Exploring your personal leadership brand can help you help others.
Early on in our careers, we are schooled in the importance of the elevator pitch, so that we can deliver a concise answer if somebody important we meet in passing asks, “What are you working on?” or “What do you do here?” The succinct sales pitch is also an essential skill for entrepreneurs taking turns in front of an audience of investors: they have to be able to capture their killer idea in a dozen or so words.
But in our consulting work with senior leaders, we find there is a specific type of elevator pitch that executives often overlook. It’s the answer to the questions “So what kind of leader are you?” and “What should we know about your leadership style?” Having a thoughtful reply at the ready could be a factor in landing a promotion. But more crucially, providing clarity about your leadership style will help you to build trust with your team. Think of it as your personal leadership brand—what you stand for, including the values that guide your behaviors as a leader, and what you expect from others.
It’s not that people don’t have anything to say in response to these questions. Some will volunteer that they believe in “servant leadership,” or that they are results-driven or believe in excellence and integrity.
And they’re not wrong. It’s just that they use phrases that are so general and at such a high altitude that they don’t provide anything concrete in terms of the behaviors that people can expect from them. The sentiments get muddled with corporate mission statements and purpose statements that often default to a version of “making the world a better place,” a cliché that can easily be skewered. (Think of the HBO series Silicon Valley, a satirical look at life in the tech startup world.)
The value of a personal brand
Just as with corporate values, the real test for your personal leadership brand comes during moments of pressure and stress. Do you abandon your values, telling yourself that you’ll come back to them when things settle down? Or do they matter even more in those moments?
When I interviewed Susan Desmond-Hellmann, the former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, she talked about the importance of being predictable and reliable as a leader. If you can clearly articulate how you would act in a given situation, “people don’t have that burden of always thinking, ‘I wonder what he or she would do.’ It’s pretty clear.”
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