A strong image of leadership includes drive, self-belief and the ability to inspire others. Debbie Smith reveals the formula

Who comes to mind when you think of someone who has a strong personal brand? Would it be your boss? A television personality? A politician? What is it about them that sets them apart from the crowd? What is it about their reputation and management style that makes them stand out as an effective leader? Is it how they behave, the way they engage, their personal image or the way they make people feel around them? Maybe it is all four qualities.

To study the link between personal branding and effective leadership, we need to explore the way we communicate and impact on others. We also need to understand the qualities and values good leaders possess. Taken from the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement leadership qualities framework, the list of personal attributes is:

  • self-belief;

  • self-awareness;

  • self-management;

  • drive for improvement;

  • personal integrity.

Effective means it works. Being this kind of leader means you accomplish the results you and your organisation are looking to achieve. As part of that leadership process, you successfully build relationships along the way.

Having an effective personal brand is paramount to being an effective leader. How you look, how you sound, how you communicate and how you behave towards others are integral to this.

To be able to interact well with your team and influence them, you first need to understand them. You have to build the skills of empathetic listening based around a personal brand that inspires openness and trust.

The key to how you influence is how you conduct yourself in the way you listen. An empathetic listener will gather accurate information to work with, will get to the heart of what matters quickly and will influence others.

Listen carefully

The following tips will help you develop your skills as an empathetic listener:

  • create the right environment to work one to one - this may be away from the office;

  • ask open questions that give you a clear picture of how your team members really feel about a certain idea or project;

  • you need to demonstrate you understand how they feel, give examples, play back feedback;

  • some 60 per cent of our communication comes from our body language: learn to read the signs;

  • share with a colleague that you want to work on listening to others and ask for feedback in a week (how did you do?; how did it make that person feel?);

  • develop qualities that create a strong personal leadership brand.

Successful leaders have a positive, "can do", confident attitude. They are visionary; they inspire those around them with a plan. They know exactly where they are going and what steps they need to take to get there. Their appearance is consistently strong yet engaging.

Consider US president-elect Barack Obama's presidential campaign. He maintained a personal brand throughout that is described as strong, consistent, compelling and visionary.

He appears confident, modern, smart and professional: the combination of the dark grey suit, crisp white shirt and deep red silk tie along with his engaging personality, smile, passion and superb oratory skills are a powerful combination.

Strong leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They know their strengths and limitations.

As part of your own personal brand identity, you need to discover what values you bring to your organisation. You also need to be true to your personality - as an effective leader you have got to be good, but you do not have to be perfect.

You need to create a personal brand that is unique to you, one that promotes your abilities and demonstrates your strengths. You need to build on your background, what you have achieved and what you know you are capable of in the future.

Good personal self-management involves the ability to make decisions and choices and to act in accordance with them.

To be a leader who gets results you must be disciplined with how you manage your time: you need to be an efficient manager of yourself. You need to learn how to delegate; you need to learn how to say no. You need to decide what your priorities are.

Time for people

Effective managers do not have a reputation for continuously cancelling meetings, nor are they so busy that their team needs to wait five or six weeks to have individual time with them, only to be told the planned hour long session needs to be cut to half an hour.

Effective self-management is integral to your brand and personal integrity.

Outstanding leaders consistently show personal integrity in what they do to help them deliver.

Above all, their brand stands for trust and honesty. They always tell the truth, are loyal to those who are not present, they do not gossip and they do not relay information shared in confidence.

The best leaders apologise from the heart, not out of pity.

Strong leaders work to understand the individuals they work with.

They take time out to get to know their team. They clarify expectations: unclear expectations undermine communications around roles and goals, which are often the cause of mistrust in most business relationships.

Some of the most effective leaders appear to have it all. Not only are they successful in their professional lives, but they also seem to be successful in all other aspects of their lives, as partners, parents, supportive friends, and they appear to have an interesting range of pursuits and hobbies.

This is probably one of the hardest challenges to achieve in developing your brand, but if you can, the perception that others have of you will be immense in their respect for you.

Work-life balance

I recently worked with an exceptional and highly talented chief executive who needed help with addressing the balance of his personal life alongside his professional life.

We looked at the aspects he wanted to work on and recognised that his preference was to enjoy the strategic aspects of life, not the detail - not surprising for a chief executive.

Following our session, he realised all he needed to do was to apply his well honed empathetic listening skills to his family, look at what aspects of family life he would enjoy being responsible for and communicate them.

Within the last six months, he has organised a house move, booked holidays and weekends away and started to make more time for the hobbies he has always wanted to enjoy.

As a result, he has become even more effective as a leader and as a person.

The final article in this series will appear on 29 January.