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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

Every leader is tagged with a label; you always get known for something whether you intend to or not.

Establishing your brand doesn't happen overnight. It is created over time and is formed by others who see what you do and how you do it.

You don't get to ultimately decide what your brand finally becomes – the people around you do. But you can at least influence the outcome if you have a deliberate strategy.

Early in my career, I played a leadership role in helping a large telecom organization shed its monopoly skin and enter a new world of deregulation where aggressive competitors and customers with choice replaced the comforts of being the only game in town.

The process I used to build my personal brand looked like this:

First, my brand needed context. What were the critical challenges the company was facing? It was obvious: the telecom world was now competitive, requiring an intense focus on the customer to prevent them moving to competitors for lower prices.

Second, my brand needed granularity. What specific and observable actions could I take to support this customer focus? Aspirations alone contribute little to brand building. It's all about the music.

Here are the four personal tags I earned and the actions I took to achieve them:

Customer service guy: I constantly engaged with customers; my weekly calendar proved it. I personally handled customer complaints and was called upon to recover from service blunders with major business clients.

I established customer panels that provided guidance on a variety of strategic issues and invited customers to our leadership team meetings to provide us with "good, bad and ugly" input. And I participated in recruiting new customer service talent and was a member of every team interviewing potential candidates.

Frontline champion: Every week I spent time with the people who controlled the customer experience. I sat with operators and customer service reps, went on sales calls, rode with installers, dropped into switching centres unannounced and attended marketing and sales meetings. My entourage was left at home; no groupies attended. This was my way to learn, show support and earn recognition as the executive who cared about the folks who took care of customers.

"Dumb Rules" exterminator: I initiated the process to identify, eliminate or change company rules, policies and procedures that customers hated – and coming from a monopoly heritage we had plenty of them. I established frontline "Dumb Rules Teams" to get suggestions on what needed to change. We had fun with the idea by holding contests to find the dumbest rule. Winning teams were recognized; managers were held accountable to implement the recommendations.

Passionate voice of strategy: I was a fanatic about holding regular informal face-to-face "bear pit" sessions with employees. My agenda was to provide updates on the execution of our customer retention strategy; to keep it alive for people. The meetings often turned into problem-solving workshops and served as forums to recognize service heroes who demonstrated exemplary ability in serving customers.

Leader brands are build by observers.

Create a strategic context for your brand and consistently demonstrate "the little things" to express it.

Roy Osing (@RoyOsing) is a former executive vice-president of Telus with over 33 years of leadership experience. He is a blogger, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead, dedicated to helping organizations and individuals stand out from the competitive herd.