Leader Volume 9, Number 5
Ulrich is a professor at the School of Business, University of
Michigan. Mr. Smallwood is CEO of Results-Based Leadership (www.rbl.net/)
and Dr. Zenger is President of Provant, Inc. (www.provant.com/).
They are authors of Results
Based Leadership (Harvard Business Press, Cambridge, MA,
A few years ago
one of us was on an extended bicycle trip with a group of boy
scouts. Each day we
rode into a new city and had a choice for lunch:
McDonalds (or Burger King) or a no-name local restaurant.
Each day, the riders chose the "known" commodity
over the unknown. Brands
make a difference in consumer behavior.
We prefer and even pay more for a shirt with a Harley logo,
a room in a Marriott hotel, a family vacation at Disney, and Nike
tennis shoes. In
these and other cases, firms have invested heavily in creating
their brand, the identity and image they communicate to those who
buy their products.
thinking about brand has shifted from how external customers
perceive either the product or firm to how firms create internal
brand identity. When a firm's internal brand, the culture and experience of
employees, reflects the external brand that attracts consumers,
the brand becomes even more valuable.
Harley employees want to work in an environment that
encourages the quality that Harley riders pay for.
Marriott employees who receive good service from the firm
(e.g., opportunities for training and growth, equitable
compensation, and fair treatment) will in turn render good service
to customers. Disney's
clean parks which attract guests are also reflected in the clean
cut (no facial hair for men or excessive make up for women) hiring
standards they have for employees.
Nike's ability to innovate products for customers becomes
sustained through employees’ commitment to find innovative ways
to do their work. When
the external brand consumers prefer reflects the internal culture
experienced by employees, brand becomes a major source of
Thinking about a
firm's brand as its culture and set of management practices,
however, does not fully explain the power of brand.
The brand should also be imbued in each leader throughout
the firm; then they communicate that brand to employees, who then
sustain it with customers. Leadership
brand lies at the heart of a firm's identity.
Leadership branding occurs when many leaders exhibit
distinct leadership practices over a number of years.
The organization creates leaders who are branded, or
distinct from leaders in other firms.
When we run
leadership workshops, we often start with the open-ended question,
"In the future to be successful at this firm, a leader
must..." The responses are consistent with current thinking about how
to be better leaders: set
a vision, have energy, energize others, mobilize commitment,
manage teams, coach, have integrity, think globally, etc.
After we generate this list of what we call attributes of
leadership, we pose the question, "Who is surprised by this
list?" No one is. The
list makes sense and can be turned into leader behaviors which may
then be assessed through some form of feedback and woven into a
development experience to be and build better leaders.
But, then we ask "What if we did this exercise in 20
companies?” or “Compare your list of attributes with the competency
models of other companies? Would
they differ?" And,
the answer we inevitably get is "No, they are much the
same." Many of
the current efforts to be or build better leaders have led to
generic, models of leadership. These models fall short because
they are not linked to results, not tied to the future, and not
employed as well as they could be.
For leadership to
be a brand, leaders must exhibit more than generic competencies.
Generic brands don’t receive a premium price, they
don’t attract customers, and they don’t commit employees.
Likewise, generic leaders who demonstrate universal
competence may not deliver the results they are expected to
generic into branded leadership is both simple and complex.
At a simple
level, branded leadership requires a new definition of leadership: attributes + results. Adding
the "+ results" changes the focus from generic leaders
with common and desired behaviors to branded leaders with clear
redefining leadership as the outcome of both
attributes and results explains some of the causes of ineffective leadership
and the challenges faced by effective leaders.
Leaders who do either attributes or results, will not have
sustained success. President
Carter left office with poor results --
an economy in high unemployment and inflation and a nation
in disrespect with the hostages in Iran.
Even with his high moral standards and character which
deserve our respect and admiration and post-Presidential awards,
his overall leadership effectiveness was moderate because he
demonstrated attributes without results. His leadership legacy will be forever marred by the lack of
Clinton, on the other hand, leaves office with the economy at an
all-time high, with personal wealth higher than ever before, and
with the nation respected and at peace globally.
But, he also leaves office with a less-than-positive
overall leadership effectiveness because his personal character
limits his ability to fulfill his entire vision.
In his 1999 state of the union address, President Clinton
proposed a number of innovative, activist
government initiatives that would require political
goodwill to attain. It’s
no surprise that in his last 18 months in office, none of these
initiatives will become law and he will do more global travel than
any President in the history of the United States.
His lack of personal character and attributes cost him the
ability to build widespread commitment to an agenda for change
that might have marked his last two years in office.
Like Carter, but for different reasons, his leadership
legacy will be sullied.
Leaders need both
attributes and results to be effective.
Leaders with attributes may win popularity contests, but
not deliver value to employees, customers, or shareholders.
Leaders with results but no attributes may have short-term
successes, but lack the support necessary to lead in difficult or
demonstrate both attributes and results become what we call
branded leaders. Branded
leaders possess appropriate attributes.
They have a point of view about the future of their unit,
build teams, manage change, and have personal integrity.
But they are also able to turn attributes into specific
results required for their business to succeed by answering the
"so that" query for each attribute they demonstrate.
