organization, of others, and of our own knowledge. Great leadership is a magnet for excellent performance – both individual and organizational performance. However, leadership performance has to be measured on concepts individual to the leader and not on some commonly defined set of traits or measures. Consider the words of Mark Sanborn, “Our brand is a promise for the future based on our past performance.”  Leadership is personal therefore our performance is personal.

Leadership is an accomplishment… not a position we hold in an organization. Successful leadership often requires some level of self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-sacrifice. We must be thoughtful in recognizing ourselves as individuals separate from the organizational environment so as to fully realize our leadership capacity. This requires self-control while maintaining the ability to adapt quickly in an ever-changing environment. Leadership is often a call to service whereby we surrender personal interest or gain for the betterment of those around us. Yvon Chouinard states it this way, “How you climb a mountain is more important than reaching the top.” This is the process we refer to as leadership.

Within our organizations, common sets of leadership skills are scalable. We can teach others to manage their time, communicate, and engage with their teams. It’s the excellence in the execution of these skills that doesn’t scale so well. The tactics used by one leader to achieve leadership results may not work for other leaders. When we try to force conformity, we sacrifice authenticity… and authenticity is the most precious commodity of leadership.

Like the marking of wood with heat, your leadership should leave an indelible mark on those around you. What is your leadership brand?