Leadership brand

22 June, 2015

Thought starters on building a distinctive brand of leadership – for the organisation, and yourself

As you know, at GCPL, we have exciting and ambitious plans of becoming an emerging markets FMCG leader. But to be able to deliver on these aspirations, we will need to significantly raise the bar on what we expect from our leaders. We also need to groom many more leaders and build a strong pipeline for the future. One way to do this, is by offering people stretch roles and responsibilities. Greater focus on leadership training will also be important. But these will not suffice.

We need to make leadership a core capability at our company. We need to build a reputation of being a great place to groom great leaders. And do it in our unique, differentiated Godrej way.

For over a century, we have been building great brands that delight our consumers. In many ways, the principles that we apply to nurturing our product brands can provide valuable lessons to crafting a meaningful and distinctive identity for our leadership.

And so, today, I want to advocate that we need to think about our leadership as a brand. How should we make it distinctive? And how should we develop and sustain this brand?  

Like our product brands, our leadership brand needs to be unique and deliver on its promise. Ultimately, brands stand for reputation. So, we need to introspect on how as leaders, we are seen and experienced by different stakeholders? And how we perceive ourselves? Similar to product branding principles, how can we make our leadership brand authentic, differentiated and memorable? 

The concept of leadership brand owes its origins to Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood. They have also written a book by the same name. In their book, they talk about leadership brand as the unique type of leaders that a company needs to groom. And what kind of leaders will a company be known for? Will it be known for churning out highly driven, ambitious performers? Will they be strong team players? Will they be technically brilliant? Will their analytical skills set them apart? Will they be great mentors?  Or more still, will it be a ‘leader feeder’ – a company which grooms talent that goes on to become leaders in other companies? Like with any other brand, companies need to make strategic choices on the kind of leadership they want to build.

Why is defining a ‘leadership brand’ so important?

Ulrich and Smallwood describe a ‘leadership brand’ as an extension of a company’s brand or identity. A “shared identity among a company’s leaders that differentiates what they can do from what its rivals’ leaders can do”. This identity then gets translated and experienced through the behaviours of all its leaders.

As they put it, “leaders matter, but leadership matters more”. If you rely too much on individual-led brilliance, you could run the risk of inconsistency in leadership approaches and styles when leaders change. Building a leadership brand ensures consistency and longevity. Your focus shifts to ensuring that all your leaders, current and future, imbibe and embody this leadership brand.

While a company will create its own leadership brand, every leader in that company has a responsibility towards developing and role modelling that brand. Good leaders are not just focused on their own leadership reputation and credibility, but are also strongly invested in building their company’s leadership capability.

So, what do we want GCPL leaders to be known for?

Every company already has a leadership brand, whether or not it is explicitly defined. It exists in the relationships between people and the culture that is perpetuated.

Let’s look at GCPL. We have high growth aspirations. The very composition of our company has changed significantly over the last five years. Nearly half our revenues now come from our international business. Over two-thirds of our team members are based outside India. This brings the interplay of different cultures to the mix. So, even as we ask ourselves what we want GCPL leaders to be known for, we need to take into consideration, how we are transforming ourselves?

To be truly representative, our GCPL leadership brand will need to cut across different imperatives. We need to build on what has been great and held us in good stead over the years, while enabling what we want to be in the future. Therefore, over the next few months, I would like to engage you in conversations about crystallising our leadership brand. As a leadership team, what do we want to be really known for? What values and behaviours will make us stand out? A few top of mind attributes include – truly inspiring our teams, being ambidextrous (delivering great short term results and driving superior execution, but also thinking about the longer term), being agile, thriving in uncertainty and leading with integrity.

How do you build your ‘personal leadership brand’?

While I have talked thus far about leadership brand at an organisational level, each of us needs to take this mindset to a personal level. I would urge each of you to reflect on what you want your personal leadership brand to be – what do you want to stand for as a leader and what will make you distinctive? How will you progress on your leadership journey?

Norm Smallwood, is his article Define Your Personal Leadership Brand in Five Steps, shares the following approach towards developing a successful and authentic personal leadership brand.

1. What results do you want to achieve in the next year?

According to Smallwood, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “In the next 12 months, what are the major results I want to deliver at work?” Remember, that while you will bring your individual strengths to the table, a leadership brand is outward looking. It is built on what your customers, investors, team members and company need you to deliver on. So, be clear about what is expected. This is where building from the company’s leadership brand helps, because it would already define these requirements in a similar manner.

2. What do you wish to be known for?

Once you have decided on what you need to achieve, move on to what you need to be known for. Who you innately are may not be enough to deliver in your role. So, think through and list six words that best describe what you would need to be to perform successfully. These could be anything – collaborative, analytical, detail oriented etc. When you have this list ready, share it with people around you, your boss, peers, team members, to get their thoughts on whether or not this best describes what someone in your role should exemplify.

3. Define your identity

For the next step, you need to use the six descriptors that you have already listed, to create three two-word phrases. These phrases need to describe the identity that you want to develop. It will make you think about what you want to be known for and what you need to do to get there.

4. Construct your leadership brand statement, then test it.

Now, you need to link together what you have already created, to craft your personal leadership brand statement:  Fill in the blanks: “I want to be known for being ______________ so that I can deliver __________.”

With this statement in hand, ask yourself the following questions to see if it needs to be refined further:

  • Is this the brand identity that best represents who I am and what I can do?
  • Is this brand identity something that creates value in the eyes of my organisation and key stakeholders?
  • What risks am I taking by exhibiting this brand? Can I live this brand? 

5. Make your brand identity real

Your leadership brand has little value, if it is just left at being a statement. To make it real and truly benefit from it, you need to work on it every day. Share it with the people around you. Find your sounding boards. Build in enough reality checks so that you know how you are performing.

Crafting our leadership brand at GCPL will be a journey. And it will probably take us time to figure out what the best and most authentic definition is. But this is absolutely critical for us to be able to take our great company to even greater heights. So, it requires some serious introspection. This is an imperative that we will need to drive as a leadership team and as always, I look forward to your thoughts and perspectives.


  • Niro Naicker says:

    Hello Vivek,

    Thank you for another brilliant article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading them all but this one in particular was the awakening for me. It’s anchoring advice that we can all action, even those not in leadership.

    My thoughts and perspective have definitely received a refreshing shift. As I consciously push forth to bring out opulence in my own personal brand identity, I will also be more selective in who I choose to model and how I qualify those that I aspire towards.

    Thank you once again.


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