Discover Your CEO Brand

The text below is an excerpt from a book titled "Discover Your CEO Brand" by Suzanne Bates that is published by McGraw-Hill. MD+DI received permission to include the following sample of the text:IntroductionCharacter is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.—Abraham Lincoln

Suzanne Bates

November 29, 2011

14 Min Read
Discover Your CEO Brand


Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The
shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.
—Abraham Lincoln

Discover-Your-CEO-Brand.jpgWhat is a CEO brand? And why do you need one? If you are picking up this book, you are curious about discovering your own brand. Perhaps you’re also just a little skeptical. After all, if you are a leader, you put your organization first. Your job is to lead. Having your own brand may seem, well, indulgent. You may not have placed personal brand building at the top of your list.

In truth, a powerful leader brand is essential to your success and your company’s future. By the time you’ve read this introduction, I think you’ll see why it’s so important to have a great brand. When you fi nish this book, you will have discovered your brand, and I believe you’ll be excited about leveraging it to benefit your organization.

Your brand is in essence your reputation. Reputation is the most important asset you have in business. Surely, that reputation is the perception about who you are as a leader and a person. Your reputation isn’t who you are but rather what others believe about you.

Your character is the tree. That tree has been shaped, and continues to be shaped, by its environment. Character-building moments have defi ned you as a leader and have made you strong. These moments, told through stories, are the essence of your leader brand; they form your unique character and personality. In this book you’re going to discover precisely how you came by that character—the values and beliefs that define you.

One hundred and fifty years ago, branding wasn’t a word associated with leadership, but Abraham Lincoln’s words form the fundamental principle of this book. As the tree grows, the shadow of your reputation grows. In this book you’re going to learn how to grow your reputation so that it has a positive impact on your career, your company, and the world around you.

Your brand, or reputation, cannot be manufactured. A successful brand is built on what is real and authentic about you. Authenticity is critical. People know an authentic brand when they see one. It gives you enormous influence, and it also enhances your company’s reputation.

The first step to discovering your brand is to embrace the idea that you have a brand, that it has power, and that you can harness it for the good of the enterprise. Let’s start with some examples of how leaders have discovered and built their leader brands.

A Brand Legend in the Making—Alan Mulally, Ford

When Alan Mulally took the helm at Ford Motor Company in 2006, he was not a likely choice. During a 37-year career at Boeing, he had been passed over twice for the CEO role. He had no experience in the automotive industry. Wall Street’s reaction was tepid at best. William Ford, Jr., grandson of Henry Ford, was one of the few who believed Mulally was the right guy. Ford persuaded him to take over in the midst of major restructuring.

Inside Boeing, Mulally already had a brand, but it wasn’t well known outside the industry. Still he had a brand—he was nothing if not intense, competitive, and committed to results. He oversaw the building of the Boeing 777. So, Ford Motor Company was about to find out about his commitment to a performance culture. Ford’s chief financial officer, Lewis Booth, a 31-year Ford veteran, would soon tell reporters, “Alan’s style is pretty relentless.”

Mulally’s character, the basis of his leadership brand, shaped the new culture of Ford. He became the driving force behind Ford’s eventual, remarkable turnaround. His character was defi ned by both discipline and exuberance. He put in 12-hour workdays that started at 5:15 a.m. His energy and focus quickly became legendary and influenced the entire organization, reshaping the company culture. As his brand influenced the corporate dynamic, Ford came roaring back. It was the only car company to refuse federal bailout money, yet by 2010, it was turning a profit, increasing market share, and posting positive earnings.

Mulally reportedly once asked his mother, now 90, “Why am I this way?” She replied, “You’ve always been this way.” Alex Taylor III, who writes for Fortune and covered Mulally for years at Boeing and then Ford Motor Company said, “He has given me his opinion on all the stories I’ve written about Ford since he took over and, for good measure, the stories I wrote about Boeing back when he worked there. The man . . . demands all my attention. He won’t let up until he has turned all my ‘nos’ and ‘maybes’ into ‘yeses.’”

