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Career Tools: How to Develop a Leadership Brand

Let professional goals and values positively influence decision-making and first impressions

George Grody keeps his “leadership brand” – a list of personal values and beliefs – on his iPhone.

He frequently references the list of 10 statements that includes such goals as: Help each individual succeed by practicing servant leadership, value and celebrate diversity of thought, and work on the system, not in the system.

Grody, a markets and management professor at Duke, said having a personal brand to reference when either making life or career decisions can help people decipher what is most important, help them stay true to their moral code, and provide direction - professionally and personally – without comparing themselves to others.

“If you start out on a journey without a destination or a map, don't be surprised if you end up in places you didn't want to be,” Grody said. “Your brand provides both a destination and a map.”

Here are seven tips for developing a leadership brand, a list of values and beliefs that you are known for, that can help guide you while making career decisions or becoming a confident expert in your field:

Think about the trifecta: purpose, values and principles

A leadership brand is supposed to help define who you are. Think about your purpose, which is your reason for being and your “brand promise.” Values define what’s important to you, and principles are guiding beliefs that help you stay consistent and credible, Grody said. “My brand made me understand that what was more important was me enjoying my work and adding value, versus the title and the position or the money,” he said.

Get inspiration from people and life events

Whether it be parents, managers, teachers or professional organizations, think about the values these people or groups stood for and why you are drawn to them. Also, assess big and small life events and how they have shaped how you react to situations.

Survey others to see how people perceive you

Understanding how other people perceive you can help influence your brand. Get in touch with at least six friends and colleagues, and ask them to describe you in three words, said Dorie Clark, branding expert and adjunct professor of business administration in the Fuqua School of Business.

“It is valuable because you’re going to see patterns in what they mention, and it will give you important clues about what other people see as your strengths and what other people see as being unique to you,” Clark said. “You may say, ‘I really thought that people viewed me differently, and I need to adjust things so that people can understand more of the real me.’”

Think about yourself as a package of skills

Are you good with people? Are you a good organizer? What causes are you passionate about? Maria LaMonaca Wisdom, director of Graduate Student Advising and Engagement for the Humanities in The Duke Graduate School, emphasizes to graduate students the importance of assessing their skills and values as they consider the next steps in any career.

“It’s really so much about self-knowledge,” Wisdom said. “You can’t attract prospective employers until you know what you can offer them. You have to be ready to present your skills as a comprehensive package.”

Let your brand shine online

Content creation can help solidify your brand in the eyes of others. Start a blog about issues in your field. “Creating content demonstrates a certain level of mastery that commands respect,” Clark said. “Even if a few people have read what you’ve written, the act of writing helps you solidify your thinking, it gives you a great tool to share with your colleagues and potential clients...and it just begins to establish a reputation for you that is knowledgeable about a certain topic.”

Use LinkedIn as a learning opportunity

Find people on LinkedIn who are in your same field or dream job, and look at how they represent themselves. “LinkedIn is a great professional presentation tool, but it’s an even better career data mining tool,” said Melissa Bostrom, assistant dean for Graduate Student Professional Development in The Duke Graduate School. “You can look at people and see how they’re selling themselves for those types of roles.”

Your brand should evolve over time

In just five years, a lot can change at work or at home. “Life is not static,” said Alan Kendrick, The Graduate School’s assistant dean for Graduate Student Development. “I will tell you, when I came to Duke in 2009, the place that it is today is not the same. Think about what things we can do differently and be self-reflective.”