One important theme in the book “Brands with a conscience” and in the presentations in Amsterdam in March was the importance of personal leadership and endorsement of a brand with a conscience, whether Vivienne Westwood, Merrill J. Fernando at Dilmah Teas, Carlo Petrini at Slow Food, Anita Roddick at Body Shop, Hans Snook at Orange and many others..
A very large group of brand thinkers was divided into three teams who enthusiastically and passionately debated four key questions relating to personal leadership and embedding brand culture:
- How important is personal leadership to the brand culture of a brand with a conscience?
- How does a leader embed brand culture?
- How do you sustain a brand culture as a business grows, develops, internationalises or diversifies?
- How do you prepare for a change of leader and how do you sustain brand culture when leaders change?
Although the groups were free to consider any or several of these questions, and there were differences of opinion on personal leadership, some key themes emerged:
- There is a need for a leader, not necessarily as chief executive or chief operator, but as chief storyteller, someone who speaks from the heart, has authenticity and can transmit the DNA, history, purpose, meaning and culture of a brand; someone who has visibility, relevance and responsibility
- Seniority still counts,,,,the “elders” have the knowledge of the brand and organisation which, like the baton, is passed on to the next generation of leaders; they bring gravitas and longevity
- Brand culture is embedded not only in the traditional, rational way of objective setting, remuneration and reward for brand “behaviours” but through many brand “myths” and “rituals” which embed culture
- Leaders do change; while selecting a new leader in advance (succession planning) can be very effective, it can be just as effective, or more effective, to allow natural selection to take place so that the fittest takes on the role,,,,but there was consensus that ,if possible, this individual would come from within the organisation to better understand, and hopefully maintain, the DNA, purpose and culture of the brand; it is also possible to change corporate structure to accommodate a change of leadership
A beautiful metaphor for the complexity of personal leadership was provided by one thinker:
A leader is like an oak tree, impressive, strong, serious, admired and giving shelter to much below…but can also overshadow and stifle what is beneath.
A difficult conundrum