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Leadership Branding and HR
I truly believe that any HR strategy should start with the definition of a so-called leadership brand. A leadership brand is a promise that a company makes towards its stakeholders about how people are to be led within the company. It’s also a clear definition of expectations towards leaders within the company and towards the company as a whole.
What does a leadership brand do?

  • A leadership brand clarifies human relations within a company.
  • It is a way to implement values into one of the most crucial processes within a company: the leadership process.
  • Further, it inspires leaders to behave in a certain way and to develop certain attitudes.
  • It inspires employees who have the potential and the motivation to become leaders within the company.
  • It inspires employees to take on leadership at every level and it inspires candidates who are looking for the right fit between their values and those of the company.
  • A leadership brand engages people.

A leadership brand should not focus on the competencies a leader has to develop. Too often a leadership vision within a company is limited to a list of desired competencies. Those lists describe a sort of genetically engineered cloned specimen of a leader. The lists are usually (too) long. No-one could ever dream to become that superman or superwoman that some project group has envisioned to be the ideal. Those lists become usually dead wood. Ironically it’s often the HR department that tries and motivate people to administer the competency-based leadership approach.
 A leadership brand should focus on broad leadership objectives and principles that allow for diversity in behaviour. At the same time the principles should create harmony in direction. This means that everyone can apply the principles in an authentic way.
Diversity in behaviour means that within one leadership brand, the company accepts different styles of leadership. There is one condition: leadership behaviour should be inspired by the leadership brand. So you can have introverted and extraverted leaders who behave differently. And that’s not a problem as long as they adhere to the leadership band.
Harmony in direction means that the development of leadership has the same orientation throughout the company. It means there is coherence on all levels and in all units. Why do I stress this last point? Before defining your leadership brand you will be confronted with leaders who do not adhere to the new leadership brand and/or do not have the attitude and motivation needed to live that brand. So your starting point will not be one single situation. You will have as many experiences as you have leaders in your company. That’s reality.
When defining a leadership brand there should be some idea about how to cover the gap between the promise that the leadership brand entails and this reality.  The option you take should be in-line with the leadership brand itself. For instance, if your leadership brands specifies a vision on how people should develop themselves, you cannot force people into the leadership brand in a way that is contradictory to this vision on development and learning.
The way forward
A leadership brand is powerful tool to develop the leadership within a company. But do not forget the most important part. A leadership brand will not work if it’s not confirmed by top management’s behaviour. Harmony in direction. Diversity in behaviour. That’s the way forward.

David Ducheyne is the founder of Otolith. As a former HR and business leader he focuses now on humanising strategy execution.


  • Peter De Pauw says:

    diversity in behaviour: geldt eigenlijk voor alle werknemers. Een bedrijf dat kiest voor een meer diverse werknemerspopulatie zal beter bestand zijn tegen het steeds wijzigend “klimaat” (economie, technologie, ….). Remember Darwin?
    Diversiteit is natuurlijk moeilijker te beheren. Moeilijker om in modellen te gieten. Maar dat maakt het juist spannender, onverwachter en vooral menselijker.

  • Erik Vande Weijer says:

    Furthering a workable notion of “leadership” is indeed important to create viable organizations. I suggest however we dig deeper and that deconstructing and changing the concept of leadership itself, is the issue. Leadership in an absolute sense does not exist, only leading in a certain context, with a new paradigm that reflects the fact that leading is both personal and shared/sharing. cfr Jaap Boosnstra, Marichal&Segers.
    Eventually this will challenge organizations to rethink themselves..

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