How to Develop Personal Brands from Your Leadership Identity

Developing personal leadership brands is a lifelong quest for self-discovery, self-realization and self-actualization. It starts from your personal discovery of what is leadership and from there carving out your leadership identity which is about your “value proposition”: The value that you are going to add to your work, to your relationships and to your life. You then become an embodiment of this “value” that should be seen, be heard and be read.

[Presented at Business Leadership Conference 2017, Karachi, on August 16, 2017]

Leadership Identity

  • Leadership identity is about what you bring to the table! [1]
  • Life is to give and not to take! [2]

Leadership is not about “taking” but about “giving”. This is the major difference between being a manager and a leader. As per the classic definition that I studied in my first management course at IBA in 1985, manager is a person who gets things done (from the people). A manager wants people to do his bidding. His intent is to extract output from those reporting to him. On the other hand, a leader is sincerely trying to “give” value to all those who are interacting with him. The leader inspires them to create initiatives that enrich them personally and develop them professionally, which in turns enrich the community. He ought to be “giving” more to the people than “taking” from them.

This is captured from the famous quote of  JFK (John F Kennedy) in his inaugural address as president in 1960: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. This question asks the would be leader to take initiative and identify what is in them that they can contribute to their community and their country, and in doing so enrich them and their environment.

One can see this in the life of social leaders whose “lives tell us how we can make our lives sublime”[3]. Visualize the giving of a social leader like Abdus Sattar Edhi who created a blazing trail of social services through the dint of his hard work and personal sacrifice. His example taught us that a single person can achieve in the social sector with his sincerity of purpose what even government with all its resourced had failed to do. He showed that whether it is the provision of ambulances, or provision of disaster emergency services, or care for the orphans and needy, Edhi foundation can excel in such services for those who have no one to help.

This can also be seen from the life of Ruth Pfau, who recently left for the hereafter. How a young girl from Germany comes to a developing country like Pakistan and makes it her life and her home. She identified her cause of helping the people afflicted with leprosy. Starting with a small place in Saddar Karachi, she toiled on and by the time of her death she had established around 75 such centers spread all over Pakistan. Mr Adeeb Rizvi is another example who made the unthinkable possible. His SIUT is providing totally free treatment to thousands of urology diseases. His SIUT performs a record number of transplants absolutely free, unprecedented anywhere in the world!

Business leaders “give” in their own unique style, in their own way. We have business leaders like Sam Walton, founder of the largest retail stores network in the world Walmart stores. He died as the richest man of the world. In his autobiography “Made in America” he says that people often ask him what was his contribution to the society. He says, “My contribution to the society is the provision of lowest cost goods”. His stores proudly displayed this motto and actually provided goods at the lowest prices everywhere. He was referring to billions of dollars of savings that the people flocking to his stores make when they buy from there. I can see a similar wholesale level prices at Imtiaz Stores in Karachi. I have seen the street corner convenience stores buying stuff from Imtiaz Store and then reselling at their convenience outlets.

Let’s look at the business leadership of Jim Collins that has inspired revolution in thinking and management across the glob through his books Built to Last, Good to Great, How Mighty Fall and other. Here is a business leader whose experience in consulting from his university in Standford and others spread across a string of multinationals. From this experience coupled with his large teams of hundreds of researchers toiling for years over data spread over the last couple of centuries of how people built companies that have survived the test of time, how business leaders grew their companies from a good company to a great company and how they can become blind sided when they become mighty paving the way for their fall. These insights captured in his books in his unique style are a beacon, inspiration and a source of a thinking revolution across companies big and small across the world.

Steve Jobs had his how distinctive value proposition. Much has been written about it. His was to generate a cult following to the state of art multi-sensory experience of computing devices. This he did better than anyone else.

Your Personal Brand

Your personal brand is your “value proposition”, which should:

  • Be Seen
  • Be Heard
  • Be Read
How you develop your value proposition is often a trial and error method. You try different things and then you discover your niche, where you build your capacity through hard work, effort, reading, experimentation and tweaking of various pressure points. Minimum effort in developing this realization is the 10,000 hour rule as mentioned by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers [4]. However, I think that is just when you discover your expertise in your own particular domain. It takes several tens of thousands of hours when you fine tune that experience and internalize your “circle of influence”. As you grow your circle of influence in to areas which were previously in your “circle of concern”, it is then that you discover the calling of the community and society [5]. It is in this continuous extension that you discover what you need to give and how to use this “giving” to further the cause that you are passionate about. This is your “value proposition”.

Value proposition of Sam Walton was different from that of Steve Jobs which was different from that of Jim Collins and so on.

