The Leadership Brand and Diversity

Leadership Branding and HR
I truly believe that any HR strategy should start with the definition of a so-called leadership brand. A leadership brand is a promise that a company makes towards its stakeholders about how people are to be led within the company. It’s also a clear definition of expectations towards leaders within the company and towards the company as a whole.
What does a leadership brand do?

  • A leadership brand clarifies human relations within a company.
  • It is a way to implement values into one of the most crucial processes within a company: the leadership process.
  • Further, it inspires leaders to behave in a certain way and to develop certain attitudes.
  • It inspires employees who have the potential and the motivation to become leaders within the company.
  • It inspires employees to take on leadership at every level and it inspires candidates who are looking for the right fit between their values and those of the company.
  • A leadership brand engages people.

A leadership brand should not focus on the competencies a leader has to develop. Too often a leadership vision within a company is limited to a list of desired competencies. Those lists describe a sort of genetically engineered cloned specimen of a leader. The lists are usually (too) long. No-one could ever dream to become that superman or superwoman that some project group has envisioned to be the ideal. Those lists become usually dead wood. Ironically it’s often the HR department that tries and motivate people to administer the competency-based leadership approach.
 A leadership brand should focus on broad leadership objectives and principles that allow for diversity in behaviour. At the same time the principles should create harmony in direction. This means that everyone can apply the principles in an authentic way.
Diversity in behaviour means that within one leadership brand, the company accepts different styles of leadership. There is one condition: leadership behaviour should be inspired by the leadership brand. So you can have introverted and extraverted leaders who behave differently. And that’s not a problem as long as they adhere to the leadership band.
Harmony in direction means that the development of leadership has the same orientation throughout the company. It means there is coherence on all levels and in all units. Why do I stress this last point? Before defining your leadership brand you will be confronted with leaders who do not adhere to the new leadership brand and/or do not have the attitude and motivation needed to live that brand. So your starting point will not be one single situation. You will have as many experiences as you have leaders in your company. That’s reality.
When defining a leadership brand there should be some idea about how to cover the gap between the promise that the leadership brand entails and this reality.  The option you take should be in-line with the leadership brand itself. For instance, if your leadership brands specifies a vision on how people should develop themselves, you cannot force people into the leadership brand in a way that is contradictory to this vision on development and learning.
The way forward
A leadership brand is powerful tool to develop the leadership within a company. But do not forget the most important part. A leadership brand will not work if it’s not confirmed by top management’s behaviour. Harmony in direction. Diversity in behaviour. That’s the way forward.

Social media: a matter of culture and balanced leadership

originally posted on
Many companies still do not give full access to social media (or even the internet) during office hours. They fear loss of productivity as people will chat away the time.
Microsoft conducted a survey to check the impact of social media on productivity. It surveyed 9808 knowledge workers in 32 countries. You can find the full report here. Here are some of the interesting results
social media usage
The 4 most reported purposes of social media are communication with other colleagues, reviewing documents, communication with customers and building a network. Germany, Switzerland and Japan have in general the lowest penetration of social media in professional activities. About 20% of employees that were surveyed in these countries state not to use social media for professional purposes.
This is a remarkable result because Microsoft surveyed knowledge workers that use computers and mobile devices for 75% of the time.
Security and Productivity
In 9 countries productivity loss is seen as the main reason to restrict the use of social media. The other countries report security risks as the main reason for restricting access to social media. Respondents in countries like China, India, Turkey, Mexico and Russia report gains in productivity related to the use of social media. In Belgium, France and the Netherlands only one quarter reports productivity increases.
The manager is the culprit
It seems to be the manager who plays a vital role. Only 31% of respondents say that their manager stimulates the use of social tools whereas 36% states the contrary. Reasons for that is that managers fear that sensitive information will be disclosed (47%) or that productivity will suffer (41%). 32% say that they know someone who has gotten into trouble because of the use of social media while at work. 16% say that they have gotten into trouble themselves.
It’s Culture again
The use of social tools seems to me to be heavily influenced by culture. Both company culture and national culture are at stake. If you work for a company with an introverted culture, use of social media might be be seen as an unhealthy way of self-profiling, exposing people to unnecessary risks. People that are visible on social media will be frowned upon. This is also the case in certain professional and national cultures that value discretion over visibility and exposure.
I remember discussions with German friends about the use of social media. The focus was mostly on the loss of privacy. Using social media to them was exposing too much personal information to too many people. This is understandable in a country that still has a vivid recollection of how the State spied on its citizens.
Opportunity versus threat
People seem to have adopted the use of social media much faster in the new and emerging economies than in established economies. To them social tools are an opportunity to get in contact with the rest of the world. They have understood that being connected has a tremendous value in a global economy.
When the world wide web opened up the internet to many users and companies in the 90ies, many people focussed on the threats. In 1996 I had to make a reservation to use the only PC in the company that was connected to the web and only few were allowed to mail with external parties. Can you imagine that? Today we think it’s ridiculous, but it wasn’t 20 years ago.
Everytime a new technology is on the rise, resistance is to be expected. And that is because the new technology is seen as aggressive to those who are not used to it. If managers focus on the risks of social media instead of on the opportunities, it’s mainly because they are not familiar with them.
Balanced leadership
The use of social media in companies is a matter of balanced leadership: letting go of unnecssary control and holding onto values. A company that prohibits its (knowledge) workers to use social media will not take advantage of the opportunities. The possible risks should be dealt with. But like it is with any sort of risk, you need to manage it and accept that it’s there. Without risk, there will not be progress.