Knowledge Center


Article -> Leadership as a Brand

Date Added: June 2006


The concept of a brand is known most everywhere. It may be a swoosh on a pair of shoes or a fruit symbol on a computer. Today, brands are moving away from just focusing on the product to focusing on the reputation of the firm that represents the brand. For example, airport food service sales grew when anonymous coffee shops were replaced with Starbucks. The corporate brand communicates value to customers, and this is embodied in its leaders.
Leadership as a brand represents the identify and reputation of leaders throughout a company. Leaders model the brand when they think and act according to the brand attributes. When thinking of leadership as a brand, it helps reiterate the effectiveness and results that leadership can attribute to your organization.
Firm value is enhanced when leadership is thought of as a brand instead of something that leaders simply do. Here’s how to think about it:¹
  • Brands have both core and differential elements: Branded leaders have the ability to reflect the attributes and results that customers want. For example, Lexus leaders focus on continuous learning and improvement while Kia leaders focus on managing costs.
  • Brands focus on the outside in: A leadership brand must attract and please customers with an end result of delivering value to customers and key stakeholders investing money in the firm.
  • Brands evolve over time to meet the changing needs of the marketplace: Successful leaders continually tie their brand or identify to the changing expectations of customers and stakeholders. As customers change, the leadership brand must change.
  • Brands are unique and not generic: Ask a “so that” question to achieve focused results that are linked to your organizational strategy and/or identity. For example, at Mariott, leaders communicate “so that” customers experience exceptional service.
  • Brands turn leadership into specific decisions: Dozens of day-to-day decisions that are consistent with each other reinforce a leadership brand. At the end of the day, leaders’ decisions should reinforce and support their organizations identity.
  • Brands put leadership into business terms: A firm’s stock price should go up based on effective leadership. For example, a CEO with a solid reputation can cause a stock price to increase based on future expectations when he/she changes jobs.
  • Leaders at all levels of the organization must reflect effective leadership brand: If a leader with in the organization does not reflect the desired brand, that leader pollutes an entire segment of the organization; affecting employee, customer, and investor responses to the company.
  • Brands are sustainable, not tied to any individual person: When money, data and people are institutionalized, consistent with the leadership brand, they communicate and reinforce the brand long after the CEO has left.
  • Brands must produce results or they will not last: Leaders who declare leadership brands must live and breathe them or they will create cynicism and lose credibility.
1 Ulrich, Dave and Norm Smallwood. "Leadership as Brand." Link & Learn eNewsletter. March 2006.










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