You can’t lead without your brand

Please take a look at how the chief executive of New York City and the CEO of SValley’s firm both demonstrated their brands before and after September 11.

Rudolph Giuliani, the New York City Mayor, was everywhere. He went to the World Trade Center when the first plane struck, fled for safety after the second tower fell, kept the public informed, and prepared the city for what would unfold in the aftermath of the attacks. He met with police officers and firefighters and comforted individuals and their families. He became the ideal leader for New York City during the most difficult of times after a year of endless gossip and growing irrelevance. He was humane, informed, and consoling. This helped him regain the trust of many New Yorkers, who had written him off.

Consider, on the other hand, the Silicon Valley CEO who, according to a recent Fortune magazine article, was stranded at home in the wake of 9/11 but did not contact anyone in his company for the next two days. After his return, the CEO gave a brief speech on the events. He said that he would not “pretend” someone’s spiritual adviser. It is hard to believe that this CEO had ever enjoyed the respect and trust of his team.

In difficult times—whether economic, national, or natural crises threaten the country and its people—honesty and consistency in words and actions will foster trust. This is crisis management 101. The real question, however, is whether it should take a crisis for leaders to identify their core values, explore them, and then act on them consistently.

Leaders must have a strong brand in good and bad. Today’s top business leaders, whether they express it or not, instinctively understand the importance of defining your brand and bringing it alive through consistent action. The ability to create and communicate a compelling brand will remain a key career success factor for anyone starting, changing careers, or optimizing their career.

How do you build a personal brand? Branding a product, a service, or an automobile follows the same principles. Consider your strengths and talents, how you connect with others, what your audience wants and needs, and the value that you provide to meet these needs and desires. Then, communicate using the best channels for you. Most importantly, you should identify the gaps in your brand and put effort into overcoming them.

You have, on the one hand, the functional aspects of your brand. The functional promise of a leader is to deliver objective, successful results. This could be to achieve profitable growth or to introduce new products that are consistently successful in the market. The emotional or intangible benefits of a brand are more difficult to define, let alone build. These include being a visionary leader, an articulate communicator, or, for many of us, just being a confident and compelling leader.

Do not make a mistake. Your brand’s emotional benefits will make you stand out as a leader rather than just a businessperson.

If you only focus on functional or emotional attributes, your brand will be incomplete. Both qualities must be in harmony. Your functional skills establish credibility, and your emotional benefits boost your value. Your brand will suffer the same fate as those products that become commodities if it is built solely on functional attributes. Your brand will be judged on a list of attributes, and you will be seen as less flexible and nimble if markets, industries, or external events change.

How often have we seen a finance whiz or a marketing guru ascend to the top only to fail in a position that required more than functional skills and results? Douglas Ivester, the former No. 2 at Coca-Cola, had an impressive record of operational expertise while serving as its No. RGoizueta’szueta’s No. 2 was Douglas Ivester. Few quesIvester’sester’s ability to function or his contributCoca-Cola’s-Cola’s success. Some quesIvester’sester’s intangibles as a CEO. Ivester was never able to identify the gaps in his brand or the value of his style of leadership. During his two-year stint as CEO, both his management and Coke’s business problems were blamed for knocking millions off the value of the company. He lost the trust of Coca-Cola customers when he handled a number of issues, from a racial case to a tainted Belgian product. Ivester and the company realized that their brand was not delivering emotional value. From a business standpoint, this was a strange timing. Coca-Cola numbers were improving. Coca-Cola also learned that the brand is not just about its products but also its employees.

Warren Buffett has, however, created a functional brand that is based on his ability to capitalize on value investments. He does this by displaying the consistent and fully realized traits of a homemade Everymdoesn’tdoesn’t matter that he is one of the wealthiest men in the entire world. He delivers on his brand promise in the functional sense by delivering results. Berkshire Hathaway has achieved an enviable growth rate over five years. His emotional appeal is also a result of his consistent actions and his advocacy of issues that resonate with his constituents. In recent years, he has been vocal in criticizing both the inflated salaries of CEOs (his salary is $100,000 per year) and actions that undermine true value investing. For example, the liberal use of stock options by executive pay packages. Buffet has a strong brand, and he’s maintained it well for several decades. He candidly explained the business impact of recent terrorist attacks while confidently articulating his long-term strategies.

Consistency is the key. It would be best if you were consistent in all your interactions, whether you are building a brand for a product or yourself. Leaders must realize that their actions and words can either enhance or damage their brand. A personal brand is similar to a consumer product in that. It’s a series of expectations and associations that are built and delivered over time. Leaders who are aware of this use their brands as a compass in all interactions.

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