How much was Mulally’s powerful brand a factor in Ford’s dramatic turnaround? Essential! It’s undeniable. Many people didn’t think there was a leader who could do it. In the hard-bitten automotive world, change has been hard. Long-tenured leaders and managers have been embroiled in turf battles. They have had tribe-like loyalties that have paralyzed business decisions. Could another leader have turned Ford around? Perhaps. But it is clear that Mulally’s brand transformed the culture. He leveraged his style and reputation through a commitment to “communicate, communicate, communicate.” That reinforced the right values and ignited the behaviors that quickly revived Ford and made it profitable once more.

What Is the Value of a CEO Brand? Ask Steve Jobs

Mulally certainly isn’t the fi rst and only CEO whose brand has shaped and driven a company to unprecedented heights. Look at the value that Steve Jobs has created at Apple, the company he started in 1976. How do we know his brand has intrinsic value? Look at what happened in January 2011, when Jobs announced that he would be taking a third medical leave of absence. Although U.S. stock markets were closed when the announcement broke, in Frankfurt, Apple’s shares immediately plunged by 6.4 percent. Think you can’t measure the value of a leader’s brand? It’s as tangible as that.

We are not all Steve Jobs. We aren’t all going to build iconic, multibillion-dollar enterprises. However, we can all take a page out of his book and others’. Each of us can have a commensurate impact on the value of our companies.

What has made Steve Jobs and Alan Mulally so formidable is the way they have leveraged the power of their brand values. There is more to their companies’ successes than just good management and leadership practices. I am not suggesting these factors aren’t critically important, but there is an additional, sometimes unrecognized, factor in a company’s success—the leader’s brand. A personal brand gives a leader “capital” he or she can expend to make things happen.

Leader Brands Are Made, Not Born

Neither Mulally nor Jobs was born with a brand. Their brands developed as they became great leaders, and they grew stronger over time. Similarly, as you mature as a leader and discover what you stand for, you build a stronger, more durable, and valuable brand. How does a leader’s brand develop? Look at Jobs’s story: When he was fired in 1985 from the company he founded, his brand actually took a major hit. When he returned in the late 1990s after a 12-year hiatus, he bought passion and commitment. He used newfound enthusiasm and love for innovation to rescue Apple from financial ruin and make it the iconic brand it is today.

Jobs’s brand was shaped by lessons hard won in his middle years when he was away from the company. He harnessed those lessons to drive incredible growth. Apple would soon go to market with some of the most innovative products of our time. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad have changed how we communicate and have altered the way we interact with technology.

How do you define the Steve Jobs’s brand? It is elegant, useful, intuitive, technological innovation. He symbolizes the aesthetic sense that became Apple’s DNA. His values shaped Apple in many ways. It attracted the right people who built the company into a powerhouse. They made Apple into a category of one in the industry. Anyone who has ever seen Steve Jobs on stage recognizes his remarkable platform skills. He engages his audience, commanding the room with passion and generating excitement about Apple’s new products. Jobs embodies the Apple brand. He is the creator and the keeper of the brand. He is not just any chief executive. He is a brand—driving a brand.

How to Become a Brand—Driving a Brand

You don’t have to be Steve Jobs to bring tremendous value, to be a brand— driving a brand. The first step is to embrace the idea of building your own brand. In this book you’ll find out how to do that. You’ll also learn strategies for leveraging it for the benefit of your organization. You will discover your brand, understand how to use it, and communicate it to the world.

By investing time in reading this book, you’ll have the tools to truly leverage your reputation for the good of your company, and you will feel more passionate than ever about doing so. Your brand, built on the values and principles that define you, will become an asset—like gold. And you’ll feel even more confident about communicating your unique, valuable brand to influence, inspire, motivate, and persuade others to act.

Why is that important to your company? A great company brand deserves a great CEO brand! Whether you are the CEO, leader of a team, or hope to be someday, your brand is part of the company’s brand package. A leader’s reputation is an essential component of the corporate brand equation.

Some CEO brands add more value than others. As we’ll see in Chapter 9, some CEOs actually detract from their company brands. But there’s no question that, like it or not, every CEO has an impact on his or her company’s brand, whether you’re a company of one or one hundred thousand.

This book will help you get clear about who you are as a leader, what you believe, and how that defines your brand. Even if you already know a lot about your values, we’re going to go deeper, to find the authentic, unique, and powerful leader brand inside you. This process is the foundation of the work we’ve done with leaders. I have seen how this exciting process can transform people into passionate leaders who love their work and love their lives.

