Unintentional Leadership

When you're running a company, you try to model the best behaviors and get people thinking about ways to build the company's brand. So I praise for the behaviors I like, try to exemplify a good work ethic and strategic thinking, reward integrity and learning, and look for ways to manage to the triple bottom line. But what you think you're modeling isn't always what people pick up.

With that in mind, I decided to conduct an experiment. I asked my employees to tell me what their biggest "aha" moments have been; what have they learned while working at Parker LePla? I thought I knew what their answers would be. I was wrong. And their answers reflect the true brand we are living vs. my intentions.

It turns out that leadership can be an unintentional act. Here are some of the things my employees say I'm demonstrating even when I don't know I'm doing it:

  1. Always ask yourself "How can I simplify that even further?" We're branding wonks here, fascinated by the intellectual challenges and theoretical concepts of branding. But our clients are not. We need to strip away all the complexity of our grandiose ideas to get to the simple yet powerful truths that help our clients be more of who they are.  
  2. Innovation happens when you approach a problem methodically from many different angles -- and then step outside the method to check your work. We have a finely honed process for helping companies figure out their brands. The process works. And it works only because we always come to the challenge with a fresh perspective -- and we question our (and the client's) assumptions.  
  3. Organizational buy-in of an idea is as important as the idea itself. I had this insight late in the game: I'm great at the idea part and less good at follow-through and implementation. The key to implementation is getting stakeholders excited about it so they will follow through on the promise of the brand. It is the client who has to deliver on his or her company's brand promise day in and day out. Without the structure and enthusiasm in place for that to happen, any branding exercise will fail.  
  4. Great ideas come from collaboration. Anytime I'm stuck, I bring in the team for a brainstorm. The results are always fun, better than I could do myself -- and every team member leaves with more energy.  
  5. Weekly recognition makes a big difference to employees. We have institutionalized recognition and appreciation when we literally give kudos to each other at the end of our weekly staff meetings. This fosters a culture of appreciation and sure feels good, both in the giving and the receiving of kudos. It's part of our internal brand.  
  6. Don't dwell on your mistakes. Learn from them and move on. We're not fear-based here. Mistakes are inevitable because we're only human. When mistakes happen, the questions are: How fast do you take responsibility for them, how completely can you fix them, and how much did you learn from them?  
  7. If you say it confidently, people will believe you. Isn't that the secret of all consulting, right there in a nutshell?

Because your people live your brand, it's important to be aware of what you're modeling. What are your employees learning from what you say, what you model -- and what you're not even aware of? It's a good idea to find out so you can do more of the good stuff and strengthen your brand delivery.