How Women Leaders Discover Their Own, Powerful Leadership Brand
By Suzanne Bates
Most of us fully appreciate the importance of a brand to a luxury
hotel chain like Ritz Carlton, an online service like Zappos Shoes,
or a new product like the IPad. But what do people mean when they
talk about personal brands? And, why as a women in business, do you
need a brand, anyway?
In essence, a brand is a thought (accompanied by a feeling) that
lives in the mind of another person. Your brand is the shorthand way
people think about you. In marketing, there’s a saying -“a brand is
more than a word; it’s the beginning of a conversation.” The
question you have to ask, as a hard-working woman in business, is
what’s the conversation people are having about you?
Most women I know need to invest more in building their brands.
During a decade as the CEO of an executive coaching firm that has
clients in world-class companies, I’ve learned that women just don’t
do enough to make themselves known. Women need to make a name in
business. If you are successful, have a busy life, and are juggling
many priorities, you may have let that slide. Perhaps you
undervalued the importance of building an industry-wide reputation.
Perhaps like many women, you have now realized that hard work and
loyalty alone will not get you to the top. You appreciate that
strengthening your reputation would help - you’re just not sure what
To begin, think about women leaders who are brand names. You can’t
help but notice they have at least one thing in common – a
well-understood brand that burnished their reputations. In short,
their name stands for something. And often that brand defines the
very DNA of the organizations they lead.
Women with Powerful, Personal Brands
Anne Mulcahy’s passion for the people and culture of Xerox
Corporation rescued the once-great American brand from near
extinction and restored it to profitability. Since Mulcahy grew up
in the company, part of her brand was an unwavering belief in the
Xerox values – which when communicated, ignited new energy and made
people at Xerox believe in themselves.
Diane von Furstenberg’s iconic, figure-hugging wrap dress, a 70’s
sensation, came roaring back to fashion in the 2000’s, a testament
not just to the timelessness of her creativity but also the way she
sees women. In her early years she was a jet-setting model and
former princess; today she celebrates the beauty and strength of
women. Fearless about looking older, eschewing Botox, her brand
today is about natural confidence, at any age.
Mary Kay Ash launched her own cosmetic company after she was passed
over for promotion in the company for which she worked, even though
she was the highest seller there. Her success came from giving great
sales incentives to consultants who earned them by being top
sellers. She believed in giving women the opportunity to succeed,
and that helped her build an empire.
What Women with Strong Brands Can Teach Us
Those are all compelling examples; however, you may be wondering
what these women can teach you about building your own brand. The
answer is – a lot! They had the courage to stop, take a look at who
they were, and understand it, and then the confidence to communicate
that image to the world. You can follow the same blueprint for
success, by first acknowledging the importance of building your own
Why is it important to know your own brand, and communicate it to
all of your important audiences?
If you work for a company, when the executives of your organization
go looking for the leaders of tomorrow, they are seeking not just
women who are highly competent, but those who are influential. They
will promote exceptional leaders who have accomplished something,
brought people together around a common goal and inspired their
If you are CEO, or entrepreneur, when your clients, employees,
vendors, board, stakeholders or investors think about you, they want
to see not only a competent business person, but an authentic leader
who has a powerful vision. They want to hear and see what you stand
for, how you are taking your company to the next level, and what
values are guiding your success.
Who Are YOU?
Your brand, or reputation, is at the most fundamental level, answers
the question “Who are you?” And when people understand this, and
believe in you, you have influence in any arena. How do you discover
your brand? By analyzing the lessons of your life and career!
Think back on your experiences; the good, bad and ugly. Those
events, all those ups and downs represent character-building moments
that taught you important lessons. When we work with executive and
professional women, whether in our executive coaching programs, our
boot camps, or in strategic communications projects for their
companies, we continually go back to this treasure chest of
experiences. We get leaders to tell us the stories, and then
communicate who they are to all their important audiences.
When people know your story they come to trust you and believe in
you; this opens the door to opportunities you never imagined. Your
brand values, well-communicated, have that much impact. While your
brand may seem like an intangible asset, the effect of communicating
who you are is enormous.
Personality, Presence, and Brand
What are the elements of a strong, leader brand? Is personality
important? Sure, it’s one aspect of who you are. But it isn’t the
sum of your brand. You may be analytical, smart, outgoing, engaging
or a good listener, and these are good qualities, but not a brand.
