How to Discover Your Leadership Brand
Written by Suzanne Bates
What is your brand? It’s a thought and feeling that leap to mind when people think about you. A brand is an intangible asset; however, the impact is very real. Smart, successful leaders put their brands to work and demonstrate that they are strategic partners. So how can you do this, too?
The first step is to understand your brand. To do that you need to look at the story of your life and career for clues to the values you hold. These events have shaped you and made you the leader you are today. Your brand, which in essence is your character, is already well formed. But you must analyze it yourself before you can communicate it to others.
You’ve seen this dynamic at work in your company – those who give voice to their values, who share the principles that define them, and connect with hearts and minds, motivating and inspiring others. People want to work for them; in fact they want to be like them. They attract and energize people and there is no reason you can’t be that kind of leader as well.
Believe in your brand
In order to communicate your brand, you must embrace the idea that you have a brand and that it has real power. Begin by recognizing that your reputation is one of your most valuable assets. Treat it like gold. Share it with others. That will drive tangible value into the organization and help to position you as a strategic partner to the organization.
How do leaders who believe in their brands shape the values of their companies? One powerful example was Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, one of the most influential businesswomen of her time. She believed that if you could sell, you could succeed, and that any woman could earn her way to the top. How did she come by this belief? She was passed over for promotions in sales – though she was a top sales person, year after year. She quit, wrote a book, and realized it was the blueprint for her iconic, multi-billion dollar company.
Learn the skill of storytelling
Look at pivotal events in your life, and examine what lessons they taught you. Your personal stories are a veritable treasure chest – inside life lessons can be found that have shaped your values and defined you. When you share these stories with audiences, a human connection develops, which helps people see who you really are.
How have your life experiences shaped your brand values? That’s the question. These character-shaping experiences are the foundation of your brand.
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Combine your brand with your organizations
The interesting feature of a leader’s brand is that while it stands alone, it is also part of something larger. You have your own separate brand, which also is commingled with the organization’s reputation. So it stands to reason that you need to understand your own brand, and also appreciate the interplay between your brand and your company’s brand, so you can harness the two to work in concert.
The organization’s values are not always what you see posted on the walls or in the employee manuals. It is important to truly analyze and understand what traits and values drive the success of the enterprise. If they are out of sync with your own values you need to understand where the gaps or disconnects are. Being in sync with the company values is essential to earning a seat at the table.
Be highly visible in your company and industry
Consider the following actions to build your brand:
- Have mentors and coaches help you get savvy about all aspects of the business - develop a strategic point of view.
- Volunteer to give presentations to your executive team and board and talk about big ideas.
- Write thought leading articles for magazines – visibility outside your company. Explore a new twist on an old idea.
- Volunteer for company initiatives – interact with business leaders. Help them solve problems.
- Speak up in meetings – let people see your brilliance – and develop an executive presence that commands the room.
It’s been said that a brand name is more than a word – it is the beginning of a conversation. What’s the conversation that people are having about you? I guarantee if you are sharing compelling, interesting stories, people will remember them – and then they remember you.
Suzanne Bates is author of the new book Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Brand as a Leader, just out from McGraw-Hill. Founding CEO of Bates Communications, a firm that transforms leaders into powerful communicators who get results, Suzanne is also author of www.thepowerspeakerblog.com and two other books from McGraw-Hill: Speak Like a CEO and Motivate Like a CEO. Visit Suzanne's website: www.bates-communications.com
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.