Fiber-coupled laser diode modules employ power scaling of single emitters for fiber laser pumping. To this end, techniques such as geometrical, spectral and polarization beam combining (PBC) are used. For PBC, linear polarization with high degree of purity is important, as any non-perfectly polarized light leads to losses and heating. Furthermore, PBC is typically performed in a collimated portion of the beams, which also cancels the angular dependence of the PBC element, e.g., beam-splitter. However, we discovered that single emitters have variable degrees of polarization, which depends both on the operating current and far-field divergence. We present data to show angle-resolved polarization measurements that correlate with the ignition of high-order modes in the slow-axis emission of the emitter. We demonstrate that the ultimate laser brightness includes not only the standard parameters such as power, emitting area and beam divergence, but also the degree of polarization (DoP), which is a strong function of the latter. Improved slow-axis divergence, therefore, contributes not only to high brightness but also high beam combining efficiency through polarization.