How to Build a Solid Leadership Brand

The first step in building a leadership brand is to realize that if you’re in a leadership position you have one. The only question is are you branding yourself or are you being branded? 

 

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon says that “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”

 

Your leadership brand is built from the total of what you do, how you do it and why you do it. There is no faking your brand. Sooner or later the authentic you is revealed and when it is that becomes your brand. 

 

To build a strong leadership brand you must first realize it’s not all about you. Your work experience and personal accomplishments matter but as a leader they pale in comparison to what you do for other people. 

 

Always be evaluating the best way you can help other people succeed and where you can add the most value to your people and organization. Once you determine that then you know where your focus should be. 

 

Remember that today more than ever your personal life is your public life. Your personal life reflects who you really are. What you do in your private life is your private life only as long as it doesn’t affect your ability to lead others. As someone in a leadership position, your personal life is open to scrutiny. 

 

Your ability to lead others will increase if people respect you. Posting your wild weekend behavior on social media does nothing to improve your credibility or your ability to lead others. You may see yourself as two versions of the same person but most everyone else will not make that same distinction.

 

Once you have a bit of credibility you can build on it by doing what you say you will do. How many times has someone told you: I’ll get back to you on that – then never followed up? Authentic Leaders don’t make promises they can’t or won’t keep. Trust is lost when promises are made and then broken. Keep your promises and you will build relationships built on trust. 

 

One of my favorite movies is Liar Liar about an attorney played by Jim Carrey. This attorney, a well known liar, was suddenly thrust into a position were he was unable to lie. He was forced to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The complete and unvarnished truth. It caused him serious problems. People were actually insulted by the truth. But that was a Hollywood production. In real life it’s far better to tell the truth all the time. The worst thing a leader can do is to not be open and honest with people. Trying to hide information will always catch up with you. Tell people everything they need to know, even if it’s bad news. A lie can be forgiven but it’s hard for people to forget that you lied to them. You might not ever fully recover. 

 

Some leaders see their position as loftier than others. That causes them to look down on people, even if only subconsciously. Leaders with a strong leadership brand treat people as equals. The more “perks” you provide yourself and other leaders in your organization the more distance you put between yourself and the people you’re supposed to be leading. There is no question that top leaders in any organization have earned additional benefits and compensation, but be aware that leaders are in the spotlight in more ways than one. Too many perks can make that spotlight so bright that it actually melts away your leadership credibility.

 

As a leader you must make certain that all your people have the same opportunity to achieve the success that you have. Never lose sight of the importance of humility to a leader. There aren’t many things uglier in life then an arrogant person in a position of leadership.

 

It’s a worthwhile investment of a leader’s time to occasionally do a “brand check” to determine the strength of their leadership brand. Don’t trust yourself with this one….ask others, a coach or mentor for their opinion of your brand. Even more importantly, ask the people you lead how you are doing. 


If you get mixed responses that’s a good thing; your people trust you enough to be honest with you, that’s makes for a pretty darn good brand.

Why Would Anyone Follow You?

People are pretty interesting to study. So many people from so many places, so many different cultures, backgrounds, and histories. So many differences.

 

But even in a world of differences there are some things that most everyone has in common, and one of those commonalities is that the majority of people hold others to a higher standard than they hold themselves. It’s just far easier to speak your principles than it is to live them. And that’s likely a key reason why most people are not Authentic Leaders. Authentic Leaders, the type that we would all follow, hold themselves to a higher standard than they hold others.

    

Most people have high expectations for themselves but Authentic Leaders do not merely have high expectations, they have high standards too. We may expect much of ourselves but we too often also provide ourselves with many excuses that Authentic Leaders simply don’t need. Authentic Leaders don’t make excuses, they make commitments to excellence.

 

Authentic Leaders are led by their core values and one of those core values is almost always to make certain that their actions match their words. They do what they say they will when they say they will do it. That makes them very easy to trust. 

     

Authentic Leaders know that people tend to “follow up”, that is they follow people they respect and trust or they follow someone they believe sets an example of the type of person they would like to become.  

 

People seldom “follow down”, they don’t follow people that they would not want to be like or people that they cannot trust or respect. When someone with a leadership title or in a position of leadership holds themselves to lower standards than they hold others they lose the trust of their people and they lose the ability to truly lead.

