Reflections on leadership and branding

Reflections on leadership and branding

The other day, I was thinking about some of the “common wisdom” about leaders and brands. In particular, I am continually struck by the image so many people have that the best leaders are charismatic and that the best brands today are those that create the most “buzz”.  Here are some thoughts about the subject, adapted from the soon-to-be published book.

The heart of leadership has little to do with style or charisma. It is more about finding your true nature and your natural voice.  In the same vein, the essence of branding is not about creating hype and buzz.  Brands, also, need to focus on finding and expressing their unique nature.

Ever since I began coaching leaders some fifteen years ago, I have been confronted time and again with a widespread misconception that society harbors about leadership.  Many individuals enter the coaching relationship with the request that we work on their “charisma”.  They think that they key to becoming a more effective leader is to appear to be more charismatic.

And often, the first thing I have to tell them is to forget about charisma, for it is irrelevant to one’s leadership development.   Of all the effective leaders I have worked with or observed; only a small number have what I would call a charismatic personality.  In addition, I am not at all sure that the charismatic ones are the most credible or authentic.

Charisma does not bring about leadership. I have come to believe that there is a basic problem with the dominant view of charisma in our society: We tend to think that leadership success is the result of a charismatic personality.  My experience has shown that it usually happens the other way.

Outstanding leadership does not come from charisma.  It comes from finding one’s true nature, one’s passion, and one’s natural voice.  It is the authenticity of the voice and the passion that can make someone appear charismatic.  Charisma is the result of leadership passion, not the cause.

I also see a problem with concept of trying to “appear more charismatic”.  This problem has to do with the way we have come to see the notion of learning to lead.  In our society today, we tend to look for models to follow and styles to emulate.  We seek to copy the oratory techniques of inspirational speakers, or the behaviors of “winning” leaders.  In other words, we search outside ourselves for guides and blueprints, when the path to becoming a leader is inside of us.

When I work with someone on self-expression, I emphasize that it has to happen from the inside out.  First, understand who you are at the core, then learn to express who you are in your natural voice.   That voice may become charismatic, or it may not.  A natural and authentic voice is more important than a charismatic one.

Hype does not make a brand.  Like leaders, brands are made from the inside out. For a brand, the central issues are the same as for a leader.  In the current age of internet marketing, people often ask me about how to create “buzz” using social media and email.  When I hear such questions, I think it is somehow quite similar to the leader who wants to be a better speaker or appear more charismatic.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that a brand should not want to create a buzz, or that a leader should not care about the delivery of their messages.  Rather, I would say that charisma or buzz should not be the goal, and that we should not make common the mistake of focusing too heavily on issues of style and appearance.

Branding, like leadership, is a journey for the long term.  Rather than look for a quick road to fame through hype or buzz, focus on understanding and refining your core messages.  Above all, a brand builds itself by knowing its true nature and learning to express itself authentically.

1 Comment

  1. Anne M. 14 years ago

    “Charisma is the result of leadership passion, not the cause.”
    Thank you John for those explanations that present the issue in the right way 😉

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