By Brian Eagar, CEO of TowerStone
The news that KWV CEO Boyce Lloyd has decided to step down from his position, ahead of schedule and following his wife’s controversial appearance on the kykNET reality show Die Real Housewives van die Wynlande, has sparked a debate on how leaders impact the brands they are entrusted to represent. And he is not the first: Some leaders have even destroyed entire organisations by acting in ways that undermine and taint their organisational brands. A prime example lies in the Steinhoff scandal. Disgraced Chief Executive Officer, Markus Jooste, plunged the organisation’s share prices into the ground after the revelation of ongoing accounting irregularities.
The work I do greatly emphasises the importance of upholding what your organisation’s brand stands for. I frequently interact with executive clients, emphasising their pivotal role as guardians of their organisations’ brands. I emphasise the responsibility they bear in ensuring their actions and behaviour align with the values and image associated with the organisation they represent.
It is vital to understand that your brand as a leader is linked to the brand of the organisation you serve. Building a strong, reliable and trusted organisational brand is a gradual process that takes years to establish. However, the reputation painstakingly built can be quickly dismantled by the actions of those who are entrusted with upholding the organisation’s values.
I am also reminded of the controversy around The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen hosted the show to entertain and inspire viewers. She built her show’s brand on her continuous generosity and kind treatment of others while consistently encouraging her audiences to do the same through a phrase she unfailingly uttered after each show: “Be kind.”
While Ellen did well to represent and promote her organisation’s brand on the show, she failed to champion the same values offstage. News broke of the toxic environment employees of the show experienced, including accusations of sexual misconduct by top producers of the show. One employee said, “They don’t practice what they preach with the ‘be kind’ mantra.” Despite Ellen’s public apology, the show lost over one million viewers, equalling a staggering 43% decrease in viewership. Ellen announced in 2021 that after 20 years, her show would be coming to an end. It would seem that there are no second chances.
Whether you are intentional or unintentional about how you show up, you influence how others experience your organisation’s brand. Your daily behaviour either builds or taints your organisation’s brand. Authentic behaviour that is in line with the organisation’s values and purpose is the essence of leadership and sets an example for the entire organisation to follow.
As leaders, our personal brands have a profound impact on the organisation and we are therefore beholden to our team members to be mindful of this. We cannot inspire those we lead without authenticity– this means that what we profess must be aligned with how we show up.
So, what steps should we take upon receiving this information? How can we effectively preserve the organisational brands that have been entrusted to us, all the while ensuring that our actions remain in line with the organisation’s core values? I believe that leaders must undertake three fundamental actions to effectively embody the organisational brands they are entrusted with:
Accept that the WHAT and HOW are symbiotic
To fully embody their organisational brands, leaders need to know that WHAT they do and HOW they do it are two sides of the same coin. It is not enough for leaders to solely focus on chasing after functional performance when striving to establish a strong brand presence. What is equally important, if not more so, is the way we approach and execute our work. This encompasses our behaviours, attitudes, and the overall culture we cultivate within the organisation to inspire others to be the best versions of themselves. By prioritising not just the results but also how we achieve them, leaders can create a powerful synergy that resonates with their brand identity and values. For example, a leader with ambitious goals and vision, cannot rudely give orders. He/she would need to ensure they effectively communicate how they want things done in a kind and engaging manner. Perspective on brand embodiment is crucial to develop authenticity, build trust and forge lasting connections with stakeholders.
Incorporate daily reflection to change behaviour
Leaders have a fundamental responsibility to be conscious of their actions and their impact on others. To effectively uphold the essence of their organisational brand, leaders must consistently contemplate the behaviours that embody the values entrusted to them. Mindfulness should guide their interactions, as they consider how their conduct either reflects or undermines the organisational brand. Engaging in daily reflection enables leaders to recognise undesirable and detrimental behaviours, allowing them to replace them with behaviours aligned with their brand. To follow the example above, a leader prone to delivering orders to their team rudely should take the time to reflect on how this impacts the team morale and what they can do to change. It is, however, important to focus on only changing one behaviour at a time to effect sustainable change. This approach provides leaders with a practical means to bridge the gap between their actions (HOW) and the overarching objectives (WHAT) they seek to achieve.
Employ measurement and accountability
Effective leaders understand the importance of measurement in achieving desired outcomes. By incorporating daily reflections on their behaviour, these leaders actively cultivate the desired behaviours that align with their brands. They must invest time in measuring their progress, as this enables them to identify areas in need of improvement. To ensure that the desired progress is consistently made, having an accountability partner becomes invaluable.
To conclude the example above, once the leader has reflected on the impact of their rude behaviour and established the way forward, they must permit their colleagues to call out undesired behaviour to hold them to account and request feedback regularly This plays a crucial role in keeping the leader on the right track, as the team is authorised to call out any unwanted or harmful behaviour, correcting and safeguarding the organisational brand that the leader represents.
I believe that by embracing these three points – recognising the symbiotic nature of the WHAT and the HOW, incorporating daily reflections to change behaviour, and utilising measurement and accountability – leaders can effectively embody their organisational brand, create a culture of authenticity, and build strong relationships with stakeholders. Through these efforts, leaders can establish a solid foundation for their organisations and ensure the long-term success of their brands.