Be an Authority, Don’t Just Have Authority

Leadership now is not just about the organisational structure. It’s not even about the organisational structure turned upside down. Modern leadership is much more about facilitation and collaboration, and everyone can be a leader. This is not just some glib motivational statement (“You too can be a leader!”). There really is an opportunity for everybody to demonstrate their leadership skills.

In the past, your authority came from your title, your seniority, your age, or the connections in your network. That’s what it meant to “have authority”. Of course, that still applies now, but it’s less important. It’s no longer enough to just have authority; people expect you to be an authority as well. This is your personal brand, and it’s the crucial element that sets the best leaders apart.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to stand for something that matters to them, even if it means being unpopular. They have a strong personal brand based on what they stand for, and built on two things: their expertise (what they know) and their network (who they know). That personal brand drives their decision-making, attracts the best followers, and makes a mark in their world.

You have always been expected to keep current and build your expertise. But that’s not enough to create a personal brand. To do that – and to become an authority, not just an expert – you must also share that expertise:

These are five key differences between the old (“bland”) kind of leadership and the new (“brand”) style:

  • Build On vs Unlearn: It used to be possible to succeed simply by building on your existing knowledge; now, you need to “unlearn” and “re-learn” as well.
  • Switch Off vs Lean In: Instead of asking more junior people to switch off their distracting technology so they can focus, lean in and learn from them.
  • Split Up vs Reach Out: Instead of splitting up your network into small pieces, reach out and build a wider network.
  • Lock Down vs Share Wide: Instead of jealously guarding everything you learn, share it widely to add value and build your credibility.
  • Blend In vs Stand Out: Instead of just falling in line with the organisation’s brand, create a personal brand that defines you.

Building a personal brand gives you many benefits: You become known as the “go to guy/gal”, you build an identity separate from your current job, you guide your own career path, decision-making becomes easier, and you attract (and keep) the best people.

That last reason – attracting and keeping the best people – is one of the most important. When it comes to talent, it all starts with you.

Like it or not, you already have a personal brand (It’s the way other people perceive you). But if you haven’t invested time in actively building it, it will be shallow and bland.

Some people think this idea of a personal brand is overrated, because they already have decades of experience, a tight-knit network, and a well-established place in their organisation. All those things might work in the short term, but they aren’t enough for long-term success.

This is an ongoing process, not a one-off project. Build your brand one step at a time. Look for small things you can do regularly, frequently, and consistently.


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