     

Here’s a few important questions for you: Why would anyone follow you?  Do you expect more from others than you expect from yourself? Do you hold others to a higher standard than you hold yourself? Do you allow yourself excuses that you would not allow others? Are the majority of your mistakes “excusable” but not the mistakes of others?

    

In order to properly answer those questions you must be completely honest with yourself because if you can’t be honest with yourself you most certainly won’t be honest with anyone else.

     

Excellent, experienced, Authentic Leaders pause from time to time to ask themselves those very questions. They will also ask their mentors and accountability partners. If they don’t like the answers, they take immediate steps to change them.

 

A truly Authentic Leader has no other choice.


Dear President Trump

Dear President Trump,


First let me apologize for not writing sooner. It’s just one of those things where the best of intentions just doesn’t get it done. While important, this letter never seemed vital…until perhaps now. 

 

I was a big fan of your show The Apprentice. I didn’t always agree with your decisions on who should stay and who should go and the tasks could at times be a bit lame but the whole concept was like a Science Lab of what to do and what not to do when it comes to leadership. For that reason I found it fascinating.

 

I know it’s easy to say after the fact but I wasn’t the least bit surprised (well maybe a little) by your victory in November, winners win. That’s how it works in all walks of life, even in politics it appears. Clearly there are wide swaths of the American people who do not view you in a favorable light but however you’ve done it no one should continue to be surprised by your success. 

 

I really don’t know anyone, anywhere who wouldn’t describe the Presidency of The United States of America as the pinnacle of success. You sir have arrived! 

 

Which is why I, as a student of people and leadership, am so surprised to see you behave as if you’re an up and coming street fighter looking to get someone, anyone, to recognize their potential. You absolutely, positively, supercalifragilisticexpialidociously do not have to do that anymore.

 

There are clearly people in the media who would prefer to shape your message in such a way as to make you look deplorable. They are pretty good at it too, so good in fact that they certainly do not require your rather skilled assistance. 

 

Social Media in general, and Twitter in particular, was a very valuable tool for you during the election. It indeed allowed you to get your message “out there” in an unfiltered, direct, and unprecedented way. As effective as it can be in helping you stay connected as President to your fellow Americans it can also serve as a valuable weapon for your opponents to use against you. 

 

But they are shooting blanks unless you provide them with real ammunition, and that it seems is what you’ve been doing far too often. When you do that you descend from the pinnacle of success, from the highest office in the land, to the level of your opponents. You do not have to win a fight against the media, in fact you can’t win a fight because there is no fight, it’s over, you’ve already won.

 

The only way, the absolute only way you give credence to the things they say about you, true or not, is to respond to them. You may be hitting back “10 times harder” but half your blows are landing on you. I’ve thought long and hard about this and I just can’t think of a single benefit to you or the nation of you doing that. So don’t! 

 

You simply cannot build America up by tearing down your fellow Americans, it does not work that way. You lead all Americans Mr. President, whether they voted for you or not, whether they like you or not, and whether they want to be led by you or not and disparaging those you lead doesn’t work either. Never has, never will. 

 

Don’t stop tweeting Mr. President, just stop tweeting the trash talk. Tweet about your successes, tweet about your challenges, tweet about where and how the public can help you, just don’t tweet negative stuff about the people you lead. Even if it’s true there is no benefit to anyone in doing it.

 

As we Americans celebrate our freedom this week I urge you to think of all of our fellow Americans who have sacrificed their very life to protect the freedoms we enjoy. It is they who provide us with the continued right of free speech. You sir, as do all Americans, have the right to say pretty much whatever you want but I’d encourage you to consider this: having the right to do something doesn’t make it right to do. 

 

In my humble opinion Mr. President you can best honor those fallen heroes by honoring the office which you now hold. Honor it by being your best self. Honor it by being the role model of American values and ideals. Mr. President there is simply no way to make America great again by damaging the principles by which we have stood for all these years. 

 

Let your protagonists try to provoke you but do not be provoked. Rise above the fray, they cannot fight you if you don’t join the fight. Find the courage to no longer engage them in battle. 

 

Work everyday for every American, even those who today may hate you. Their hate is their problem not yours. The hater always loses more than the hated; do them a favor and be the President who is impossible to hate. 

 

You’ve got a long way to go to make that happen but if you’re up for it then it shouldn’t really be a problem for you. After all, you’re in the business of surprising people. 

