One of my senior clients is in the luxury car business. Once, during a visit to her office, I observed the way she handled herself among her team, her staff and visitors. I noted that she took the time to shake every single employee’s hand as she crossed his or her path. Every employee at every level—including the car mechanics—jumped at the chance to greet her. For those who were knee deep in grease, they devised an elbow pump.
She was perfectly poised, dressed in a manner that was executive-like but not corporate or staid. As I watched her in action, she received both warmth and approachability. At the same time, it was obvious that she was their leader.
As a representative of the company brand and, a brand in her own right, she sets a great example for all leaders to follow.
How do you achieve it?
If you want to make a difference, you must capture your audience. They should want to hear what you have to say or be excited by your vision. Your entire look must convey a message that you are credible, successful and trustworthy.
“Staying ahead of the curve requires CEOs to embody and promote a game-changing leadership brand.”
When I was a child, my mom was very attentive to dress and overall packaging. I accompanied her often as we frequented many Montreal neighborhoods.
On these jaunts, I saw a great cross-section of both commercial and residential pockets of business leaders. At times, my mom would exclaim that familiar euphemism we all heard growing up: “Didn’t they look in the mirror before they left the house?” She was mystified by some of the things she saw.
I failed to fully appreciate what she was trying to say until much later in my career I realized she was imparting a life lesson even before the concept of leadership brand was in vogue. Basically, she was declaring that how we package ourselves conveys a certain message. In essence, we chatted about whether people would garner respect and be viewed as knowledgeable. In today’s world, we mean having ‘gravitas’ or being ‘thought disruptors’.
It’s not about wearing a power suit. It’s more about culture. There is some degree of fitting in, which depends upon the industry and level of seniority. But it is primarily about finding a balance between being part of the culture and at the same time having a unique or signature look that separates you from the pack.
Packaging seriously matters to us as consumers. We seek out products we interpret as attractive, powerful, compelling or unique. Companies spend millions of dollars conducting focus groups on the look and feel of their products.
Consumers vigorously use social media platforms to declare their divine love or supreme dislike for products. Their voice matters. After just a few days on the market, a new product is already subject to data analytics. This wealth of new information dictates additional modifications to sustain purchasing power and stay competitive.
You are like that product because you are a product. This may sound cold or cerebral. One of my mentors explained to me that every one of us is selling something, regardless of whether you are in artificial intelligence, the arts, robotics or any other field.
Leaders with gravitas can articulate a vision that is both forward thinking and at the same time conveys how each and every employee plays a significant role in shaping the future of the organization.
CEOs who have a compelling leadership brand have many key attributes. Two of the more salient ones include:
1. Leading With Heart. One successful CEO who has led three different industry sectors to achieve significant growth and market share is truly a leader of people. She displays the keen interest in getting to know many of her employees, understanding what motivates them. In doing so, they genuinely pay her back in spades. They work hard and share in the collective vision to foster and develop a great company.
2. Empowering Leaders. Great CEOs embody the essence of creating an innovative environment. They allow their employees to take risks, make mistakes and try new and better ways of doings things. They recognize if they do not foster empowerment, their competitors will out pace them. Staying ahead of the curve requires CEOs to embody and promote a game-changing leadership brand.
As I watch those who invest in their leadership brand and make a difference, I know my mom was right on the money.