In the “surplus society” that existed just a few years ago, corporations depended on celebrity leaders who acted as brand ambassadors. These corporations leveraged the dynamic persona of one or a few individuals who provided the “face” of the company. Their presence, strengths, whims, fancies and peculiarities shaped and symbolized these organizations.
Today, our complicated, globalized knowledge economy is not able to sustain celebrity-leader models. Organizations must make the shift to having the strength of their leadership as their strategic differentiator. Learning leaders can contribute directly to this by helping their organizations create a leadership learning strategy that positions the leadership brand for absolute success.
There are several examples of leadership brands that exist: Audi, Cisco and Google are known for building outstanding technology leaders. American Express, McKinsey and Satyam are known for building globally savvy business leaders. Apple, 3M and Lego are known for developing leaders who are high on innovation. Regardless of their leadership brand strategy, each of these organizations relies on learning to execute that strategy.
Once you have consensus that the organization wants to have a leadership brand, deciding on the right brand is the critical first step. Learning leaders should bring together leaders from across the organization to answer the question, “What do we want to be known for?” Start by seeing what, if anything, the leadership already is known for — it is easier to enhance a brand than to build from scratch. Unless your organization is reinventing itself, building on something that exists rather than establishing a fresh leadership brand always is preferred.
Armed with this powerful knowledge, the right learning strategy should:
• Strategically align the leadership brand plan with desired, not current, organizational positioning.
• Assess the gap between current and desired perception of leaders.
• Achieve a common leadership mindset that strives to balance the needs of all stakeholders including associates, investors, customers and society.
• Create a predisposition to leadership that is business-neutral by developing leadership skills and behaviors that are transportable and transferable.
• Establish a learning framework mapped to the desired leadership theme(s).
• Have a thought model through which the organization can find its unique slant, thus encouraging leaders to have diverse opinions and viewpoints.
At Satyam, we have spent the past two years implementing our leadership brand strategy. Through many lessons learned, we have discovered a winning approach to implement a leadership brand learning strategy:
• Utilize “leaders as teachers” and “customers as teachers.”
• Build solid competencies across three key dimensions: business, technical and people.
• Focus on ideation, creativity and innovative thinking skills.
• Cultivate solid executive presence, excellent speaking skills and media savvy among all leaders. Create an organization of brand ambassadors.
• Apply the 30-70 rule. Thought leadership comes 30 percent from organizational content and 70 percent from individual professional expertise.
• Extensively collaborate with your organization’s marketing, human resources and knowledge management functions.
• More than starting at the top, start with the top.
There are obvious benefits to having hundreds if not thousands of brand ambassadors rather than one or two. A specific leadership brand results in increased attraction and retention of strong leaders and sustainability amid change.
However, building a leadership brand is easier said than done. If there is too much of a gap between perception of leadership and the reality, the brand will cave in. Learning significantly enhances the potential for success of the leadership brand when they consciously and continuously collaborate with enablers including top leadership, human resources, knowledge management and marketing to measure and reduce dissonance, thus ensuring a match between leadership brand and reality of leadership.