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Book Review: Leadership Brand – Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood

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There are many publications describing how to make your organization better, improve employee morale, and increase returns on investments. Creating a leadership “brand” is the newest wave of recommendations to make one’s organization stand head and shoulders above others. The premise is that if your business has a well designed brand, a commitment to the brand, and leadership that will role-model the brand, your organization will excel.

In many ways, the idea of a leadership brand is not very different than other self-help objectives for businesses. However, there are some strong points made in Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value that resonated. I will briefly review the parts of this book that describe their philosophy in addition to the statements I believe are the strongest.

The seven beliefs of authors Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood are as follows:

–We believe that leaders matter, but leadership matters more.
–We believe that every leader has a responsibility to create a leadership brand that translates customer expectations into employee behaviors and that outlasts the individual leader.
–We believe that branded leadership can be developed.
–We believe that individual leaders need to role-model the brand they advocate to others.
–We believe and have experienced leadership brands in all types of organizations.
–We believe that all organizations have a leadership brand.
–We believe that leadership brands can be changed.

“Branding Leadership” describes that leadership is not about an individual leader, but focuses on the quality of leaders throughout the organization. Leadership is described as a process, not a person. The idea is that engendering confidence to your stakeholders in the future of your business is more important than any individual set of leadership traits. The focus here is shifted outside the organization to define and reflect what the customer expects. Many companies focus their success on competencies, setting goals and executing strategy. What that management style overlooks is creativity, risk-taking and global insight. Leadership should focus on grooming the leaders of the future and encompassing all of these areas.

The chapter, “Build a Case for Branded Leadership,” tells you to make a priority out of developing leadership, create the brand, assess leaders against the brand, invest in leadership brand, measure leadership brand investment, and finally to build leadership brand awareness to key stakeholders. They provide a good tool for assessing commitment of your leaders. In fact, their assessment tools and evaluation methods are the strengths of this book.

The chapter “Creating a Leadership Brand Statement” walks you through how to develop your brand. They indicate that this should reflect customer expectation and for what the organization wants to be known. I had a hard time distinguishing how “brand” was different from a “mission, vision and values statement.”

“Assessing Leaders against the Brand” was the most interesting chapter in terms of the number of assessment tools provided to distinguish the pluses and minuses of one’s current leaders as well as barriers to good leadership. Their summary is that you need the right stuff at the right leadership stage that delivers the right results the right way.
Unfortunately, this is so much easier said than done.

The rest of the chapters describe how you should develop leaders who express a shared brand and provide specific training backed by work and non-work experience to build competency. Ulrich and Smallwood indicate that it should be measured on both competency and the returns. Awareness of your brand should manifest itself in leaders whose talk and actions model the brand and the brand should be understood and appreciated by stakeholders.

Leadership is described as a “team sport” with unification and shared commitment. The authors also portray the implications for one’s own personal brand. They say, “Leadership is not for everyone. It comes with a price of visibility, accountability, conflict and pressure for adaptability.” People not willing to pay the price shouldn’t be leaders.

What Leadership Brand does not do is describe how to eliminate leaders who do not or cannot espouse leadership philosophy. It tells you that people who maintain the status quo because, “It’s the way we’ve always done it” should not be on your leadership team. However, much like every other leadership book, there is no way to make this happen unless the people in charge are all “on the same sheet of music” and are committed to holding the current “leaders” accountable for their actions or inactions.

I’ve watched my organization try to be High Performance and I’ve watched it hire consultants who tell us these very things. I’ve also watched while these motivational moments lift us up briefly before the “old way” creeps back in and keeps us in the same place. We are Fred Flintstone the moment before his car starts moving, where he hoists the car up and you see his feet running as fast and as hard as he can. We expend a lot of energy staying in the same place.

I recognize my personal leadership shortcomings. I’ve used every leadership book I’ve ever read to try to mold myself into what would be considered a strong leader and I’ve failed. The reason is as Ulrich and Smallwood say; one person cannot be “leadership.” I cannot do it alone and I lack the ability to influence others.

Leadership is a process of shared commitment, role-modeling, accountability, consumer satisfaction and results. If all members of my organization treated Leadership Brand as their bible, employee morale and stakeholder satisfaction would soar.

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About Alexandria Jackson