Malcolm Ferguson: If your personal leadership style was a commercial brand, which one would it be?
Perhaps this question has you thinking about your favourite brand, or wondering about the most valuable brands in the world which, according to Forbes last year are shown in the graphic above.
As you think about your favourite brand and even as you read each of the 10 brand names shown, inevitably two things happen: you experience an emotional response and you see a picture (or a number of pictures, or even a short movie clip).
Whatever the emotion - positive or negative - take a moment to reflect on why you’re responding the way you are, how your perception has changed over time and what it would take to change how you feel.
This little exercise reminds us that brands exist only in our minds and the considerable numbers in the table above are the result of purchase decisions driven by those pictures in the mind’s eye.
The role of your brand is to ensure that your offering is the preferred choice for your target market. The role of your personal leadership brand, then, is to ensure that your leadership is sought-after and valued by your team. What if your leadership was truly sought after and valued by your direct reports - what if they loved being on your team? If that sounds appealing, perhaps it’s time to start thinking like a brand.
Every successful brand starts with a specific promise that its target market relates to and values, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
Brand architects understand this and work to clearly define their target market so that they can appreciate what these consumers care about most.
If that sounds relatively simple, the next step is a lot tougher. Successful organisations focus their resources on what they can do better than anyone else in the world (what Jim Collins calls the hedgehog principle) and only make promises that speak to this core ability.
This speaks to the discipline required for consistent fulfilment of the promise over time, because every interaction with consumers has the potential to influence their allegiance. Keeping a promise consistently, more than anything else, determines the value of a brand, because we are simple beings - we trust integrity and consistency and very little else.
Now, if you start thinking like a brand about your leadership, the first lesson is that if your team doesn’t personally experience it, it simply doesn’t exist for them.
Your next thought should be about your specific target market - when recruiting team members, identify the qualities you’re looking for and ensure you’re appealing to those who match the profile.
Third, figure out what you’ve got to contribute as a leader and check that you’re not promising to be anyone else. Lastly, recognise that your brand is only as strong as your leadership is consistent, so focus on being disciplined.
While that is what it means to think like a brand, also remember that your leadership mistakes represent the greatest opportunities to build your personal leadership brand. Why? Because we all know that our leaders are imperfect and we’re a lot more likely to trust those who acknowledge this, than those who try to disguise their mistakes, deflect criticism and project their weaknesses on to their teams.
So, while you’re thinking like a brand, be sure to lead like a human, because, despite the fourth industrial revolution (blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological), humans still follow humans.
Malcolm Ferguson is Academy Head at TowerStone Leadership Centre.