Editorial: 5 Steps to Building a Personal Leadership Brand at your Co-op

Karla Wallace ’85 is the Senior Director of Engineering at UTC Aerospace Systems in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Everyone’s path to career success and their leadership style are unique. There are no published roadmaps or predetermined recipes. What works for one person may result in significantly different outcomes for another. What’s important is to be yourself, but with situational awareness and flexibility that will help make the most of opportunities as they present themselves. 

Throughout my career I have made many mistakes, so you might say that my successes have come from the school of hard knocks. What I didn’t realize then is that your leadership brand is always being formed whether you are actively managing it or not, and its development is more complicated than just hard work and being in the right place at the right time. 

Fortunately, I have learned some very valuable lessons and course corrected along the way, so what could have been devastating career blockers turned out to be a few minor speed bumps. 

Here are some things to think about as you start actively managing your leadership brand. 

  1. Study leaders both inside and outside your organization. Analyze their competencies, strengths and blind spots. Incorporate the traits you find valuable into your own style. Some important ones are being approachable, dealing with ambiguity, developing others, driving towards results and communicating a vision.
  2. Practice effective communications by understanding the needs of your audience, whether in front of a large group or in one-on-one conversation. Your personality type (Myers-Briggs personality types) will give you a lot of insight into your personal communications style – but just as important is having an understanding of the readiness of your audience. For example, ESTJs need to be particularly cautious when speaking to ISTJs, as I have come to learn. No matter what the situation, you will get the best results by being as concise as possible and sticking to the message.
  3. Listen and ask questions. Active listeners show that they care about the topic at hand and respect the people they interact with. You don’t have to win, be the smartest in the room or provide feedback on every topic. Your colleagues will respect you more when an inclusive and collaborative environment is fostered.
  4. Find the good in everything, including people. This can be achieved by adopting a good, better, best mentality. By being overly critical, you risk setting a negative tone and could create an impenetrable wall around the idea or project you are trying to advance; however, if you recognize the good that already exists and utilize benchmarking you acknowledge the ideas of others and encourage continuous improvement.
  5. Be a steward of the organization’s resources. Focus on the company’s needs before your own as a matter of practice. 

Finally, leaders do not develop on their own. Seek a trusted mentor, and if offered coaching, take it. Think about every position as an opportunity to evolve your skills and identity as a leader. You don’t have to reach the C-Suite to be wildly successful in your career, but you just might someday.