Nov 10, 2007

Building a Leadership Brand

How to grow the best leaders? Make sure they live and breathe your company's brand.

Thousands of companies spend millions on leadership development-only to get lukewarm results. Why? They rely on leadership competency models that identify generic traits (vision, direction, energy). Then they try to find and build next-generation leaders who fit the model. Result? Vanilla managers and executives who aren't equipped to manage their firm's unique challenges.

There's a better way, say Ulrich and Smallwood. Build a leadership brand: a shared identity among your organization's leaders that differentiates what they can do from what your rivals' leaders can do.

To build your leadership brand, first articulate what you want your firm to be known for by your best customers. Then link those qualities to specific managerial traits and activities. For example, Wal-Mart wants to be known for its everyday low prices. So it strives to hire and develop managers who are frugal and unassuming and who can drive a hard bargain.

Brand your firm's leadership and you deliver unique value for investors, customers, and employees-elevating market value and sharpening your competitive edge.

The Idea in Practice
Ulrich and Smallwood recommend these practices for building your leadership brand:

Nail Leadership Fundamentals
Though generic leadership competencies won't differentiate your firm from others, they're still important baseline skills for all leaders. Train your firm's leaders to master these five fundamentals:

* Strategy: developing a point of view about the future and positioning the firm for continued success
* Execution: building organizational systems that deliver results and make change happen
* Talent management: motivating, engaging, and communicating with employees
* Talent development: grooming employees for future leadership
* Personal proficiency: acting with integrity, exercising social and emotional intelligence, making bold decisions, and engendering trust

Connect Executives' Abilities to Your Desired Reputation
Decide what you want your firm to be known for, then link those brand attributes with specific leadership skills and behavior. For example, pharmaceutical company Teva's brand qualities included integrity, which managers embodied by ensuring employees delivered products on time.

Assess Leaders Against Your Leadership Brand
To ensure leaders are living up to your leadership brand, regularly assess their actions and accomplishments from an external point of view. Invite key customers, investors, and community leaders to periodically evaluate your leaders through surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Let Customers and Investors Teach
Incorporate external expectations into your leadership-development efforts by:

* Giving customers a voice in training-program design
* Making sure customer expectations inform every aspect of leadership courses
* Using customers and investors to observe training sessions and to offer feedback about the content's relevancy or act as expert faculty for certain training programs
* Giving managers assignments that demand a customer "lens"

Procter & Gamble helps its leaders gain a consumer and P& L perspective early. Instead of assigning new hires to positions in individual departments such as finance, marketing, or HR, it places them with cross-unit "brand teams" who are responsible for meeting customer expectations.

Track the Long-Term Success of Your Leadership Brand
A strong leadership brand translates into superior financial performance. Evaluate the success of your leadership brand by considering how much confidence investors have in your future earnings (as expressed by your company's price/earnings ratio) and how much customers value your brand (as expressed by market share).

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