It seems like 100 years ago now, but it was actually only just last year when I was sitting in a team meeting, listening to an update our president was giving to the team. I remember thinking and saying, just above a whisper: “I have to ask a question. It’s a hard one, but I have to ask.” My colleague leaned over to me and said, “That’s your brand.” Honestly, before that moment I never thought about my “leadership brand.” Yet, I obviously had one!

Since that moment, I’ve often thought about my leadership “brand.” David Ogilvy, the “Father of Advertising,” defined “brand” as, “the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” The Dictionary of Brand defines “brand” as, “a person’s perception of a product, service, experience, or organization.”

I began to think of leaders like Jack Welch, or “Neutron Jack” as he was called. Jack Welch was the chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) from 1981 to 2001. His brand was being a leader who was tough and who had a ruthless abandonment to maximize the bottom line. I had the privilege of hosting an event with Jack and Suzy Welch when they wrote, The Real Life MBA. I was thinking, “This is Neutron Jack? He’s a total gentleman, a gentle giant!” His leadership brand was larger than life. While I encountered the nicest man during our event, in business, his brand was defined by the world’s perception of his leadership at the helm of GE.

I also thought of Herb Kelleher, co-founder and CEO of Southwest Airlines. Herb was committed to the success of Southwest’s bottom line. One of his primary paths to shareholders gains was creating an organizational culture where his employees were #1 – even before the customer. In Bill Taylor’s Harvard Business Review article, he writes: “Kelleher understood better than any CEO I ever met that your brand is the outward expression of your culture, and that your culture is the only platform that can sustain and renew your brand.” Herb’s brand was being an organizational culture guru.

We live in the time where we spend tremendous effort creating social media personas and personal brands. Think of the lasting impact you want to make with the people and organizations you lead. What is your leadership brand? What is the sum of your leadership attributes? And how has that shaped everyone’s perception of you as a leader?

If you still think you don’t have a leadership brand, think again. You do!

Annette Cutino
Director, Advance