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Brand Yourself, Brand Your Team

By Katherine Craig

Family Services EAP, Solutions Newsletter, September 2011


If you were asked to identify the company that uses Yellow Arches it would only take you a heartbeat to say "McDonalds." Most people in Canada can identify a Tim Horton's cup just from the colours and the shape of the lettering. Think about it - how did this happen? If you said these companies picked something distinctive and fairly simple to remember then branded everything with it you would be right. We aren't born being able to identify these logos. We are taught. We understand the language of brands even if we don't eat at McDonalds or order coffee at Tim Horton's.

When I ask my clients what their leadership brand is they are always surprised. We walk through the McDonalds and Tim Horton's example to ensure we are on the same page, and then I repeat the question: "What is your brand?" Silence. While we are quite conversant on company brands we rarely think of how we have branded ourselves.

The next comment I get is "I haven't branded myself!" Actually you have. You may not have articulated your leadership brand but you are living it every day. Think of someone you know who gets riled up when politics are discussed. Branded. Think of someone who is very quiet and rarely speaks at meetings. Branded. If someone asked you about these individuals you would say "She's great and very passionate about politics" or "He's very reserved and will rarely come forward in a meeting." You know their brand. What is your brand?

Why is it important to identify your leadership brand?
Marketing experts Tracy Lloyd and Jerry Holtaway understand the importance of branding in today's business climate. They point out that "increasingly people want to feel they're part of something that makes the world a better place...Governments, institutions, and companies find themselves under new scrutiny by employees, customers...Those who fail to realign their thinking and behaviour in the pursuit of meaning will quickly be overtaken by those who do."1 It's vital that you develop a strong, evocative brand for yourself - or suffer the consequences in the form of lost opportunities, for example:

First scenario, imagine yourself at a long table in a conference room. You are on one side of the table and five people are facing you on the other side. They say to you "We have some great candidates. What do you bring to the table and the leadership team? What role will you play?" At that point you ramble on about being a thoughtful leader, at the same time action-oriented, at the same time people-focussed. Your answer proves you neither thoughtful nor particularly focussed.

Second scenario, you are at a conference and you are introduced to the next generation genius. You know this young up-and-comer has countless job offers to choose from. You strike up a conversation angling around to the opportunities your firm has to offer. Finally the genius turns to you, looks you in the eye and says "What kind of leader are you? What do you stand for? I want my values to be a fit." You were comfortable talking about the corporate vision, but you're at a loss talking about your own. The genius listens politely for a few minutes while you sputter, and then turns away. Opportunity lost.

Third scenario, it's your annual team retreat. It's been a great retreat so far, everyone seems happy and it's all rolling out as you imagined. Finally it's the meaty part of the day when you outline the tasks ahead. You know it's time to channel the Winston Churchill inspirational speech and energize your team, but it falls flat. You have covered the tasks, but your speech lacks focus, and the energy and enthusiasm has waned. You know your talk was anything but inspirational.

Identifying your brand
You don't need a marketing team to assist you with this task. You simply need to spend some time reflecting. As I said earlier, you already have a brand, you just have to identify it and manage it.

Step 1 - Identify the key leadership principles about which you care deeply. Don't worry about whether they are the same as someone else's or match the company's. This is your brand; you will use it to deliver the company’s organizational values. List these principles. They should be one or two words such as innovation, efficiency, financial acuity, communication, or reliability.

Step 2 - Narrow the list down to three-five. Any less than three and people think you're simple; any more than five they will find difficult to remember. Don't worry about leaving the others out. It doesn't mean that you don't care about them; it just means they won't be part of your key focus.

Step 3 - Speak to each of the points in front of the mirror, your dog or a couple of friends. You should be able to speak to them all in about 10 minutes. It may be harder than you think. Here’s a hint: if you need notes or have trouble talking about them they probably aren't your key drivers and you picked them because you thought it sounded good. That won't work. People know when you're faking it!

Step 4 - Keep clarifying the points until it all feels right and you can speak to them with passion. You should be succinct about why it makes a difference; why it is meaningful to you. I suggest that clients not take more than 10 minutes in total because if you go back to the scenarios above, you will see that anything more than 10 minutes will be too long and you will lose your audience.

Your battle cry
A common refrain across the ages from generals to their troops before a battle always involves a higher purpose. People are willing to lay down their lives to defend their country and can be quite stirred up on the subject. They might just go home, though, if their leader says "I know you might all die out there but it's worth $175!" Just as we discovered in our retreat scenario above, a leader who provides a list of tasks without meaningful focus or reason will fail to motivate the team.

You are the leader. Your job is to set the vision, and that isn't only what will be accomplished but how it will be accomplished. You need to tell the team what's important to you and the principles that define your leadership; these will define your collective deliverables. Your leadership brand dictates the method by which your team will meet the goals you set and you need to communicate them clearly.

So here is your battle cry: "Our customers will know we have been here every time they see these principles [your brand] at work together. This is how we deliver. This is what we will be known for." A team could really rally around that. It's compelling. Passion is compelling, tasks are not.

I know what you’re thinking: "I'm not a passionate person; I can't shout inspirational messages to the troops!" Don't worry. You don't have to be on a podium expounding your brand at the top of your lungs. Effective branding requires sincerity. Even the quietest of leaders care deeply about how they behave and what they expect out of their team. Just ask Bernie Brillstein, agent to the late, brilliant Jim Henson; according to Brillstein, "Jim inspired people to be better than they thought they could be. To be more creative, more daring, more outrageous, and ultimately more successful. And he did it all without raising his voice."2

Now get out there and tell people
So, once you've done the above steps, do what McDonalds, Tim Horton's, and all the prominent, resonant brand masters are doing. Talk about it. Embed it in your conversations. Tell your leaders and stakeholders about it. Build it into performance targets for your team. Give them a flag to rally around that lets the organization know you were there.

1Read more: "Ten ways your brand can be meaningful", http://www.cmo.com/branding/10-ways-your-brand-can-be-meaningful#ixzz1R4QeyY6j
2It's Not Easy Being Green and Other Things to Consider, Jim Henson Co., 2005