Your personal leadership brand is your image as a leader; the perception people around you have of you. The impact you have and the mark you leave.

Understanding those things can be beneficial in its own right, to create a sense of meaningfulness and purpose. But it’s also especially critical as your career continues to advance and you transition into increasingly high-stakes, visible leadership roles. 

As UK marketing and branding agency, Challenge Marketing Group, put it: ‘in an increasingly connected and transparent world, keeping a low profile is no longer an option for business leaders.’

This is especially true for leaders from underrepresented groups. A report from Cranfield University poses personal branding as a major strategy to support diverse leadership growth.

Let’s talk about building your personal brand as a leader. 

What is a personal brand for leaders? 

According to PersonalBrand.com: ‘A personal brand is a widely-recognised and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, or the marketplace at large.’ 

Talking about branding more broadly, Amazon’s CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos famously put it this way: ‘your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.’ The same principles apply to personal branding as business branding.

The Marketing and Creative Handbook emphasises that branding at its core is ‘about personal connections and human emotions’, about ‘how you want to make your customers feel’. The author expands:

‘Let’s define that feeling as your brand promise. It’s what your customer expects to experience when purchasing your product or service and is the fundamental reason that people will buy from you, rather than your competitors.’

The same principle applies to personal branding. What people say about you when you’re not in the room relates to how you make them feel; whether you consistently make them feel the way they expect. When you consistently deliver on these expectations, opportunities and connections present themselves to you, rather than your peers.

Why is a leadership personal brand important?

We touched on it above: a strong leadership brand opens doors, both professionally and personally. Your brand is your image: it’s about the relationships you’ve built and the connections you make with people.

Ultimately, your brand determines whether people want to be around you; whether they trust you; how they value you. In a professional context, that extends to executives and other leaders, your managers and employees, peers and often customers too.

At the far end of the spectrum, whole companies can be built around a visible leader with a strong personal brand. Such leaders stand as the face of the business and have a large impact on public perception and sales. According to global marketing communications agency Weber Shandwick, executives believe 44% of their company’s reputation and 44% of their market value is attributable to the CEO’s reputation, for instance.

The impact of a strong brand, then, can be far-reaching. Personal branding consultant Jennifer Holloway outlines why a personal brand is important:

  • Build your own and others’ confidence in your abilities
  • Get greater buy-in from key audiences
  • Better manage your impact on others
  • Increase trust from colleagues and employees
  • Boost employee engagement
  • Increase your own productivity and focus
  • Raise your profile and expand your network
  • Increase your career growth opportunities

In essence, building a leadership brand means convincing the people around you they’re in safe hands.

In this sense, a strong brand becomes a virtuous circle. As your personal brand equity grows, you’re better able to galvanise momentum behind your ideas and deliver successes that cement your authority and credibility. 

What makes up your leadership brand?

You innately have a brand, whether you intentionally cultivate one or not. Your brand is the impression you leave people with.

But intentionally building a personal brand means deliberately mapping all the moments you leave an impression on people, and consciously designing the impression you hope to leave.

Holloway outlines six key elements of a strong personal brand:

  • Values – the principles you live your life by
  • Drivers – the factors that push you to succeed
  • Reputation – what you want to be known for
  • Behaviours – your personality and character
  • Skills/Strengths – your technical and behavioural capabilities
  • Image – how you look, sound and act

Your personal brand is the sum of these factors, expressed whenever you interact with someone. This will manifest in many places. Like:

  • Your personal brand statement
  • Your appearance, body language and actions
  • Your social media profiles and activity
  • Your emails, email signature and out-of-office messages
  • Your phone signatures, voicemail and ringtone
  • Your requests or orders to colleagues
  • Your achievements and how you communicate them
  • Your network and relationships

Personal brand examples for leaders

In truth, there are hundreds of examples of leaders with strong personal brands. Think of any highly visible leader and they’ll likely have an extremely strong brand, in order to have achieved what they have. Self-made British billionaire Lord Alan Sugar is a great example.

Lord Alan Sugar’s journey from rags to riches has become almost part of the British national vocabulary. Making his initial fortune with consumer electronics company Amstrad, Lord Sugar has since taken an extremely active presence on the world stage.

He’s well-known for his starring role on The Apprentice and is active on social media and politically. His public persona – a savvy businessman who won’t suffer fools gladly – is practically a household name.

Like or dislike him, Lord Sugar is a fantastic example of conscious personal branding. Let’s talk about how other leaders could follow suit.

Building a leadership brand

As we said above, you have a brand irrespective of whether you intentionally hone and grow one. So that’s the first step: to understand what your current brand looks like.

Gathering honest feedback from a broad range of people you interact with is a good start. Internationally recognised leadership coach Susanne Madsen points out:

‘The people you work with can see you from all angles, but without the use of a mirror you can only see a limited part of yourself. Without feedback it can be hard to ascertain what effect your leadership style has on others.’

Once you understand where you’re starting from, you can better map the steps to build an intentional brand. Then you can write a personal brand statement, to guide your future behaviour and signpost your value to others.

What is a personal brand statement?

A personal brand statement, or leadership brand statement, is a concise summary of your brand, usually in a couple of sentences. It’s like a personal elevator pitch that captures, in a nutshell, the unique value you add, for whom, doing what. That is, it captures your personal unique selling point (USP) or personal value proposition.

A great personal brand statement is:

  • Concise. A natural conversational answer to ‘so what do you do?’.
  • Authentic. A true reflection of your unique skills, value, and personality.
  • Memorable. A lasting impression to guide you and others.

You might use your personal brand statement in several ways:

  • As a personal daily reflection to guide your decisions and behaviours
  • As a spoken introduction when you’re networking
  • As a written introduction when you contribute to events, content and so on

In essence, your personal brand statement can act as a north star for the leader you want to be, guiding both your behaviours and your perception among your network. 

This relationship-building facet of personal branding is fundamental and you’ll need to consistently communicate your brand outwards.

At root, your personal brand hinges on a network of the right people consistently thinking the right things about you, according to your goals. (For example, an IT department head with sights on the CIO role needs credibility among other senior leaders for successfully navigating digital transformation.)

For leaders, developing a personal leadership brand that celebrates your difference and cements your reputation for delivering excellence is instrumental to career growth. Time to start writing that personal brand statement!