I think that most organizations today recognize that beyond their product or service brand intentionally or unintentionally they have also created and promulgate an employment brand.

Your organizations employment brand is the perception by current and future employees of what working in your organization is like.

Some organizations enjoy a very strong employment brand. I would include Google, Starbucks, Accenture, and Zappo’s in this arena. People have a pretty clear perspective about what these organizations value and the profile they seek.

Other organizations fairly or unfairly occupy the opposite end of the spectrum. I would put Walmart and currently McDonalds in this area.

We live in an environment where the competition for experienced talent is becoming more and more pronounced and a recent survey pointed out that the rate of voluntary turnover; employees electing to leave their job, increased by 45% between 2012 and 2013. 

Since the average cost of hiring has increased 15% during the same time period attracting and retaining talent is a key consideration for businesses and organizations of every size and in every sector.

I have written, spoken, and even publicly pleaded with organizations about the importance of employment branding and its direct and indirect connections to employee engagement, so I am not going to focus on it a great deal here, but instead discuss leadership brand.

Leadership has of course been dissected and discussed ad naseum, but I would hardly put a stake in the ground and declare victory at this point.

Personal branding is also a hot new topic in terms of how you represent yourself and are seen by others.

The impetus for this particular piece is two events, an opportunity to spend some quality time with a colleague from the UK with whom I share a deep and abiding interest in leadership and other organizational dynamics and a post I read earlier this week.

The post talked about a father’s conversation with his son who had just completed a summer internship. When his Dad asked him about the experience he replied that he enjoyed the work and his colleagues, but the “big boss” was a real jerk. The father was somewhat surprised that his son had an opportunity to meet the most senior executive of a large corporation as an intern, turns out he hadn’t.

The son’s perspective was framed entirely from correspondence and the perspectives shared with him by colleagues and coworkers. I think we can say this leader has a leadership brand issue…

The discussion with my colleague goes back to a set of novels (yes I admit I read and enjoy fiction) written about the evolution of King Arthur and Camelot. I found it more interesting than most series because it actually started two generations before Arthur was conceived and outlined a leadership development strategy and succession planning that modern organization could take a page from.

Leadership as described in the Camulod context included some concept that Malcom Gladwell and Stephen MR Covey have discussed and I find intriguing.

In Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath, he discusses at some length the concept of legitimacy – which he defines like this:

•  Those whom are governed have a voice in the process; their input is sought and heard.
•  There is a dimension of predictability and consistency in the application of the law or standards.
•  The application of the law or standard has to be administered fairly and objectively, you can’t have disparate treatment without a clear and compelling reason.

Legitimacy is a concept you don’t hear much about in organizations or B schools, but then I especially like to tweak it a bit further by adding a discussion of Covey’s three levels of trust.

In his hierarchy the first level of trust is deterrence, trust that comes from authority or position. This was a broadly accepted concept for hundreds of years provided first to rulers or religious leaders and embedded in Calvinism that God only allowed “good” people to create wealth and prosper so they were endowed with that trust.

Ken Follett’s trilogy about families from several countries and several generations explores this entitlement theory in a very interesting way.

The next level of trust Covey calls competency based. In many cases there is an assumption that anyone who achieves a management role has that competence, but we all know better. In most cases their competency is limited to technical proficiency; their emotional intelligence capacity and social intelligence are rarely considered.

I have encountered literally hundreds of recent MBA graduates who are supremely confident in their ability to lead based on their shiny new diploma demonstrating mastery of the concepts.
The highest level of trust in Covey’s hierarchy is identity based trust which incorporates both your competency and you character as demonstrated by your applied values and behavior to create credibility.

I personally believe that to a large extent leadership as opposed to management is founded in legitimacy. Leadership is entirely relational versus hierarchical, it was be earned rather than bestowed with a title or position.

What I found fascinating about the development of the leadership models as they evolved in the Camulod series was that although they used different language, these elements were present.

Arthur’s grandfathers realized that to be crowned the one true King of England, he would need not only position and competence, but legitimacy and identity based trust.

There are a zillion different leadership styles in the literature, I happen to be a big fan of Blanchard’s Situational Leadership® model which recognizes one size doesn’t fit all either with people or organizations.

There is a lot of discussion about servant leadership and to the extent it incorporates legitimacy and identity based trust I think it has merit.

I read the articles and posts that have taken the position that women are inherently more dispositioned to be leaders and genetically coded to have higher emotional and social intelligence and my reaction is bullshit.

The issues aren’t gender based, but I believe more a matter of aptitude and training. Our leadership models were based on competency and deterrence for generations and ignored identity so we practiced a flawed model.

So my recommendations in cultivating your leadership brand-

  • Build on a base of identity based trust. You will likely have to master the first two levels to achieve that.
  • Ensure that your actions incorporate legitimacy both implicitly and explicitly
  • Manage people, not human capital. People are individuals, respect that and treat them accordingly.
  • I don’t think you need to negotiate your culture with employees, but I do think they are entitled to clear expectations, constructive feedback, and fair treatment.

There is a lot of discussion about the next generations. They are pretty intolerant of assumed legitimacy. They also represent both the future employee base and future leadership.

Incorporate the elements of respect, responsibility, information, equitable rewards, and mutual investment. Those represent an excellent foundation for both legitimacy and identity based trust.

It worked for King Arthur, and you have to admit he has a pretty cool leadership brand….


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