Careers: Leadership and Personal Branding

There’s a fascinating article about leadership in the June issue of Harvard Business Review that has a lot of relevance for personal branding.


The author, Roger Martin, observes that we’re drawn to the stories of great leaders in part because they “implicitly promise that we can achieve the success of a Jack Welch or a Larry Bossidy” – if we could only learn to act just like them.

But just focusing on the actions of great leaders misses the point. The secret, according to Martin, is not what a leader does but how he thinks.

Martin’s leaders don’t approach decisions as most of us do as a series of mutually exclusive options: Pick option A and forget about option B. Like a creative strategist, they integrate seemingly contradictory options and in doing so create a new perspective. Think of the idea of selling software for free but making money on the services. That’s the synthesis of two contradictory ideas — free products but a profitable service component.

Ultimately, Martin’s leaders are not content to settle. Rather than accept “unattractive trade-offs,” they welcome the challenge to make the world better. They’re drivers of change.

What do these leaders tell us about our own personal brands?

Here are some questions they raised for me:

• As we define and refine our own personal brands, how we can avoid settling?

• Are we making our careers narrower than they need to be?

• Have we tossed out ideas and options too quickly because they didn’t seem to fit?

• How can we learn to integrate seemingly disparate ideas so that we can create something new?

How are you thinking like a leader? I’d love to hear what your leadership style is.

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