 

It’s called leading Mr. President pure and simply. As President of the United States leading is not a part time job. Everything you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your ability to truly lead. That’s everything Mr. President, absolutely positively everything

 

Every American, even those who didn’t vote for you, even those who loathe you, need you to succeed. They may be so filled with hate that they can’t see that today but that doesn’t diminish the fact. The American people need you to lead. Everyday, all day.  

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, I hope you’ll find some guidance in it that will help you as you continue to work for all of us. May God bless you Mr. President and may God bless America. 

 

Your fellow American, 

 

Steve Keating


An Epic Failure of Leadership

We have been presented with two options to choose from. Either the executive team at Wells Fargo is as corrupt as an executive team can be or they are the dumbest group of people ever to run any organization. 

5300 Wells Fargo employees were terminated last week for creating millions of fraudulent accounts to meet what has been described as nearly unbearable pressure and demands to add new customer accounts. Progress at some branches was reviewed as many as 4 times a day. The pressure was relentless. 

Nothing, not morales, not ethics, not even those little things called laws could slow down the relentless push to meet the Wells Fargo corporate initiative known as “Gr-eight Initiative.” Wells Fargo has a goal that every customer should have eight separate accounts with the bank.

Apparently goals are more important than anything at Wells Fargo. In order to meet the goals of the initiative employees opened new accounts for current customers without the customer’s approval or knowledge. This required forging signatures, creating fake email accounts, and moving customer’s money between these accounts without their knowledge, sometimes causing a customer’s real account to go into the red.

Here’s the most amazing part of all this to me; not one senior level manager or executive had a clue any of this was happening for the last 5 years. Of the 5300 employees terminated ALL were front line employees. Not a single manager had even a microcosm of responsibility for any of this. 

That couldn’t be harder to believe if Hillary Clinton said it.

There is clearly a culture at Wells Fargo that says anything goes. The culture doesn’t even pretend to care about ethics. Apparently the culture not only condones the breaking of laws, it encourages it. 

No matter what else may or may not be true about the goings on at Wells Fargo this much is certain: an organization’s culture comes from the top. 

What happened over the last five years at Wells Fargo is bad, what’s happening today is even worse. If nothing changes with the management at that bank then nothing changes at that bank. 

Is there even one responsible person in a position of authority at that organization? Is there even one person in a leadership position at Wells Fargo with enough courage to say “it’s on me”?

Wells Fargo paid a fine “for the actions of their employees.” What about the actions, or at the very least, the inaction of their leaders? There has been an epic failure of leadership at that bank. 5300 employees didn’t undertake that level of deceit all on their own, it’s time for the people who drove that behavior to step up.

Our lesson here is twofold: when integrity goes out the window everything else is welcome in and absent integrity from those in top leadership positions there is no motivation for anyone else to lead either.

 

A Failure of Leadership

Being fired from a job is one of the most traumatic events a person could experience in their lifetimes. Researchers say it is up there with the death of a loved one, divorce, imprisonment, and personal illness. 

The decision by a leader to dismiss someone from their job is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It can and often does have huge life implications for the person being fired; the feelings of failure often linger even after they find new employment. 

But the person being fired isn’t the only one who should feel a sense of failure. So should the leader who fired them. 

Here’s why I say that. If you’re a leader and you have someone working for you who isn’t getting the job done then the likely cause is either that you hired the wrong person or you’re not providing them the tools or training they need to succeed. 

Either way at least part of their failure is on you. With that in mind you may want to think a little harder before firing someone who isn’t meeting your expectations.

I suppose you could use the excuse that you inherited a person that someone else hired. That may let you off the hook a little but only a little. Leaders build and develop people no matter how and where they find them. If you have someone reporting to you that you are unable to develop then that’s at least a partial failure of your leadership. 

Now, here is another failure of leadership: NOT firing someone who needs to be fired. 

No matter how someone got to a point where they need to be fired, no matter who is responsible for that person’s shortcomings, when they need to go then they need to go. Allowing  an unproductive, possibly disruptive person to damage the morale or productivity of the greater team is a serious failure of leadership. 

You might believe you’re avoiding conflict by ignoring the problems caused by a poor performer but what you’re really doing is fermenting greater conflict throughout your organization. 

