Heads, hearts and deeds

There is clearly no shortage of leadership material of the wrong kind at the moment, but there is also evidence of the opposite.

Around the time of my last column, we were advised of a US$5.2bn fine (now reduced) imposed upon our very own MTN in Nigeria and the subsequent resignation of CEO, Sifiso Dabengwa, as a response to considerably destroying shareholder value by failing to eliminate unregistered subscribers from its system, resulting in a loss of 16% of its market value in two days of trading after the announcement.

This is possibly another example of corporate profit and performance focus at the expense of doing the right thing, once again implicating leadership practice and the message that this behavior sends to the people inside the business.

Beyond the top

Shifting our attention away from the upper corporate or public echelons, however, I am reminded of the powerful role of leadership at every level of the organisation and that internal branding may be positively impacted by people without title and position, as displayed by a recent encounter of mine with Hertz car hire. In a category which has parity written all over it, as with many in today’s economy, the service experience on display was both refreshing and differentiating.

Upon arrival at Cape Town International Airport, I made my way through to the car hire section to do the necessary. While waiting my turn in a very short queue, I was struck by the banter between the Hertz official and two German couples who were travelling together, very clearly in the country for the first time. He literally held them in the palm of his hand, engaging in good humour, a warm South African welcome and very efficient service, much to the delight of the travellers.

This counter experience was soon transported into the parking lot, where he was conducting the vehicle inspection with them in a theatrical and entertaining way, providing tourist advice and recommendations as he went about his business. It was a pleasure to observe and my only regret is that I didn’t interrupt his performance to get his name, as he was clearly someone who should have been reported — in a positive sense, of course.

Brand champions

Brand champions inside organisations should not only be equipped to deliver outstanding on-brand behaviour, but should have the ability and influence to impact others around them in the same way, in the process cascading this service effect throughout the organisation. It’s a simple principle, but the reality and activation are difficult, given the nature of people.

Brand champions are essentially those in an organisation who understand, at an intellectual level, what behavioural norms and standard are required. In other words, they get the brand promise cognitively. More importantly, they are motivated to act upon it, and the understanding is followed through with the requisite action or behaviour.

The critical differentiator, however, of a true brand champion is when the above two constructs are met with a high level of emotional commitment and this translates into passion, energy and an on-brand displays that transcend the norm. These are the agents of change in an organisation and people who can support the adoption of true internal-rand alignment and consistent delivery against the external promise.

Real heroes

Brand leadership is evidently not the exclusive domain of the C-suite alone. The ‘little people’ in an organisation are capable of making a real impact and driving change — as we so often see in broader society across industry sectors. People without title or the correct hierarchical jurisdiction are capable of making a lasting impression and being ambassadors for good.

One of my most compelling experiences of brand champions at work takes me back to a client in the higher education sector, in which a campus security guard was discovered to be delivering excellence in his role and was subsequently celebrated in style across the campus as a leading ambassador for customer service and on-brand behaviour. He emerged a brand hero, and was rightfully celebrated and acknowledged across the campus for making an impact — from a quarter that was least expected. Without title, he literally provided the campus benchmark for service and was a shining example of what may be achieved at every level.

This is authentic leadership and behaviour of the right kind. Anyone in the C-suite listening?

This article was originally featured on MarkLives.com