It is no doubt that a good leader, who is at the same time a skilled and experienced communicator, is an asset for the organization. But what happens when the skilled communicator, consciously or otherwise, becomes a brand along with that of the organisation?In the ever-increasing list of things “brandable”, one of the most talked about is personal branding – or the leader as a brand. Does it mean that leaders have now seriously worked up the courage to really assert themselves – or is it just another hyped expression of the Big Brother economy where it is only a question of being in the limelight? One thing is certain, that personal branding, like so many other new angles on management, opens up for both opportunities and pitfalls, and at the same time leads to some special challenges in the many situations where individual brand becomes linked with the company brand itself.
What is a brand?
Whether we talk about leaders, soft drinks or airline companies, there are some fundamental premises for the establishment of a brand. As a starting point, brands are a coherent set of symbols and attitudes that signal a particular identity and differ from others. Branding is based on:
-The creation of visual symbols that invite recognition and repetition
-Expressions of a promise of special content, quality & consistency
-Indication of affiliation to some of the stakeholders
-Indication of dissimilarity to other brands
In spite of many shades in debate, branding involves the expectation of a uniform, coherent and distinct experience. But when leaders become brands, they stand for something special, which is often symbolised in specific qualities, talents or approaches. Some people argue that artists, intellectuals and gurus have always been brands in themselves, as their success depended on their ability to stage and deliver a distinctiveness, experienced by others as relevant and emotionally attractive. But now executives are hopping on that “brandwagon”.
When Jack Welch of GE became the ultimate, powerful management brand of the nineties, it was because he created an entire mythology on his special style of management driven by hard hitting facts such as “changing the game”, “face reality and adapt ” and “control your own destiny”. There are many ways to create an executive brand, but common to them all is that they appeal to our feelings and create strong preferences – contrary to leaders who merge with the wallpaper and are recognisable only by the generic qualities inherent in leadership.
Unlike other types of personal brand, leaders possess a particular duality, that is, they represent not only themselves but also others- the company and the employees they lead. To a leader, personal branding is a question of creating meaningful interaction with the corporate brand. In many cases, it can also be argued that the leader as brand is rarely created on the merit of his personal qualities and talent, but rather grows out of the status, prestige and attention bestowed on the leader. Although the leader’s role has been discussed for decades, branding adds a new dimension which enters actively into the leader’s identity and ability to express it.