A prospective client asked to talk with me recently. (To protect her identity, we’ll call her Lara.) Lara’s executives wanted to clarify and begin driving a leadership brand throughout the organization. What unfolded during our conversation was a plan whereby their values, credo, code of conduct, and core competencies would converge into a leadership profile that would drive all recruiting, selection, training, and succession strategies. Their objective: to establish a consistent expression of leadership that would be recognizable worldwide.
I had a strong reaction to the request. I think I was offended. Or maybe I was just experiencing sympathetic claustrophobia on behalf of the leaders in the organization… the ones I started to envision in my imagination as ‘Stepford’ leaders or futuristic little leader-bots. As Lara spoke, every fiber of my being wanted to scream:
- What about authenticity?
- What about diversity?
- What about a situational approach to leadership?
After the meeting, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about the idea of an organizationally-imposed leadership brand. Is it appropriate to overlay this sort of expectation on leaders? And, equally importantly, is it even smart? I’ve arrived at an emphatic ‘no’ to both questions and have come to the conclusion that this sort of myopic leadership branding is a significant threat to organizations.
Ours is a connected society. Most leaders find themselves working nights and weekends because access is so easy. The lines between work and the other parts of one’s life are increasingly blurred. The old ‘leave your personal life at the door’ mentality is laughable…. for many remote workers, there is no door.
As a result, authenticity has taken its rightful place on the leadership stage. Because leaders take the home person to work and the work person home, the only way to remain sane is to remain authentic. Myopic leadership branding threatens this authenticity.
It also threatens diversity. We enjoy the most diverse workforce in history. Most organizations dedicate tremendous resources to cultivating, promoting, and leveraging that diversity. And it’s not just slogans. They know that it drives innovation, improvement, excellence, and results.
But organizations can’t have it both ways. They can’t value diversity on one hand and snuff it out on the other by asking all leaders to wear the same leadership cloak.
Instead of top-down leadership branding – where the profile is dictated and uniformly adopted – what about a bottom-up approach? What if organizations hired the best leaders possible… provided the systems, development, and other support required so they could bring their best to the job? What if organizations cultivated authenticity and different thoughts and approaches?
The net effect would be a vibrant, energized, and powerful band rather than brand of leaders. (And doesn’t that sound better than a bunch of leader-bots?)
This post originally appeared at Lead Change Group in November 2012.