Leadership assessment

Leadership assessment focus: The power of intentionality in shaping your leadership brand

Using assessment results to turn career goals into tangible actions can increase one’s leadership impact by building a real understanding of the power of your leadership brand both as it is and how it has the potential to be.


By Brad Aspel, Dorothy Badie, and Andrea Winchester

Consider this situation from one of our clients: After an extremely stressful night and morning, they were running late for a business meeting. Upon arrival, they could have entered the room appearing frazzled and stressed, apologetically sharing what their last 12 hours have been like—issues with family, traffic, technology. However, instead, this leader chose to take a moment of pause and a few deep breaths before entering the room. Based on action planning from their recent leadership impact assessment, they wanted to move away from perceptions that they could come off as disorganized, frazzled, and putting stress onto others. They consciously decided how they wanted to be perceived: calm, confident, and competent. With this mindset, and another slow deep breath, they walked into the room, ready to handle the meeting, and all was well.

This shift, bringing to consciousness how you’ll be perceived as a professional, displays the power a few moments of reflection can have on your leadership brand. In our experience, leaders often overlook the fact that their brand is a result of their actions and behaviors over time. The power of an assessment process (for example, done via psychometrics, 360s, behavioral interviews or coaching) is often to uncover the difference between perception and intent, highlighting gaps between their assumptions about how they are perceived and how they are actually perceived. This helps leaders become more intentional in thinking about their leadership brand and how they can influence it. 

In our experience, leaders are becoming more and more interested in using assessment results for more than they traditionally have been used, as a standard part of powerful leadership development. Our work has found that assessments can be used to improve team dynamics, promotion processes, and even retention—as well as for increasing leaders’ self-awareness when it comes to their leadership brand. Often with the help of a manager or coach, leaders can use their assessment results to turn career goals into tangible actions that increase one’s leadership impact. We see this process as having two parts: the first involves building more self-awareness and a real understanding of the power of your leadership brand, and the second part requires creating intention via actionable steps. 

What is a leadership brand and why be intentional about it? 

A leadership brand encapsulates your identity and uniqueness as a leader.1 It illustrates the value and key qualities you bring to the table. It reflects the intersection of your identity, including your core character, beliefs, and values, with how you are perceived by others when you're not present. 

Think of it as your brand is a promise of a service or an experience with a goal to deliver perceived value to your consumer. A leadership brand also creates clarity and traction for you and your career. Taking steps to create and reinforce your leadership brand can effectively communicate your unique value proposition and better enable you to progress toward your aspirations. 

But it’s also important for leaders to understand that their brand is not static.2 Much as people grow and change throughout their careers, so, too, should one’s leadership brand evolve over time. While natural styles and personality traits play a part, the impressions and narratives others take with them often form without much deliberate effort on the leader's part. Yet, as demonstrated in the opening scenario, leaders can indeed, intentionally shape their brands. 

Leaders usually go through 360 assessments once a year, and the outcome of this process provides helpful data and insight into how they are being perceived by others, for example, their managers, peers, teams, and other stakeholders. But it can also be a great opportunity to increase a leader’s awareness of their current brand, thereby providing them with an understanding of any misalignment that may exist with their true intention. If a leader learns that there are gaps, they can then begin working to bring their brand more towards their goals.3 Indeed, the Harvard Business Review found that leaders displaying self-awareness and drive to evolve their leadership brands were more likely to be successful over the long term.4

Three tips for shaping your leadership brand 

  1. Define it: Define and articulate your leadership brand statement in line with your aspirations.
  2. Clearly define what you want to be known for and create a leadership brand statement to guide you. Consider your values and what principles define you. If you’ve gone through a leadership assessment process recently (such as psychometrics, 360 assessments, or high-touch competency-based assessment), reflect on the feedback you received regarding your leadership strengths. 

    When we conduct feedback sessions with leaders following their assessments, we ask if the feedback they received aligns with how they want to be perceived. This helps highlight blind spots as well as give a leader insight into their current leadership brand. It also gives them structure for reflection on how that current brand might defer from their aspirational brand. 

