All leaders have a brand. Whether that term is used or not, leaders have an identifiable persona that is a reflection of what they do and how others perceive them. I call this the leadership brand.
When it comes to cultivating a leadership brand, look no further than Oprah Winfrey, who recently announced that she would be ending her popular talk show in 2011. In a perceptive analysis, New York Times media columnist David Carr suggests that Winfrey’s brand and the key to her longevity is a combination of things she didn’t do as well as things that she did do.
On the “don’t do side,” she did not over-merchandize nor take her company public; she kept control of her products and thereby her image, unlike Martha Stewart. On the “do side,” she always stayed true to herself. As she told her business partner Gayle King years ago, “I don’t know what the future holds but I know who holds it.”
The lessons of Oprah’s brand are relevant to any leader. First and foremost, understand that brand is what you develop as well as what others perceive. The balance between reality and perception can be shaky if you are not careful, but as we have seen from Oprah, not impossible.