Be Seen

People often think that posting daily on facebook your status update or your profile picture is what is meant by “Be Seen”. No! Be seen is not about self projection; it is not about self promotion. It is about your work and your contribution that should make your “value proposition visible”. 
The questions that you need to ask are: 
  • Is your value proposition visible?
  • Is your “giving” visible?
    • What are the concrete examples of projects and achievements that embody your value proposition. 
    • What are your contributions? How do you start with “small-wins” (term used in Change Management) and through a continuous stream of such small-wins you achieve some thing great. This is a learning by doing endeavor. You try, you fail, you win. It is in this trial and error that you perfect your style. 
  • Are you seen as as Role Model?
    • You become a role model not by projecting yourself on media, but by making your example compelling, making your character and personality exemplary through your relationships. You become a role model, when people start emulating your example.   
  • Are you a mentor?
    • Do people come to you for guidance, counseling and mentorship? Are they coming voluntarily? Do you have time for people calling on you from out of the blue? Are your advice self less? 
    • Are you focusing sincerely on the growth of your mentees irrespective of whether their growth may take them away from your organization to more greener pastures? 
    • Do you have confidence that you will get better people and you can make your existing people better. 

See also: Beauty is Our Business – Mathematics, Excellence and the Great Dijkstra

    • Is your voice considered to be dependable and trust worthy?
      • What is the credibility of your pronouncements? 
      • How do you measure up to the trust reposed in you, the confidence entrusted to you by your people?
    • Do people consider you as a consultant or an adviser?
      • Do people from other departments and other organizations come to you for help and guidance. Do you provide informal consulting and advice?
      •  Are you considered worthy of professional consulting and advisory?

    Be seen is not your face that needs to be seen. It is your character and your work and your achievements that need to be seen.

    Be Heard

    • Does “word of mouth” precedes you?
      • This is the most crucial test. A leader is someone whose reputation precedes him. 
      • Word of mouth about him travels in the network before people meet the person.
    • Is your target network buzzing about you?
    • Does your name come up when the value you represent is being discussed?
    • Are you listened to at conferences/meetings?
      • Is your talk interesting? Is it insightful? 
      • Is what you are saying out-of-the-box? Is it refreshing? Your talk becomes boring if it full of verbosity, cliches, and what people think they already know. 
      • The way you connect your ideas with reality, your particular experience, and your life is often what makes the talk more interesting. 
    • Your message should have life and energy. It should not just be theatrics. People can see through “performers” and “actors”. In fact, there are several speakers and trainers who are often perceived as “entertainers” who keep the people awake. This perception is created when the content is shallow, and is not connected with change inducing paradigms and is not laced with actionable frameworks. 

    See also: How do I lift thee from the mundane: Musings of a Dean

    Be Read

    It is in your writing that the worth of  your value proposition becomes visible. Your writings represent distillation of your ideas in a coherent form. Act of writing is also an act of discovering your unique voice and your style.

    You need to be a regular contributor to various forums: 

    • Your blog is an excellent vehicle for presenting your “value proposition”
      • Regular posts on your personal blog on Linkedin/Blogger/Wordpress will provide a structure to your ideas. 
    • Social media where you can engage with the people and share your insights is becoming more and more important. 
    • Magazines, newsletters, newspapers and other print media indicates whether people consider your “value proposition” worth publishing. 
    • Writing books is a trend that we in Pakistan should learn from the examples from abroad and at home.  
      • The ultimate is to have these books available on airport lounge and book stalls. 
      • Examples of Jack Welch, Obama, Jim Collins, and other leaders that need to be emulated. In Pakistan  Dr Amjad Saqib of Akhuwat Foundation fame, has written several books. 
      • People with great contributions can also have people writing their books and their case studies published. For example biography written about Edhi by Tehmina Durrani. 
      • Having your textbooks being taught in universities and schools is the ultimate recognition. 

    See also: Youth Leadership and Dave Ulrich-Orientation for University Students

     Your Personal Leadership Brand and its Identity

    In summary: 
    • It is about living your brand, not acting it out
      • You need to be true to who you are
    • It is not about self promotion
    • The question that you must ask is “Are you living your “value proposition”?
      • Is this value proposition reflected in your interactions with all your relations and relationships?
      • Is this proposition at work during meetings, conferences, office, home, visits, dinners…?
      • Is this a 24 x 7 phenomenon?
    [1] Randy Pausch‘s Famous and scintillating  Last Lecture
    [2] Les’ Miserables, 1935
    [3]  A Psalm of Life, by  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    [4] Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers
    [5] Stephen Covey’s First Habit in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.


    “Be Seen, Be Heard and Be Read” phrase was presented forcefully in a faculty workshop on personal branding at IoBM by Mr Ejaz Wasay. My ideas in this post are the result of continuous thinking on this phrase since that workshop. 

    See Also:


    4 responses to “How to Develop Personal Brands from Your Leadership Identity”

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