Likewise, the outer you – often referred to as executive presence,
from wardrobe and grooming to body language, all matter. Your energy
and a healthy lifestyle count, but they also are just elements of
your brand; a reflection of the inner you.
So Who Are You?
The core of your brand is your character; the values that define
you. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Character is like a tree and a
reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the
tree is the real thing.” Your brand, or character, is what is
authentic about you. Your skill in communicating casts the shadow
that becomes your reputation.
The first step to discovering your brand is to embrace the idea that
you have a brand, that it has power, and that you can harness it to
accelerate your career. Then, you can share these values and lessons
to stand out as a leader, attract people to you, win trust,
influence decisions, align your team and drive forward with your
Women, especially, must take care do this. It is vital to become
known. You are competing with men who are out there, unafraid to let
people know who they are. It is a generalization, and there are
exceptions, however many women still today tend to work hard and
hope someone will notice. Going on this journey is an act of
self-love and an investment in your dreams.
As a woman, you’ve probably heard the advice that you should “toot
your own horn,” or “tell people about your accomplishments.” I
detest this advice. It’s uncomfortable, for a good reason. Nobody
you like likes to brag. And nobody likes a bragger. I’m suggesting
something very different – telling a story that shares a value. This
still gives you that swagger and communicates who you are, but it
doesn’t make you seem arrogant. Great leaders balance confidence and
humility, and your stories must do the same.
The approach to finding these stories is to understand the lessons
of your life and share those lessons with others. These lessons are
a way of getting at the values that are essential to defining who
you are as a person and a leader. Paint a picture of what matters
most to you and your organization. As you collect these stories they
become the anthology of your leadership and part of your legacy. In
our Boot Camps, Discover Your Brand retreats, and Storytelling for
Leaders workshops we help women do this – find the stories and make
concise, powerful, and relevant points to their audiences.
7 Strategies for Successfully Building Your Brand
What can you do? Here are 7 strategies for success.
1. Identify a story from your life and career that was pivotal; a
success, failure, challenge or obstacle. Have a friend talk you
through the story. What happened and what did you learn about
yourself? Don’t make yourself the “hero” but rather look for the
lesson that might be relevant to others.
2. Share the story with your team, a mentor, or important audience;
be sure again to highlight not how fabulous you are, but rather the
value that you discovered which is important to leadership.
3. Make yourself visible by speaking more often at your company. Use
stories as the primary vehicle. Rather than just giving an update on
a project, selling your service or giving a presentation on your
area of expertise, share how you know what you know; be candid about
what’s happened, what you’ve learned and how those lessons made you,
your team or company successful. This is a great way to build your
brand and your company brand.
4. Get to know people who share your values. Look around inside and
outside your organization at the people who walk their talk, who
demonstrate the values that resonate for you. Hang around with
leaders who motivate, inspire and stand for something. These can be
mentors, or colleagues, in which case, you can help each other.
5. Write articles for industry publications or blogs and websites
that highlight not only what you know, but how you lead, why it
works, and how others can also be successful. A bylined article in a
trade or business publication, a blog, or guest blog, is one of the
most powerful ways to build your brand.
6. Speak at industry events and conferences to raise your profile
and again talk not just about products and services, but a way of
doing things that highlights what you believe in. Share the stories
that highlight the “you”- don’t be afraid to bring yourself out on
the platform, to really connect with people in an authentic way.
7. Become a leader in your industry by joining professional
organizations, being on the boards, serving on committees, even
becoming president. Be sure that the organizations to which you lend
your name are aligned with the brand values that are important to
you – your name associated with a great organization is a phenomenal
Recently, I posted a personal story in my blog, about a challenge I
faced in when I was about to change careers. I hadn’t lost my job,
but I’d lost my mojo, and I shared the truth about how I found it
again. This article received an enormous response, such heartfelt
messages. Even though I hear from readers every week, it cemented
for me the power of sharing personal stories with brand lessons. To
read that article and look at an example of how you to tell stories,
go to www.thepowerspeakerblog.com and look for the article titled,
“A Personal Truth.”
If I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to think about
your brand, and communicate your brand. People need to know about
you. The “who you are” and the “who knows you” will be a deciding
factor in your success.
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