    For example, a senior leader for whom we were conducting a C-suite onboarding acceleration process received feedback revealing that he was seen as strictly analytical and not easily approachable. These perceptions were limiting his ability to gain followership in the organization. His assessment allowed him to realize early in his tenure that in order to be successful in his new role he would need to adapt his leadership style to be more open, curious, engaging, and collaborative. He therefore shifted how he was spending his time, turning his focus to building deeper relationships with others, using more active listening in his interactions, and working to develop a more inspiring communication that would intentionally target hearts as well as minds. He was able to redefine his leadership brand to be successful in his new career. 

    Reflect on the value you aspire to bring and think of five adjectives that you'd want others to use in describing you as a leader. Next, consider your goals and what you want to achieve as a leader.

  3. Action it: Live your leadership brand. Make it real!
  4. In our work, we advise leaders to take a moment before entering a meeting or logging onto a video call to pause and set their intention. Ask yourself: How do I want to be perceived? How do you want to show up, and what actions and behaviors will I demonstrate to show up in that way? 

    Being intentional about your brand also extends beyond face-to-face interactions. It involves carefully considering the impressions formed through your written communication and presentations as well. When writing an email, pause and consider: What impression of my brand would result from my language, tone, use or lack of personal touches, length, and structure? In presentations, consider the value you are adding. Use the opportunity not just to share analysis, facts, and figures, but to also allow people to get to know you better. What story could you insert to help bring your brand to life in the content?

  5. Monitor and evolve with it: Regularly test your leadership brand with others and evolve your leadership brand as needed.
  6. Think of a leader you’ve worked with that you admire—how would you describe their brand? Ask others how they would describe you, what they think your brand might be, and in what ways it is serving you and in what ways it might be getting in your way. Are you being consistent and authentic in the way you show up as a leader?

    The dynamic nature of leadership necessitates that your brand evolves over time. As you grow in your career, acquire new skills, face different challenges, and gain feedback from your stakeholders, your leadership brand should adapt accordingly. Periodically revisit your leadership brand statement. Reflect on whether it still aligns with your current values, goals, and role. If not, take the time to redefine it. 

    For instance, a client we assessed for development came to realize that what had made him the successful leader he was could become a career blocker in the future. His purposeful, direct, transparent, communication style and drive were now being perceived as “pushy,” “unpolished,” and “insensitive” at times, and impacting his leadership presence. The need to evolve his leadership brand became more apparent to him.

    Remember, a relevant and resonant leadership brand can help you maintain your effectiveness in various contexts and roles and achieve your evolving career aspirations. Being clear minded about what you offer and how you want to show up brings leaders energy and confidence, which becomes a virtuous cycle of only reinforcing one’s brand more and more.

We all have a leadership brand. So why not take a deliberate approach to shape an authentic brand that can significantly enhance our leadership value and impact and the future of our career?

References

1 Norm Smallwood, “Define your personal leadership brand in five steps,” Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2010, hbr.org.

2 Norm Smallwood, “Define your personal leadership brand in five steps,” Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2010, hbr.org.

3 Dorothy Badie, Steve Krupp, Ellen Maag, Amy Miller, and Eliyahu Anidjar, “Being assessed? Do not panic! A user’s guide to assessment,” LinkedIn, May 8, 2023, linkedin.com. 

4 Norm Smallwood, “Define your personal leadership brand in five steps,” Harvard Business Review, March 29, 2010, hbr.org.


About the authors

Brad Aspel (baspel@heidrick.com) is a partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ New York office and a member of Heidrick Consulting.

Dorothy Badie (dbadie@heidrick.com) is a client director in Heidrick & Struggles’ New York and Montreal offices and a member of Heidrick Consulting.

Andrea Winchester (awinchester@heidrick.com) is an engagement leader in Heidrick & Struggles’ New York office and a member of Heidrick Consulting.