What is your leadership brand? What leadership brand does your organisation need from its leaders to add value to the company brand?
What does a ‘brand' mean? In simple and historic terms it is asserting one's right to ownership. Think about cattle being branded on the plains of the ‘Old West'. What the owner is saying is, "this mark is my mark and anything or any animal that wears it is owned by me or originated from my ranch".
Of course, in modern times the ‘brand' is a sign that it originated from someone. For example, Levi has their brand on their jeans and although we buy the jeans, Levi owns the brand name on them. That brand name is a signal to us that the jeans are of a certain quality or standard and so we are drawn to the brand. Levi is asking us to choose their product over anyone else's. So the ownership for that brand is at the heart of Levi's business.
As other organisations start to copy the Levi product, so it becomes even more important that the Levi brand is protected so that the public can recognise the brand name and find it from the mass of jeans for sale.
Protecting the brand is an important part of doing business in this day and age. It takes years to build a brand but it is very easy to lose the credibility of that brand and undo years of hard work. The key is being able to convey the message to the consumer that this brand stands for something and that the brand is consistent.
There are three levels of perceived value to a brand:
Level one is the external perceived value by the consumer.
Level two is the way the organisation backs up that value by what it delivers.
Level three is the way the business operates within itself towards that value.
We perceive that McDonald's is a place to have quick food that is tasty. That is our perception of the brand. Level two is our experience when we buy the food. Does it live up to our expectation? Level three is what the organisation is doing to ensure that our experience is sustained at all times. What do we hear about the brand from other places? For example, if we hear that the company treats its people poorly, then that perception can affect our experience with the brand.
The company's values underpin the brand. In other words they are the values that ensure we behave in accordance with the brand.
Is leadership any different?
People have a perception of the leadership. That perception is supported by the interaction they have with the leadership. They also have a further perception based on how they see and hear others being affected by the leadership.
As a leader we are ‘a brand' because the way we deal with our people says something about our leadership style. Our style is bureaucratic, arrogant or supportive, approachable or any other brand label we give it by our actions. People perceive that brand and then start to confirm it through their experiences. They also look for the evidence that supports their perception by listening and watching other people and their experiences.
As leaders we have a big responsibility to ensure that our brand is clearly understood and that we align our values with the company values. A mismatch of those values can ultimately undermine the brand of the business.
For example, we expect the Police to be honest and reliable. What if one of the Sergeants is not honest and reliable? Can this undermine the perception of the Police as a brand of honesty and reliability? Of course it will.
What if you worked for Virgin and discovered that the managers didn't really care about what the customer thought? Would that impact our perception of the brand? Of course it would.
Anyone in a leadership role has a responsibility to ensure that they uphold the brand and live within the values of the organisation. The expression commonly used is "walk-the-talk". I think it is beyond walking the talk and it requires "living the talk". If anyone in an organisation wants to see what the values of the organisation look like, then they should be able to look at people in leadership positions and see those values in action. They should see a living, breathing, walking, talking personification of those values.
More and more we are seeing the brand being people. We only need to look at Richard Branson to see how a person can become a brand. The Virgin brand has been built on the Branson brand. It is only in recent years that Virgin has started to be a brand in its own right.
The truth is, people prefer to buy people, long before they buy the product or service. So it is with leadership. People buy the person before they buy the brand. Maybe it is their knowledge, their charisma, their personality that people warm to that provides the basis for the leadership style or brand to be developed.
To develop your leadership brand requires you to know what you stand for. What are your strengths? What do you do best and how do you compliment others? When you have defined this, you can start to develop a leadership brand that people are prepared to follow.