The Origin

A bit over a year ago I had a book referred to me that caught my eye and repulsed me – all at the same time.  I am fortunate to have a network of colleagues who enjoy reading the next best business book, then opening the gates for the rest of us.

Jim Gray, a long-time friend and colleague asked me if I had ever read the book, Leadership Brand:  Developing Customer Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value, written and released by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood.  I hadn’t, no surprise, given the number of leadership books published each year.

It was some time before I picked up the book since I am often repelled by overused and marketing oriented jargon, like brand.  Here we go again, someone using the word brand in conjunction with leadership as a marketing gimmick.  Still, after enough time had passed and hearing a few more testimonials, I decided to pick it up and go through a quick read.

Professional Impact

While I was not familiar with the authors predisposition and position, I had developed a respect for Ulrich and Smallwood by virtue of the respect other HR and OD leaders had for their work.  I now had come to agree with their opinions after reading the book.  While the book reinforced many of the beliefs I have come to believe over my 20+ years of leadership and executive development experience, it also helped me understand why certain pieces were missing from the framework and practices we often see in leadership development today.

For example, I have worked with the Polaris Competency Model and it’s application for over twelve years,and have learned the value of building leadership competency models for organizations so that leaders can now understand what the organization expects of them.  We do everything with HR processes to define, develop and manage the professional and technical requirements, but very few organization and HR systems do justice to the most challenging task of defining leaders and managers roles.  Ulrich and Smallwood believe these models should follow not from what management expects, but from what outside customers expect of us.  A subtle but important distinction.

Another ephiphany I had was the authors calling to have organizations focus more on developing leadership as opposed to individual leaders.  As an executive coach with several organizations, I realize the leverage I am invited to help realize with this practice, and do not take it lightly.  At the same time, I enjoy creating experiences and systems that will help executives develop their own leaders, in building legacy and leadership pipelines that sustain themselves from generation to generation.  This becomes the antithesis of program-of-the-month.  The authors believe that good leaders not only build their personal capability, but the capacity of the organization to sustain the generation of future leadership.

Finally, the key elements of brand focus on the fundamentals and the differentiators of leadership.  Most organizations that have been developing leaders for some time have spent time on the fundamentals, but very few organizations have spent time looking at how leaders will differentiate their organization from their competitors.  Just think if our organizations take the time and energy to truly understand what customers need and want from us, translate those into leadership brand, and continually work to implement and refine their best practices over time.  That’s competitive advantage!

The Next Chapter – Join us!

Never quite trusting that I have seen the value of the content through my customers eyes, I often strike out to use LinkedIn or Outlook to pulse a few trusted colleagues.  This was bigger and required more – so, Jim and I set out to invite leadeship, training and human resource leaders into a lunch and dialogue.  Our beginning numbers were small but they were organizations committed to leadership, and we expect to continue the dialogue.  Reply if you would like to participate.

This is what we heard from the organizations represented:

  • This work is valuable, and a natural extension of the development work being done.
  • Organizations talk strongly about the need for leadership, but often fall when trying to build a sustainable, integrated model.
  • Leaders models are present, but little has been done to effectively incorporate the customers voice into the process.
  • The value of developing leadership vs. leaders is that we align our practices directly to the voice of the customer and to the business strategy of the organization.  We are then able to create better partnerships, fuel organizational growth, build succeession and business continuity, and see results from our talent retention efforts.

Just one book, but some very solid and valuable ideas.  Is the word brand needed?  I’m not sure.  Let me know your thoughts.  In addition, post your thoughts if you have read the book, or are interested in joining in on the continued dialogue.