Saturday, April 23, 2011

Leaders as brands

When we talk about a leader as a brand, the only Indian example that used to come readily to mind was that of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He was an undisputed, undeniable brand in every sense of the term. This is not to undervalue the contribution of other political leaders like the simple but effective Lal Bahadur Shastri or the charismatic Jawaharlal Nehru, both of whom had their followers. Suddenly the Indian leadership stakes has a new entrant in Anna Hazare. What a leader! If someone can actually move our government and even the normally sluggish Manmohan Singh to action, he deserves nothing but the highest praise and the eligibility to enter the top brand management stakes. While it is understandable if I were to break into eulogistic rapture about his actual achievements I shall carefully desist and attempt to stay with the leadership brand, its characteristics and the learning therefrom for young aspirants. What can we learn from the Annas of the world - about leadership and branding?

Leaders stand for something

What sets apart truly visionary leaders is that their point of view does not change with the view. They adhere to and are passionate about the causes they espouse. Gandhi was the greatest exponent of non violence while Hazare is certain that the country and its people should not put up with corruption of any sort. Leaders too are instantly recognizable with their appearance. What comes to mind when I say “Winston Churchill?” Most certainly it would be his obdurate expression of defiance in the face of adversity and his trademark bowler hat. What comes to mind when I say Gandhi? It would have to be his beatific toothless smile, the loin cloth and his stick and his absolute determination to ensure that the British left the shores of this country.

It is also pertinent to remember that while leaders might have several achievements, they are revered and recalled for one singular achievement that usually outshines the others. The same principle extends to the corporate world as well. While the late management guru CK Prahlad had multiple achievements, he is perhaps most respectfully remembered for his “fortune at the bottom of the pyramid ‘. Thomas Friedman is remembered for his “flattened world” . I am sure Anna will be remembered for his fasting strategy which has often been abused by lesser mortals.

Leadership is about results

In all the hype and glamour that leaders often inspire, it is possible to lose sight of the basics. Leaders are revered for their results. The same applies to the corporate world. The truly great long term corporate leaders like Steve Jobs and Jack Welch were characterized by their ability to inspire results in good years and bad. As Jack Welch used to say, anyone can make money in the long run or in the short run, but it took real ability to make money in both.

Leaders inspire followers

How can you call someone a leader if he has no followers? Perhaps the greatest achievement of our latest leader Anna has been his capability to inspire millions of Indians who have been galvanized into action. For a lot of time now, people have been frustrated and even angry at all that is happening around them and yet barring a few angry posts or jokes in cocktail circuits, nothing tangible had emerged. Thanks to the power of the net and media that realized the value of this movement, the movement became a tide. For me, the most satisfying part is that the senior citizen was able to get so many youngsters to take to the streets of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai to join the protests. It augurs well for the future of the nation that youngsters are not as apathetic as some of my generation has been and I make no apology for myself. I am sure too that the actions of this leader will have long term implications in the actions of every single Indian in future. For it takes two to tango. It is equally important that the bribe giver too desists.

May Anna’s tribe prosper and may his detractors get to face Lasith Malinga’s shoe crushing yorkers without pads on!

Ramanujam Sridhar, CEO, brand – comm.
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1 comment:

CS Murali said...


Stave Jobs / Apple and Jack Welch / GE are good examples of well known leaders and institutions. There is another category where the leader's brand outshines or even hides the institution's brand. Examples would be some of the family-owned Indian businesses. When the leader departs for some reason, the institution suffers. Are such leaders truly leaders? Would love to hear your views.