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Is leadership branding an issue in South Africa?

Posted by on Jul 7, 2012 in News | Comments Off

Is leadership branding an issue in South Africa?

Is leadership branding an issue in South Africa?

Management educators, Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood define a leadership brand as, “A reputation for developing exceptional managers with a distinct set of talents that are uniquely geared to fulfil customers’ and investors’ expectations”. In South Africa, leadership branding is a topic that is seldom spoken about and I was wondering why? Is it even a necessary field? With this in mind, I spoke to South African-based organisational psychologist and leadership specialist, Carl Eichstadt, about leadership branding.


1. Who would you say has a strong leadership brand in South Africa?

There appears to be a lot of unconscious leadership branding taking place in South African organisations. Evidence of this can be found in the annual reports of companies such as SPAR, Standard Bank, MTN, SAB Miller, and Anglo American. Although, in these annual reports there is no direct reference to leadership branding, these companies commit significant investment to leadership development at all levels. Secondly, all annual reports show investment in the areas of staff engagement in terms of feedback on the company’s leaders and employee satisfaction. Thirdly, the investment in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) space is significant and varies from a focus on one or a number of areas, including education, health, crime, housing, the environment and so forth. Fourthly, the engagement with a range of stakeholders representing the customer, investors, community, suppliers, regulators, unions etc. is evident in the annual reports. There is also an important focus on the customer in terms of customer service, measured through the use of feedback surveys and brand awards. Companies also report on their governance policies and practices. All of these elements combine in a synergistic manner to contribute to a particular leadership brand for the organisation.

2. What makes South Africa different to other countries with regards to leadership branding?

Although there are many similarities, in South Africa there is a broader stakeholder group that needs to be considered, particularly the external stakeholder group like the community. This is due to our unique history in which the majority of the population was disadvantaged – the wellbeing of our communities is connected to the sustainability and success of our business organisations. Corporates need to invest in these communities, whilst simultaneously enjoying the advantage of the market of which the community is often a part.

3. What recommendations do you have when it comes to communicating your leadership brand?

That’s tricky, because you cannot start communicating to your stakeholders’ until you have evidence in place of effective and unique leadership qualities relative to competitors – companies need to communicate with stakeholder communities in line with what they are doing as an organisation. Clearly an organisation’s stance on its leadership brand is linked to the values of the organisation, which also guides how it chooses to communicate with and to stakeholders. Organisations need to carefully consider where they are in terms of the leadership brand journey when selecting the communication strategy to stakeholders to ensure that the internal-employee experience of the organisation’s leaders is aligned with the content of the message to external stakeholders.

4. How do you know if you have the right leadership brand?

Leadership brand is a multi-layered concept. At the centre is a conscious decision on what you want your unique leadership behaviour to look like – to be experienced by all your company’s touch points – the groups of people you engage with – to deliver on strategy objectives in the short, medium to long-term. You as a customer and/or employee will experience the leader’s behaviour first-hand. From an organisation standpoint you want that experience to be positive and aligned with how you have stated you want you leadership brand to be. From a measurement perspective, hard data is available to assess the extent of a company’s leadership brand, for example being able to attract and retain talent so that you are considered the employer of choice in the industry relative to competitors. Ultimately, you would want the value of your leadership brand to be translated into equity – leadership brand equity, in the sense that it is going to assist to give you a competitive advantage, relative to other companies in the industry and possibly broader. The ultimate measure of the value of a company’s leadership brand is the extent to which it contributes to a company’s brand and the share price relative to competitors.

 5. How does a company’s leadership brand help you in dealing with brand disasters?

If an organisation has developed its leadership brand successfully i.e. effective leadership for a sustained period of time, you could argue that they are in a better position to rectify mistakes or poor performance that could negatively impact a company’s product, service and or company brand. For example, a well know FMCG company appeared in the media for utilising milk supplied by Zimbabwean dairy farms, owned by certain political figures. The company’s leadership took a stance and responded quickly to rectify the situation, thereby limiting brand damage. Other examples include cases where company’s immediately recall products that are found to be defective and engage the stakeholders directly and through the media to rectify the situation. These are examples of bold and transparent leadership, that not only, limits damage to the brand, but also sends a clear message to customers about what the company’s leadership stands for.

Author: Carl Eichstadt, 360People.