How Top Female Global Leaders Brand Themselves For Success


Why are there more highly successful men than women?  A key reason, I believe, is that women are not as aware as men are of the power of personal branding, whether it’s self promotion, projecting confidence or strategic networking.  After all, success is not just determined by how smart and talented you are, but by how smart and talented you feel in comparison with others and your ability to act on your goals.

In doing research on top female global leaders and talking to dozens of highly successful women for my new book, I was struck by five personal branding habits that separate women who achieve great things, that all women should adopt:

1.  Don’t Hesitate To Network And Market Yourself

Highly successful women don’t leave things to chance.  They build networks and go after what they want.  Case in point, Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head up the International Monetary Fund and the first women Finance Minister in France.  What is interesting is that she became the first women to head up a G8 economy and lead the IMF yet she didn’t have a degree in finance or economics, but in law.

Lagarde is no doubt a master networker.  Being appointed the French finance minister gave her finance bona fides that she leveraged to be considered to be head of the IMF.  But Lagarde didn’t leave things to chance.  She led a proactive marketing and networking campaign for her IMF candidacy, crisscrossing the globe to drum up support with leaders in developing economies like India, China and Brazil as well as with Western leaders to make her case.  (Viva la France.)

2.  Stand For Something Different

The cardinal rule of branding is “Be different.”

Marketers put together a unique selling proposition (USP) for each brand, and successful people do too whether they do it consciously or instinctively.  Having a different idea for your brand is powerful.

No woman has done more in recent years to put women’s leadership front and foremost in the world’s consciousness than Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg and her book, Lean In.  Sandberg’s book and her TED talk was good personal branding for her too, since it gave her an important platform – promoting women’s leadership – that no other high level business women was addressing as boldly as she did.  Now Sandburg is a global business icon who is inspiring women and girls around the world.

3.  Be Visibility Minded

Despite things we’ve been told like “talent wins out,” the reality is more like, “visibility wins out.” Talent is important, but visibility separates those who are wildly successful from those who are just doing okay.   Marissa Mayer was employee number 20 at Google and its first female engineer, a distinction that Mayer made the most of in her self-branding.  Besides her gender, Mayer stood out in one other very important way at Google, she was an “articulate geek,” two words that rarely go together.  So Mayer was tapped as the spokesperson and public face of the company.

This made Mayer not just the highest-ranking woman, she was the most visible person at Google.  She was soon perceived as a Silicon Valley superstar and the leading force behind the design of the Google home page and its search product.  Today, Mayer is the CEO of Yahoo charged with turning the company around.

4.  Pay Attention To Style

Successful women are scrutinized more, so you might as well turn it into an advantage!   Michelle Obama is too savvy a woman not to use the powers of visual identity to her advantage.  We haven’t talked about a U.S. First Lady’s clothes this much since Jackie Kennedy was in the White House.  From Obama’s arm-bearing dresses to her love of bright colors, Michelle has a distinct fashion sense and uses the power of her style to communicate confidence and personal power.  Christine Lagarde is often found on top ten lists of the most powerful women in the world and also on top ten lists of the best-dressed women in the world.  5 feet 11 inches tall and with striking silver hair, Lagarde has a visual identity that projects style, gravitas and power.

Of course, Lagarde’s brand isn’t based on looking the part (though it helps her tremendously), she has strong communication style as well.  Interviewers have gushed over her eloquent, even seductive, communication style with large intakes of breath to make important points.  Others have commented on her propensity to cite Voltaire or Rousseau to make a point.

Quoting philosophers might not be your style but always remember, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

5.  Don’t Go Off Brand

Smart women who brand, are consistent at every touch point just like the top brands in the marketplace.   Look at Angela Merkel.  Merkel’s image has a certain nurturing quality reminiscent of a practical, hardworking mother.  So it’s not surprising that early in her career her political enemies poked fun at her somewhat matronly image calling her “Mutti” (“Mummy”).  Merkel didn’t change her brand or her image.  Now Mutti is a term of affection that Germans use for Merkel though she has no children of her own.

Another popular phrase, reflecting the belief that she will make the right decisions, is “Mummy will sort it out.” Merkel’s brand emphasises her pragmatic philosophy and “step by step” approach to problem solving.  Whether her leadership can solve Europe’s problems remains to be seen, but her strong and consistent leadership brand is already proven.

All of these personal branding principles are easy to understand, but highly successful women act on them.  After all, if you don’t take charge of your brand, who will?