Once you know your brand, you can use it, and amplify it, to achieve your goals. The simple steps in this book will help you to create a plan to communicate your brand. I’ll also talk about how to build a team of people who will make you successful. The outcome will be no less than discovering what your leadership is all about, and how you can be most influential.

Is a Brand about Celebrity?

In writing this book, I don’t mean to imply that you should build a brand to become a global celebrity. Your goals are your goals; your dreams are your dreams. You will build a brand and bring value to your company in your own way. The tools in this book will help you do that.

The stronger your brand is with the audiences that matter, the easier it is to accomplish great things. It’s easier to drive your vision forward, attract attention, influence people, hire great talent, align people around your plan, win trust, and deliver results. A bigger brand makes you more influential. You have to define what big means to you.

Brand and Influence

Many of our corporate clients ask, “How can we make our leaders more influential? How can we teach them the skill of influence?” Influence is not really a skill, although it requires skill. Influence is who you are and how you are perceived by others. It is vital to be skilled at communicating in an influential way, to understand how others think, how to connect with them, and how to persuade them.

These interpersonal skills alone do not make you an influential leader. You probably know people who have persuasive skills; these skills alone don’t make them leaders. Leaders have a brand based on authentic values they use to influence others. Brand is the core of who you are as a leader and how you are perceived. When this core is strong and you know how to wield your reputation, you are an influential leader.

Brand Is for Every Leader

Building a brand is for any leader who wants to be successful. Even if you never want to become the CEO, if you are a leader, you need a brand. Your brand will help you attract the right people to your team; align them around a common purpose; mediate issues; get things done across the matrix of the organization; influence your CEO, board, and executive committee; and also help you create a more dynamic, high-functioning organization. Your brand will help you to win trust, create legions of fans, attract new opportunities, and advance in your career.

In this book you’ll find examples of well-known leaders, as well as other leaders you don’t yet know who have built powerful brands in their fields or industries. Some of the examples are household names; some of them aren’t. All have great brand stories to share. We won’t all be Warren Buffett or Richard Branson or Oprah Winfrey someday, but we can learn their secrets and the secrets of others who value and leverage their own leadership brands.

My goal is to share the underlying principles at work and help you as you build a brand that is respected and admired. You’ll learn how to make the most of your brand and even measure the results of the impact your brand has.

One common characteristic of the hundreds of outstanding leaders I have coached, interviewed, and researched is that they have thought about their brands (even if they didn’t call themselves a “brand”) and they have figured out how to use that brand as a valuable asset in their careers. They understand, consciously or unconsciously, the value that their personal brand brings to their companies.

Through their stories you’ll probably see yourself. Just like you, these leaders have been on a journey. They have lived a life. They have learned lessons. They have become interesting leaders with a unique perspective and certain skills and abilities that make them shine. Their lessons have shaped who they have become. Just like you, they’ve had life experiences that have given them a viewpoint and a set of values that make them the leaders they are today.

In essence, we’re going to look at the story of you and the lessons from those stories that have made you who you are. I hope you’ll be inspired to think about your own life and career in a new, exhilarating way. I hope this book will reenergize you and reignite your passion for leadership. And, I hope you’ll use what you learn to build value into your company through your powerful brand.

How Can You Clearly Define Your Brand to Others?

As the CEO, you embody the company brand. You are the face and voice of the organization. To clearly define your brand, you need to understand it. You can only define it for others if you’re clear about it yourself. This means looking at your own life and experiences to discover the lessons and values that have shaped you and made you who you are.

In the chapters ahead we’ll look at how other leaders, just like you, have looked at their own lives and careers for the clues that define their brands. We’ll also explore how to examine your own stories and understand precisely what they are teaching you about yourself.

Our clients find that this process is exciting and rewarding. While some have spent more time than others analyzing the events that have shaped them, it is easier than you imagine to look at their life story and see what it is telling them.

As you begin this process, I recommend that you enlist help from an executive coach, mentor, or trusted advisor. If you want to get there quickly, it is easier and more productive to explore your brand with a partner who has your best interest at heart. In case you haven’t identified that person, the exercises are designed so you can do them on your own. I strongly encourage you as you read the book to do the exercises. It’s really the best way to truly gain insights that will allow you to define your brand.

Suzanne Bates is the CEO of Bates Communications and the author of "Speak Like a CEO" and "Motivate Like a CEO."


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