When I start working with a c-Suite level client, I’ll often be working with a team of leaders who are at different points of developing their professional reputation. One leader may have had it on their to-do list for years but never got to it. Another leader may be good at supporting the business’s visibility and are known within their industry, but they don’t know how to take the next step to make their reputation something they can own and be known for beyond their employer. Another leader may have been doing this work for years and be comfortable with their industry profile, making it hard for the other leaders who are starting out to figure out how to carve out a space of their own without looking like they’re simply following the other leaders’ example.
This scenario can also play out when the most senior people in the business are older than their peers or other people on the SLT. Often younger leaders find it much more natural to build their profile and work it into their priorities as a leader. They’re comfortable on social media. They appreciate the relevancy of sharing their knowledge and insights with the industry and people who may learn from it. It’s not grandstanding, it’s telling a story, contributing to the conversation, supporting the reputation of the business, and adding value.
So, what do you do if you’re the leader who wants to start but feels behind your peers? You need to build your reputation in a way that supports your position as the (or one of the) business’s most senior leaders. Looking like a follower will be detrimental to the leadership reputation you already have, so it’s essential you get it right from the start. How do you start telling your business’s story but set yourself apart from your colleagues who are already doing that? How do you complement each other’s reputation work, rather than looking like competitors?
It’s easier than you think, so here are some tips on how you can do that:
Analyse what your peers or colleagues are doing and go the other way
If you have the time (or someone can do this for you), you can look at the reputation work your colleagues do and consider the topics and content styles they favour. While they are being visible, they won’t be sharing every company update. Leave the topics they rely on and share the updates on other topics that suit your leadership positioning and expertise. There will be some overlap and that’s good – you’re both leaders within the same organisation supporting the reputation and awareness of the business. To overcome this barrier, focus on your own expertise and you’ll see that mostly what you have in common is two leaders being proactive with their reputation, but sharing different expertise and points of view.
Your expertise is unique to you
You’ll be building your reputation on expertise and knowledge that’s unique to you. Stay in your lane and remain focussed on why you’re starting to build your profile and the results you want to achieve with it. Focussing on your strengths and building your reputation in your own way will ensure the leadership reputation you create will be unique to you. Don’t be visible on a platform just because your peers are on it. Share the knowledge that is unique to you on the platforms that align who you are and where your audience is.
You will become known for the topics you want to build your reputation on sooner if you incorporate your own thought leadership from the beginning. Initially, writing articles can be a good way to start and pulling back the curtain on the business is a great way to introduce yourself, the issues and opportunities the business is working on, as well as your leadership style and plans for the business. As you progress you’ll hone the topics you want to focus on and carve out a profile for yourself in this arena.
Supporting their efforts
Ignoring your colleagues’ reputation work, and them ignoring you if they feel like it’s impinging on their space, won’t get either of you anywhere. Engage with their content, share their posts and wins when it’s relevant. Add insights to their articles or interviews. Celebrate their profile building and they most likely will do the same for you. I wrote more about that aspect of team work in team reputation last month. You’ll both look like two leaders who are experts in their fields, successful leaders in their own right, and committed to your own reputations as well as the reputation of the business, so you’re making an effort to make sure each of your stakeholders know it.
Every leader can own a space and build their reputation as part of a team that prioritises being visible. Whether you’re the first leader in the business to start being proactive with your profile, or you have colleagues who are more progressed than you, if you align your work to your expertise and the results you want to see from your efforts, you’ll do it with grace and get it right from the start.