How To Prevent Poor Leadership From Undermining Your Brand
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When you think about the characteristics of a successful company, it always points back to leadership. The company business model, operational channels and staff expertise are all important, but none of it matters if the organization has poor leadership.
Leadership isn’t just about steering the direction of the company or barking orders. It’s also about tapping into your employees’ needs and desires, helping them overcome challenges that may be impeding their work output and motivating them to embrace the tasks set before them. It is this ability to motivate and inspire that can impact whether or not the company has a strong employer brand (its reputation as a great or awful place to work) that aligns with its external company brand.
Consider the leadership culture in your organization and the correlation to its brand positioning within the marketplace. If your employer or external brands are suffering, it’s likely your company leaders have allowed brand equity to erode by failing to deliver on the brand promise, neglecting to respond quickly enough to customer demands or not prioritizing relationships with key constituents including vendors, supply channels and, most importantly, employees. Principals who carefully nurture their brands, both as a company and as an employer, recognize its importance as one of their greatest corporate assets.
On the other hand, poor leadership can result in a weak employer brand, driving talent away and risking the success of the organization. According to a study conducted in 2014 by Barna Research Group, “workers most often identified three complaints when it comes to poor leadership — at least three in 10 Americans say their supervisor lacks clear vision and direction (32%), that the poor leadership at work is the most stressful part of the job (33%) and that their boss makes them feel controlled, manipulative or defensive (31%).”
To be clear, strong leadership isn’t about being perfect. It’s about not being afraid to fail, a willingness to admit to mistakes, as well as clarity and determination to stay the course. The following are examples of great leaders of today who understand the connection between their leadership and their company brand.
Mark Zuckerberg: Everyone knows Zuckerberg as the creator and CEO of Facebook, a brand that has been called into question over the past couple of years for data privacy and fake political campaign ads. As a result, the Facebook brand and stock value have suffered. However, in my opinion, the company has taken the right steps in managing its response to these crises. More importantly, Zuckerberg’s behavior throughout these disasters reveals solid leadership. He has accepted responsibility for the company’s negligence and is putting stronger measures in place to ensure the social media platform is not being used for activities outside of networking and connecting with friends.
Oprah Winfrey: Despite her success as a talk show host, philanthropist and actress, Oprah has tackled some calamities throughout her career that have demonstrated her strong leadership. In 2007, the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls was hit with a child sex abuse scandal involving at least six young girls, less than one year after its opening in South Africa. The situation put the highly respected Oprah Winfrey brand in jeopardy, but Winfrey rose to the occasion, ensuring that the school conducted a full investigation and implemented safer measures to ensure the safety of the students.
With all of this said, how can companies bring in management that will cultivate both the employer and external brands?
Look beyond the credentials.
Every company wants to attract smart talent, but the emphasis shouldn’t just be on impressive credentials. Emotional intelligence and the ability to energize teams are equally important. Top performers with these skills will not only drive growth and important business relationships, but they will also be able to represent the external brand through marketing and public relations efforts.
To measure emotional intelligence, consider evaluating things like a candidate’s openness to constructive criticism, awareness of their emotions, ability to pick up on others’ emotions, ability to allow others to shine and how physically and emotionally availability they would be for direct reports. Whether it is through interview questions or applicant references, these are key areas to focus on to determine how potential leadership hires will set the tone for the organization and within their own teams.
Seek out leaders who own their failures.
Most leadership candidates focus on their accomplishments, but getting them to talk about their failures is key. Applicants who own their mistakes are often more relatable and trustworthy to team members and external stakeholders.
To get a sense of how willing they are to admit to failure, ask job seekers about lessons learned or how they would approach projects differently. Also, determine if they are a leader who can admit mistakes in the moment. Are they comfortable explaining to colleagues, associates and, potentially, shareholders when they’ve made a poor decision or when an error has occurred? How concerned are they about being transparent and trustworthy?
Pursue directors who will empower their teams.
Anyone can come up with a strategy and demand that people follow it. Strong leaders avoid micromanaging and lean on the expertise of their team members. When employees feel they are empowered to drive business operations, it can create an enjoyable company culture and breeds innovation that reflects on the brand.
To find out if a candidate knows how to empower his or her team, ask specific questions about how they might lead an initiative. Would they include all team members in important decision making discussions? Do they prioritize positive feedback? How comfortable are they assigning tasks and delegating authority? How interested are they in mentoring and coaching workers to act independently as opposed to just giving orders?
Ultimately, successful leaders are able to motivate staff and create loyalty that accelerates the business strategies of the organization. The result is an employer brand that attracts top talent to serve as the backbone of a strong corporate brand.