The ‘I’ in leadership: Defining your leadership brand

There is no “I” in team, but there is in leadership. It’s not easy as a woman to highlight my strengths, but it is essential as a leader to identify, embrace and live my leadership brand. I encourage you to think about your leadership brand as often as you think about those traits that represent your organization. When I ask people why they invest in Providence House, they first talk about our compelling mission and then about their trust in me as a leader.

When I entered the nonprofit sector 18 years ago, I was an unknown entity. I had started a consulting business after 15 years working in the academic and corporate sectors. A Providence House board member who had worked with me recommended me because she knew I could critically assess needs, advance change and drive growth. 

Her recommendation was, in fact, based on what is now frequently referred to as leadership brand. 

Yes, I had to prove that I was the leader that this board member said I was. I had to demonstrate that I do what I promise, that I am honest and transparent and that I’m not afraid to grow and learn. I needed to show that I get back up after getting knocked down, and that despite the number of changes our organization has made, I would consistently lead us through the peaks and valleys of its evolution. 

It is these qualities that define my leadership brand. In my professional and personal life, I strive to remain true to these qualities. They represent my personal and professional reputation and ultimately, are deeply entwined with my organization’s reputation.

But I am not the only person tied to our organizational reputation and brand. Our entire team, and their individual leadership brands, also define our organization. It is vital that I help cultivate our team’s individual leadership brands, along with my own and that of our organization. 

Here are a few quick questions to help monitor the leadership brands of you and your organization.

Do others believe in your brand? Your leadership brand cannot be seen only through your lens. Others must identify and value your brand. Check in with truthsayers and make sure you are living, and they are buying, your brand.

Is your brand current? Good leaders evolve and grow. Great organizations evolve and grow with strong leadership. Have you updated your brand to reflect who you are today? Does your brand align with your organization’s current and future work? 

Is your organizational brand built from the inside out? Do your team members’ individual brands connect to the organizational brand? Can they access the leader’s brand and style? This can enhance their ability to adopt critical organizational characteristics and influence your own leadership brand. 

In business, we believe our organizational brand is everything. But ultimately, it is your leaders who represent the values, culture and character of your organization. To truly optimize your organization’s brand, you must identify, embrace and live your own — and your team’s — leadership brands.

Natalie A. Leek-Nelson is president and CEO at Providence House Cleveland.