In an age of overwhelming information, campaigns, data, claims, and posturing, having a leader brand isn’t always one and the same as being a leader in your sector.
Ownership of a leader brand is the preserve of intentional, and strategic leaders who have not only gone beyond relying on their track record of success, on landmark projects or positions at a string of prominent organisations but have created brands that cut through the noise and establish them as authorities.
A leader brand is an asset owned by executives and directors who have transcended the realm of merely having enough credibility to contribute or feature on platforms, to owning their own platforms and even becoming those platforms.
So, for those leaders ready to go beyond merely having a powerful or influential voice in your sector, to creating platforms of regional, global, or multisector impact, here are four key strategies to help you get started.
Define your target audience
There are different types of leaders, speaking on a broad range of issues, and sometimes even on the same set of issues, but from different perspectives. The implication of this is that these leaders are often addressing different audiences, sometimes consciously, and other times incidentally. The goal, when working to create an impact platform (which is what a personal brand is), is to clearly define your target audience, and the specific group you want to influence and impact. This could be anyone from regulators, peers, and public sector players, to civic societies, parallel industry leaders or even rising stars within your sector.
In the contemporary world, and so in the business and professional landscape, what validates our ability to lead isn’t just our ability to excel at projects within our sector. Rather, leadership is determined by our ability to show out of the ordinary understanding of situations, and an equally extraordinary ability to chart an inclusive pathway to solving them or developing new capital for every player. The other half of this formula is the ability to clearly and convincingly communicate both the depth of the problem, as well as the solution to all stakeholders in a manner that drives adoption and a sector or industry-wide move in the relevant direction. This is what thought leadership is about, and to build a leader brand, you must go beyond simply being a “leader of the pack” to being a pathfinder and culture creator.
Working your soft skills
Beyond professional competence, every professional is known for other areas of strength that contribute to their success and relevance within organisations and sectors. We’ve dubbed these non-technical strengths soft skills, and once you enter into leadership in any organisation or sector, you soon learn that soft skills arguable supersede technical experience as a driver of success at the highest level.
Now while we often have an innate understanding of some of our soft skills, we hardly ever uncover all of them without external help. It is for this reason that when I work with leaders, one of my tried and tested strategies to uncovering all of their soft skills is the exploration of the question “what do people say about you?” – from superiors and peers to downlines. Because hidden in these answers (positive or negative) are more indicators of how people perceive you and what people look to you for. An understanding of this is a very powerful and even invaluable resource in building a leader brand.
Yet the goal isn’t merely to identify them and project them. It is rather to find ways to build value-driven programmes, events, and communities around them. These are the strategies that not only create leaders, but set more successful leaders apart from other leaders.
Every leader understands that expertise in one’s field or even knowledge of the field in question doesn’t equate capacity to DIY your brand building journey. If you’re serious about building a leader brand, get professional assistance to help map out and communicate your vision, and then appoint a project manager (never mind the title, it could be your executive assistant) to oversee the execution. In my experience, most leaders know to hire consultants like myself, but the latter part – the absence of a project manager – is the top reason why many leaders with the substance, experience, and even the network to build leader brands capable of accelerating impact and development never do.
Your comfort zone isn’t the worst place to start
Too often, I see many executives, directors, and even captains, shy away from actively building their personal brand because they fear stepping out of their comfort zone. So today, I bring glad tidings of great joy because, as it turns out, your comfort zone is a perfectly great place to start, and here’s why.
Building a personal brand or a leader brand isn’t about having to step out of character. Rather, it is about being strategic and intentional about end outcomes and your long-term goals while functioning in your element and “in character”. So if you are a speaker, by all means speak; if a writer, write; and if you simply consult for a niche audience, do just that, but make sure you are aggregating and consolidating your body of work, portfolio, insight, theories, and intellectual property in a way that allows you reach more people like your target audience, drive more impact, and occupy the top spot in your niche.
In summary, a leader brand does not just happen. It is not the natural outcome of being a leader in your sector. A leader brand is the product of carefully, and strategically curated activities, insight, experiences, and credible value delivery by credible Industry players and frontrunners. A real leader brand is often known by more than just insiders, and is visible beyond its immediate sphere of influencer. It is a personal brand that is recognised not only as a worthy contributor to relevant sector conversations, but a brand with enough gravitas and influence, to both create as well as drive crucial conversations and cultures with tremendous cross-sector, national or international impact.
· Aligbe is a communications expert with 10 years of experience in brand strategy development and public relations management for corporate brands, founders and executives. She is the communications director at a corporate branding and PR consultancy, Phenom Communications, and the lead brand consultant at TA Brand Consulting, a personal branding outfit