Leveraging Leadership Competencies to Produce Leadership Brand: Creating Distinctiveness by Focusing on Strategy and Results
Intagliata, Jim, Ulrich, Dave, Smallwood, Norm, Human Resource Planning
In a recent article, Ulrich, Smallwood, and Zenger (2000) discuss the significant amount of research, time, and money that has been invested in the search for a "holy grail" of leadership attributes. As described by the authors, "This holy grail, when found, would identify a small set of attributes that successful leaders possess, articulate them in ways that could be transferred across all leaders, and create leadership development experiences to ensure that future leaders possess these attributes." Ironically, while leadership matters more now than ever and while more money is spent seeking "the true" attributes of successful leaders, the quality of leadership continues to be a significant concern throughout the world of business. In survey after survey when executives are asked what is required for firms to succeed in the future, leadership tops the list. Somehow the investment in developing better leaders seems to be missing the desired impact (Ulrich, Zenger, & Smallwood, 1999).
We propose that the key to organizations getting a much better return on their investment in leadership development may be their ability to develop distinctive leadership brands.
WHAT IS LEADERSHIP BRAND AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
In marketing, developing product brand means that the product can be differentiated from other products of the same type. To improve product brand, researchers increase product efficacy while marketers work on advertising. When product efficacy and advertising are both successful, product brand is attained and the product typically achieves a price premium of about 30 percent.
Leadership branding refers to the same kind of process. To improve leadership brand, leaders must increase their efficacy of attaining results while senior leaders "advertise" these results to business publications and Wall Street analysts in an effort to manage their reputation. Leadership in a company is branded when the unique attributes and specific business results are integrated for all leaders within a firm. Over a period of years, an organization may create leaders who are branded, or distinct from leaders in other firms. Leaders who develop only common attributes of leadership do not establish leadership brand. What's missing is the notion that these attributes need to be ones that clearly link to business results. Because business results are firm-specific, leadership brand is always unique to a specific firm. When the attributes the leaders demonstrate are linked to desired results, distinctive branding follows. Leadership brand advances beyond generic competencies or attributes.
Microsoft serves as an example. Microsoft leaders have been much in the press lately as they face government sanctions for monopolistic behavior. Microsoft leaders are known for their attributes of high intelligence, their desire to dominate competitors, and their high technical competence. Microsoft business results revolve around moving to the Internet and maintaining software ubiquity. So the integration of Microsoft leadership attributes and business results might create a leadership brand statement such as:
"Microsoft leaders embody high intelligence, a desire to win in every industry, as well as superior technical competence so that we can successfully transition to become a dominant Internet player while maintaining our presence in every software market."
Why is leadership brand so important? Branded leadership creates a distinct leadership culture that permeates the entire organization. If this distinct culture is aligned with the business strategy and tightly linked to the desired business results the organization is trying to achieve, it can be a source of competitive advantage. Recent research by Ernst and Young (1998) shows that between 30 and 45 percent of investor decisions may be linked to "quality of management." A leadership brand creates value by differentiating a firm's quality of management. …