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Bland Ambition - are you a memorable leader?

Bland Ambition - are you a memorable leader?

Nicola Hopes

10 September 2020

What makes a memorable leader? For one of my most memorable bosses it was his consistency and his style. He was open about who he was, what was important to him and why. Every time we had an event, he’d use the same slides to introduce himself – humorous, self-deprecating, straight talking.

His persona on stage matched his words perfectly.

I could probably recite those slides to you now. Verbatim. Years later.

These types of leaders shape our working lives. So, what would be on your slides and would your persona mirror them?

Bland ambition

Thanks to some dreadful advice from a ‘mentor’ early in my career who reminded me I was younger than most of my peers, I decided to be ‘Pro Nic’. I spent most of the late 90s and early 2000s in a trouser suit and formal shirt in a range of drab colours – with a bottle green suit thrown in for good measure (ooh racy!). I worked in banking at the time and it felt like a corporate uniform. A requirement to be taken seriously. Out of work I’m a Vivienne Westwood fan and I’m partial to some fairly substantial jewellery. Not a very compatible mix.

It sounds like a superficial point, but it was symptomatic of a bigger problem. I gave in to unwritten expectations. I didn’t show much personality. Frankly, I was a bit serious.

When a trusted colleague got close to me on a project and commented that she hadn’t really known me at all before. That there was so much more to me than she thought there was… I realised it was time to make a change.

Style with substance

Cut to a few years later. I’m more relaxed, more expressive. I’m more me. I canvas trusted stakeholders on my personal brand, and they say:

“If you just did the work, my team wouldn’t like you half as much as they do.

We like your sass. And cheek”.

Life changing feedback.

I am a more memorable, more authentic leader.

Developing a memorable leadership style

As part of leadership development work, I often help to establish a distinct leadership style. This isn’t about what your boss / clients / team want you to be. It’s about what you want to stand for. What you want people to say about you. How you want to feel.

A way to be consistent and authentic in all you do, and finding a way to link that with the values of your organisation.

So, what could you try?

  1. Ask yourself whose leadership inspires you? – it could be someone you worked for or with. A friend. A public figure. What is it that you admire? How do they do it? What can you replicate authentically?
    • These are the things you can aspire to develop. Your to-do list.

= This is how you want to be seen.

  1. What are your strengths as a leader? – what consistent feedback have you had over your career about what you do well? Are there common words or phrases people use?
    • These are the things you already do consistently and do well. These are the basis on which you can build a consistent style.

= This is how you are seen.

  1. What do you enjoy about leadership? – what do you find fun? What seems to come easy? What do you look forward to?
    • These are the elements that will bring you joy. Things you will look forward to. Things that will make it worth getting up in the morning.

= This is how you inspire and energise.

Try and distil those lists down to a few key words – say 2 or 3 for each category. Voila. The makings of a distinct leadership style that’s yours, and yours only.

If you’re curious about what I stand for then take a look at my newly branded website and read about my approach here. If you’re curious about what I stand in, then it’s a pair of Westwood platforms, obviously.

So, grab a coffee, have a think and tell me the key words that make you a distinct and memorable leader. I’ll be fascinated to see what you come up with.  

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