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In politics and beyond: How to build a robust personal leadership brand

Houses of Parliament Ballot Box

There have been reports of internal jostling and positioning within the Conservative party by MPs who are hoping to take the leadership position should Rishi Sunak step down post-election. But vision and visibility alone do not create a leader. So, what can MPs and business leaders do to create their own robust leadership brand?

Some years ago, I developed a conceptual framework in my PhD research to set out what makes an employer brand, and over the years, I’ve quickly come to realise this framework can be effectively applied to personal leadership brands in business.

It involves three key elements: walking your talk, striking a chord with your followers, and providing your followers with a sense of positive distinctiveness. Here are practical tips for leaders – in politics and beyond – looking to build their own personal leadership brand using these principles.

Walking the talk: Authenticity and consistency

The bedrock of any strong leadership brand is authenticity. Leaders must align their words with their actions consistently. This means clearly defining core values and ensuring these values are reflected in all decisions and behaviours. For instance, if a political leader champions transparency, they must consistently practice openness in their communications and policy-making processes.

Authenticity builds credibility and trust, making it crucial for leaders to stay true to their principles, even in challenging situations. When voters see that a leader’s actions match their promises, it reinforces trust and reliability.

Striking a chord: Emotional resonance and connection

Connecting emotionally with the electorate is vital for a compelling political leadership brand. Leaders should demonstrate empathy. Addressing the concerns and aspirations of the public can create a strong emotional bond. For example, during times of crisis, leaders should communicate with compassion and provide clear, supportive guidance. This involves not only addressing immediate concerns but also showing a genuine understanding of people’s fears and hopes. Engaging with the community through town halls, social media, and personal appearances can help leaders connect on a personal level, fostering loyalty and support.

Providing a sense of positive distinctiveness: Unique value proposition

To stand out, leaders need to offer something unique and valuable. This involves identifying and leveraging their distinct strengths and contributions. Leaders should clearly articulate their vision and how their approach differs from others. For example, a political leader with a background in education might prioritise policies that invest in early childhood development, teacher training, and vocational programmes.

By consistently advocating for and implementing these initiatives, they establish a distinct brand that resonates with voters who value education as a pathway to opportunity, social inclusion, and social mobility. Continual improvement and innovation are also key; leaders should seek new ways to address issues and bring fresh perspectives, ensuring their leadership remains relevant and attractive to their followers.

Putting it into practice: how to build your leadership brand

  1. Define and communicate core values. Start by identifying the values that are most important to you and ensure these are communicated clearly and consistently in all your actions and messaging. Use speeches, policy proposals, and public appearances to reinforce these values.
  2. Engage with empathy. Develop strong interpersonal relationships by actively listening to the public’s concerns. Show genuine care and responsiveness in your interactions. Whether through social media, community events, or personal outreach, make sure your engagement feels sincere and adds value.
  3. Highlight your unique contributions. Identify what sets you apart from other leaders and make this the cornerstone of your brand. Whether it’s a specific policy focus, a unique leadership style, or an innovative approach to problem-solving, ensure that your distinctiveness is evident in your communications and actions.
  4. Consistent narratives. Ensure that your communication and narrative across all platforms—speeches, social media, interviews—are consistent with your core values. This consistency helps reinforce your brand and makes it easier for the public to understand and trust your leadership.
  5. Lead by example. Demonstrate your commitment to your values through your actions. For example, if you prioritise transparency, make sure you are open about your decision-making processes and willing to address tough questions from the public and the media.

What’s true for business is true for politics: consistency, emotional connection, and distinctiveness are the pillars of a strong leadership brand. By following these principles, political leaders can build a robust personal leadership brand that resonates with the public, fosters trust, and sets them apart in a crowded political landscape.

Previous article in the Ballot Box series: 8 ways the incoming government can support start-ups

Dr Selin Kudret

Associate Professor in Leadership
Published 24 June 2024
Henley news Leading insights

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