Focusing on results requires understanding the unique
competitive requirements of a firm.
Firms win with strategies that differentiate them to
customers; results should reflect these differences.
For example, leaders at Harley have a vision so that
customer satisfaction is high enough to gain a sizable share of
their target customer entertainment dollar.
Leaders at Marriott have a vision so that they attract and
retain committed employees who will offer the best service in the
lodging industry. Leaders
at Disney have a vision so that guests return home from the Disney
theme park experience with positive memories and stories for their
friends. Each "vision" becomes branded when it is coupled
with a "so that" query which makes it specific to the
unique requirements of the business.
Each of these business' had unique strategies to win, which
then lead to specific results.
These results then reflect leadership styles within a
company, e.g. Marriott's civil style towards employees also
influences their customer service.
leadership is simple in that it requires leaders to both possess
attributes and deliver results.
Branded leadership is more complex when each individual
leader makes a commitment to both attributes and results.
must be clear about the results required for a specific work unit.
They must understand the strategy for the unit:
Where will this unit focus attention and allocate resources
to win in the market? Will
the unit pursue a customer, product, or cost strategy?
With the strategy in mind, branded leaders may then clarify
results in four areas. 
Employee results deal with competencies and commitment expected
from employees (what employee skills will be required; what levels
of productivity and commitment from talented employees will we
Organization results deal with certain capabilities (cycle time
for new product innovation, ability to learn and share ideas, or
ability to hold people accountable).
 Customer results focus on identifying the most critical
customers, meeting their needs, and finding ways to build intimacy
with those customers to result in a higher share of customer
value.  Financial
results imply that leaders must meet revenue growth and
cost-reduction goals, while ultimately delivering shareholder
One way to derive
the essence of leadership brand is to compare the desired results
of two successful companies in the same industry and then compare
their leadership brands. One
would hypothesize that the brands could be very different while
both driving successful business results.
We’ll compare Microsoft and Novell.
Bill Gates symbolizes Microsoft leadership brand and acts
as the brand manager. Microsoft
has clear desired results -- world domination with no competitors.
Microsoft has also received a considerable amount of press
about the attributes they more covet -- ambitious, hard driving,
and especially intelligent leaders.
The integration of results and attributes provides a
relatively clear picture of what Microsoft leadership brand is
probably like: competitive,
challenging, cutting edge, and showing no mercy to competitors.
brand seems completely different.
Novell's desired business results revolve around the
supremacy of their network architecture.
To succeed, they must collaborate with, not beat, their
the desired results at Novell, the kind of attributes they might
foster would be around industry knowledge, interpersonal skills,
ability to integrate product concepts, trustworthiness, and so on.
The integration of these desired results with these
attributes provides a picture of leadership brand at Novell:
collaborative, knowledge-seeking, integrative, and looking
for new opportunities. Without a clear understanding of desired results, it's
virtually impossible to describe whether or not a leadership brand
is useful or successful.
This method for
identifying leadership brand also works for companies that have
little or no leadership brand.
We have worked with a capital-intensive company for many
years in the forest products industry.
They are constantly shuffling their desired results.
Sometimes they want the lowest costs in the industry, other
times they want to differentiate through quality of service
initiatives. Overall, they obtain mediocre results with little
competitive advantage and less organization capability.
They build leadership attributes by generally investing in
across-the-board leadership development programs.
Integrating muddled, but desired, results with generic
leadership training drives negative leadership brand.
Analysts reward this business with a low price/earnings
multiple and continually worry about the ability of this company
to sustain results in the future.
To be a branded
leader, one must turn a business strategy into specific employee,
organization, customer, and investor results.
By defining, measuring, and tracking these results, a
dashboard for successful leadership may be created.
This dashboard enables each leader to know the results he
must deliver and to monitor progress against those results.
Next, the leader must identify the attributes required to
consistently deliver these results.
For example, for Harley leaders to gain a high share of
entertainment dollars from their target customers, these leaders
must understand customer expectations of quality and service.
For Disney leaders to attract and motivate the best
employees, these leaders implement hiring standards that ensure
that only the right employees come into the Disney work force.
A leader who
knows both the results expected, and the attributes required, to
achieve those results will develop a unique brand for his firm.
This leader will distinguish herself both to employees,
supervisors, and ultimately customers.
These leaders make a difference not just because of what
they say or who they are, but what they deliver.
organization defines and invests in its leadership brand, leaders
at all levels of the firm reflect not only the values of the firm,
but the results that customers value.
So, the local McDonald's manager in Traverse City Michigan
embodies the McDonald's leadership brand that sends a clarion
signal about what is important to all employees in that store.
His employees know what is expected of them both in terms
of results they must deliver to customers (product consistency
through following standards and quick, courteous service) but in
how they must act in doing so (cleanliness of restaurant and
friendliness of employees). Ultimately,
this leadership brand induces 10 bike riders to choose McDonalds
over the no-name, unbranded restaurant.
When this linkage of leadership brand goes from the top of
the organization to the first line supervisor and ultimately to
the customer, leadership is more than rhetoric or behaviors; it is
a durable and sustainable competitive advantage.