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Trouble at the Top: The Leader's Challenge - Cult Branding

Trouble at the Top: The Leader’s Challenge

PhotobucketIf there’s trouble, look to the top.

Brand Modeling teaches us that the force most responsible for a dominant organization’s success is the enthusiastic support of its best customers. So what force is most responsible for an organization’s failure? A not-insignificant portion of the time, the answer resides at the top. The Daily Beast recently ran a feature entitled 10 Worst Corporate Boards of the Decade that highlighted some monumental leadership challenges.

It’s not an in-depth piece, but as you flip through it, you’ll see that there are certain traits exhibited by the worst leadership teams that seem to keep cropping up.  Board members are over-committed, inexperienced, and have interests and agendas in conflict with their organization’s health and success.

Sometimes Boards are asleep at the wheel.  Tyco was included on this list because they allowed their CEO, Dennis Kozlowski, and CFO, Mark Swartz to steal over $150 million from the company. Insufficient oversight is perhaps the most generous way to describe what happened there.

GM made the list for other reasons.  A lack of strategic planning and failure to adapt to market changes kept GM from hitting the highway to success. Throw in significant accounting errors that put potholes into GM’s already rocky road, and it’s not surprising that the company went off track.

One common trait unites all of these examples.  There is a fundamental disconnect between the leadership and the companies they were supposed to be directing.  It’s a pattern of behavior as old as time itself; a cultural narrative that has a deep and profound place in our collective unconscious.  Today, we speak about Boards of Directors and pillaged corporate funds.  Two thousand years ago, the story would be that the shepherd has laid down his staff, yet still he cries when the sheep are lost.

Brand Modeling: The Role of Leadership and Brand Vision

What we see happening instead in dominant organizations, time and time again, is the opposite situations. These are companies that are thriving because they exist in a state of alignment. There is what we call Brand Vision, a shared vision of success that motivates and guides decision making. This vision is shared at every level: it’s as familiar to front-line employees as it is to your C-level executives and yes, Board of Directors.

It’s especially important that an organization’s leadership understand and be invested in the company’s Brand Vision. Directors, after all, are there to direct and guide the company in a more successful direction. They are pathfinders, charged with leading the charge up the mountainside. The journey becomes infinitely easier when they know what the summit looks like.

The more dominant an organization is, the more thorough and involved their Brand Vision is likely to be. Knowing what success looks like means understanding how the company is positioned in many spheres: in the relationship with the Brand Lover, as a force or presence in a given market, as an employer or investment possibility. A unity of vision keeps the organization on track. Decisions are made to realize that vision, keeping the leadership, company, and Brand Lover aligned throughout the process.  That’s putting customers first, and that’s how dominant organizations win.

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BJ Bueno is the founder of The Cult Branding Company, a leading marketing consulting firm with clients including Kohl’s Department Stores, TCM, LA Lakers, and The Life is good Company. Learn more.

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