posted 15 May 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 8
Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Perfomance and Build Lasting Value
Editor: Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press
Reviewed by Lucy McNulty
Browse through the catalogues of e-commerce giant Amazon, or indeed the shelves of any large bookshop, and you are bound to find a selection of books dedicated to discussion of leadership.
Certainly, leadership and the ability to successfully lead have long been viewed as immensely valuable concepts and so are dissected and debated frequently in the press, academic literature and across organisations. Google alone lists a staggering 122 million references to discussion of the elusive subject.
With so much dialogue already available on the topic, one would be forgiven in assuming that Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood’s latest offering – Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value – is simply another addition to this seemingly relentless discussion. Indeed, it is a notion the authors themselves do not shy away from. “In the pursuit of leadership,” begins chapter one, “thousands of books and articles have been published, so why one more?” It is a fair point. And one addressed pretty rapidly by the authors. “This book focuses on what we call the leadership brand,” they assert, “and offers insights into how to increase the quality of leadership”.
This ‘leadership brand’ is, Ulrich and Smallwood assert, an entirely new contribution to the discussion and refers to “the identity of the firm in the mind of the customers made real to employees because of customer-centric leadership behaviours” and an “extension of an organisation’s brand or identity [that] shows up in the behaviours and results of leaders throughout a firm”.
Contending it is this ‘leadership brand’ of the organisation which elevates its market value and helps give the business a sharp competitive edge, the authors set out to explain how to go about creating leadership brand in your organisation through a series of assessment tools and questionnaires.
There is also a straightforward six-step process which includes building a case for leadership brand; creating a leadership brand statement; assessing leaders against the brand; investing in leadership brand; measuring leadership brand investment; and building leadership brand awareness to stakeholders. Throughout, this detailed instruction is strengthened by the inclusion of several anecdotes or ‘real-life experiences’, presented as a comprehensive mix of examples of good leadership brand from the corporate, commercial and even celebrity arenas.
“A firm brand defines what the company is known for by its best customers,” reads one such example. “A leadership brand model at Apple would require leadership behaviours that encourage innovation (for example, risk-taking, experimenting, and encouraging debate and dialogue).”
Later it is Bono, the lead singer of world-famous pop band U2, who is singled out to demonstrate another aspect of successful branding in the leadership field. “[Sustained advantage] is the branding dream,” write Ulrich and Smallwood. “U2 has often been referred to as the biggest rock band in the world by fans and critics alike. Lead singer Bono has taken this fame and used it as a platform to prod world leaders to eliminate debt and raise money for third world countries.”
Such frequent parallels with real-world situations and the in-depth instruction that accompanies them enable the authors to effectively stress the growing importance of maintaining branded leadership in an increasingly competitive corporate environment and in doing so help the reader to appreciate the value that can be drawn from Leadership Brand. The book undeniably offers a surprisingly fresh and accessible approach to a much-discussed subject and thereby can help any organisation clarify what makes its leaders unique – and perhaps most importantly, how to use this knowledge to leave rivals far behind.