Companies are like countries: they live and die.
Some manage to become an empire; some remain no more than an oversize tribe.
Why is that?
Why the small village that was Rome at the time of Romulus became eventually an empire that ruled what was then the known world, while so many tried and never made History?
The answer is in part… leadership and branding.
All the great conquerors, from Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar or Napoleon – just to name a few – demonstrated again and again great leadership.
But leadership is not enough.
Branding is necessary.
Alexander branded himself by spreading the rumor that he was the son of the king of gods, Zeus; but also by founding some 20 cities that bore his name, the most famous one being Alexandria of Egypt.
Julius Caesar is also said to be from divine descent, from the goddess Venus, and branded itself so well that the sign of the eagle was recognized everywhere and quickly became the only symbol of the Roman empire.
Different times, different tools, Napoleon could not rumor that he was from divine origin, but he developed a great number of symbols (branding elements are we would say today) that were unique – from his coronation (where he did not allow the pope to crown him: he crowned himself) followed by paintings he had made from the ceremony that were sent all over Europe, to the redesign of the uniforms of his entire army (part of them can still be seen today as the uniforms of the horse and foot guard of the British crown), to the eagle and bee symbols that are still present in numerous palaces and monuments in many European countries.
Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon never went to marketing school and never heard the word ‘branding’ in their entire lives, but they knew all about it.
They also knew that to succeed, they needed a team ready to go fetch the moon if they asked them to, from generals to privates.
And their teams just did that: they gave them the moon.
The greatest conquerors of the past demonstrated it:
They became the leaders whose names will be remembered in the future as it is in the present because they were mastering the three elements of success:
Therefore, if you believe that running a company is a one man/woman show, you cannot be more wrong!
So you developed your company and you created a brand that represents you and your values and that is positively recognized by your customer base.
You’re on the path of the Ford, Hilton, Renault and other Barilla of this world, thus you are sure of your long-term success.
You cannot be more wrong!
All those companies were created at the turn of the 19th century, or very early in the 20th.
Things were different then.
Today, regardless of how charismatic, inventive and talented you may be (don’t get us wrong: those skills play a great part in any start-up accomplishment), you cannot simply succeed all by yourself.
You need a team; a team that may look up at you or not, but a team nevertheless.
In our days and age, no one can succeed alone any more than Alexander or Caesar could.
Look at the list of major companies that are named after their owners (from Ben & Jerry’s to Ryanair), and you will notice that they are great public figures that are mostly only remotely involved in their business operation and strategic decisions.
Success is a teamwork. But success needs a leader.
A lot of brands in the market today (not successful international brands, mind you) are mainly promoting ‘me’.
Me the owner, me the creator, me the leader.
But being a leader is not about me; it’s about us – the team behind the brand.
Me leads eventually to complacency.
Not everyone can be Steve Jobs – a great charismatic marketer; but a poor leader as we demonstrated in a post about understanding that our prime customer is our employee.
To be a leader, and hence develop a leading brand, you must acknowledge that leadership is a method, not a simple title.
In many occasions, the leading figure of a successful company (CEO, President) portraits the brand.
It is a good idea when you are Sir Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group – but who ever heard of his co-founder Nik Powell?
Sir Branson is the image of the group as Colonel Sanders is of KFC; just an image that gives customers the feeling that their favorite company is human, not one of those faceless conglomerates they reject so strongly.
Because not everyone is as charismatic as Steve Jobs and Sir Branson, or because they are already dead, many companies use only the portraits of their founders (it is very true in particular in hospitality where you will see worldwide in every hotel of their respective groups the pictures of Conrad Hilton – Hilton group –, M/M Dubrule and Pélisson – Accor hotels – or even Leona Helmsley – Helmsley hotels -, among many more).
You will say, if Conrad Hilton or Richard Branson can do it, why not me?
Because these great individuals are the face designed to please the public, to tell them that regardless how big the corporation is, there is a man or a woman they can talk to; because they want their customer base believe that this is still a human corporation not a faceless ‘world company’.
It is not after all about Conrad Hilton or Richard Branson; at the end of the day, it is about Hilton Hotels and the Virgin Group.
Therefore, it is not about me, but about them; them the customers, them the employees – these great founders are also often used as tutelary figures as part as their company's internal marketing strategy -; it is about us, the team.
Leading is not managing
We said it many times already, there is a significant difference between leading and managing.
What makes the largest dissimilarity is the ability to talk and link.
And also to demonstrate your aptitude to show that you care – that you care not only for those members of your team that you know personally, but also for those you never heard of and you may even never meet – but still, they own a full membership to your team because they hold the key of your long term success.
Contrary to what many believe, being a leader is not about being in front; it is to be among the team, it is to be an example, to become sometime even a role model.
It is never about me, it is only and always about them, about us.
You may use yourself as a brand effigy, but it is not to nourish your ego; it has to be part of a well thought of branding strategy, as much as Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders are respectively to McDonald and KFC.
Never forget that those who are really important are (in order of importance):
Now that you acknowledge the above and plan to changing your management style accordingly, you can start thinking of yourself as today's Henry Ford or Pietro Barilla!
Does your company grab the concept that branding, leadership and team management are complimentary to each other and are required for long-term success?