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Our people are talking about us.
They’re staying on the Zoom or Teams call after we click on the red “hang-up” button. They’re calling each other afterwards and they’re chatting in the WhatsApp group that we’re not a member of.
The thicker skinned and more narcissistic leaders amongst us may say that we really don’t care what they’re saying about us. For some, this will be true.
For others, it’s more of a white lie that we tell ourselves, and those around us, in order to project a more confident image of ourselves as a leader. I’ve definitely spent a large proportion of my leadership career in this category.
Marketeers would describe what people say about a product or company when they’re not there as ‘brand’.
It’s no different for us as leaders.
Our brand is what people say about us when we’re not there… and it’s something that we really should care about.
I’m not talking about branding ourselves in order to look good, impress our bosses or further our progress up the corporate ladder.
I’m talking about ensuring that our actions match our words. I’m talking about ensuring that those we lead see us as individuals of good character who can be trusted.
Because when they do, they will be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty when the time comes for us to make big requests of them.
This is why our ‘personal’ or ‘leadership brand’ matters.
It’s true that we can’t control what others say about us, but we can certainly influence it.
I once heard Scott Stratten describe brand as being made up of two things; people’s most extreme experience of your company and their most recent experience of your company.
And when we apply that to ourselves as a leader, it becomes people’s most extreme experience of us and their most recent experience of us.
Extreme negative experiences linger in people’s memories for a very long time and we can’t delete these memories from their minds. All we can do is replace them with a positive experience that is more extreme.
I recently heard about five people ‘disappearing’ from a team because they spoke-up and asked some challenging questions of their leader. Some of these five left the team a long time ago, but the memory is still vivid, and the mistrust is high amongst those that remain.
And what about the most recent experience of us held by those we lead?
Do they represent the person that we truly are, and the type of leader that we aspire to be?
Are those that we lead having consistent experiences of us? Or is it more erratic?
I believe that these are the questions we should be asking ourselves on a regular basis and then adjusting our behaviours as a result. Because when we do, those that we lead will trust us and be ready to do what we ask. Not because we are their boss and hold a position of power, but because they want to.
So, what about you?
What is the most recent and the most extreme experience those that you lead have of you?
How would you feel if your loved ones where listening to your team talk about you after you left the Zoom call?
As we lead our teams and organisations through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless opportunities for us to get this right… and get it wrong.
Yes, we are all busy and we all have a huge amounts on our plates. But pausing to think about this on a regular basis is so important right now. Those of us who do will be rewarded with hard-work, loyalty and discretionary effort.
And those of us who don’t will see morale and engagement fall as a precursor to rapidly declining business performance.
So, the most important question therefore became, what must I do today in order to ensure that the next experience everyone has of me aligns to my leadership brand?