You do not have to be angry when letting the person go, you do not have to be overly critical, you can allow them to save face if possible but you must let them go. Keeping them around, for whatever reason only adds to whatever shortcomings they bring to the team. 

Accept your role in the failure, learn from it and move on. Remember, failing does not make you a failure, only not trying to succeed can do that.

Privileged Leadership

There are many different “types” of leaders today and two of them are privileged leaders. Yes, privileged counts twice because we have those who feel privileged to lead and those who feel leading makes them privileged.

One of those groups have an opportunity to be excellent leaders, the other not so much.

Let’s look first at those “leaders” who believe leading makes them privileged. (I put leaders in parentheses because identifying these people as leaders is a very generous use of the word.)

Leaders who feel privileged separate themselves from their people. They provide themselves with “perks” not available to most people. They somehow have convinced themselves that their title or position entitle them to extra benefits or stuff. They will even brag about their special status to the people they are trying to lead. These leaders build walls between themselves and their people, the walls are built from egos but the “leaders” don’t even realize they exist.

Leaders who feel privileged don’t understand the significance of the words they use…. or maybe they do. When given the choice of identifying their people as “our team” or “their staff” they invariably choose staff so there won’t be any doubt as to who is most privileged. These privileged leaders feel it’s important to keep people in their place.

Leaders who feel privileged have separate rules for themselves. The believe in the adage that “rank has it’s privileges” and that’s how they lead. They expect more from others than they expect from themselves. They hold their people to standards that they talk about but fail to live up to themselves. 

People who believe leading gives them privileges demoralize their people. They tear their people down to make themselves appear somehow better, at least in their own mind. Leaders who believe they are privileged steal every bit of “credit” from their people and leave their people believing they have no true chance at success. 

A leader who feels privileged creates an environment of despair for their people.

On the other hand following a leader who feels privileged to lead is a truly remarkable experience. Leaders who feel privileged to lead feel a responsibility to those they lead to help them succeed. They celebrate the success of their people more than they celebrate their own success. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead give extra credit for success to their team while accepting more than their share of responsibility for any lack of success. The support the show their people is unwavering. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead take their people where they couldn’t go alone. They coach, they mentor, they develop and they care about their people. Leaders who feel privileged to lead invest themselves in the success of their people, giving all the effort they have and then giving a little more.

Leaders who feel privileged to lead don’t only build more followers, they build more leaders. They know that ultimately their success is completely dependent upon the success of their people and they extend their leadership by building leaders to leave behind when their own leadership days have passed. 

Leaders who feel privileged to lead create an environment of hope and possibility. They have earned the right to be considered leaders and they hold that title with honor. Watching a leader who feels privileged to lead is like watching poetry in motion and when you see one watch closely because they are the model of successful leadership today.

Leadership Accountability

Everyone, and I mean everyone, does better when they have accountability in their lives. When we know we will be held to account, for a budget, for a timetable, for a goal we’ve set, or for any particular outcome, we are far more likely to put serious effort into achieving that outcome.

It seems to be human nature.

But there is a problem with accountability as well. 

The problem with accountability is when you as a leader hold your people to a level of accountability to which you refuse to hold yourself. You expect more and demand more of your people than you expect and demand of yourself.

It’s pretty easy to hold other people accountable. It’s not so easy to hold ourselves as accountable as we hold everyone else. It’s FAR easier to have principles than it is to live by them. It is far easier to to require others to have the discipline that we only wish we had. 

But here is where the real problem comes in: your people will do what you do far, far faster than they will do what you say. 

When you hold your people to a standard higher than you hold yourself, you destroy their morale and you destroy your credibility. When you destroy your credibility you also destroy your ability to actually lead because people cannot follow someone that they cannot trust.

Authentic Servant Leaders do not have one set of standards for themselves and another, higher set of standards for their people. Authentic Servant Leaders know that they are the model for successful behavior and they act and talk the way they want their people to act and talk. 

They do the things required for success so their people can see success in action. 

Nothing destroys morale faster than being held to a high standard by a person with low standards. Don’t hold others accountable to a standard to which you refuse to hold yourself.  

Leadership requires that you do the same things you would have your people do and it requires that you do them first. That’s why it’s called LEADING!

Accountability can lead directly to superior outcomes when and only when the accountability starts at the top. If you as a leader are not able to hold yourself accountable then don’t expect to be able to hold others accountable either!