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Breaking the waves of corporate leadership

In nautical lore, the purpose of a ship’s figurehead is not only to protect the vessel from harm, but to indicate to other seafarers the name and status of the ship. Look to the leaders of big business today and the story is the same.  

Everywhere you look the world is dominated by global brands that follow this model: Facebook, Microsoft and Apple. But should companies allow themselves to become so front-heavy?

Big business has never been quite able to shake the ‘heroic leadership’ approach born out of the egocentric 1980s. This is due in large part to the media’s unshakeable thirst for celebrity. Take Steve Jobs for example. The public were so invested in the Jobs brand, that when he died, Apple share prices temporarily plummeted.

This is not just a problem for large multi-nationals. In the world of B2B communications, there are two common causes for organisations to seek help with their communications. Firstly, awareness: they are struggling with the tag of being a ‘best-kept-secret’, keen to strategically spread the word and grow. Secondly, the ‘wrong kind’ of awareness: the business is seen to be synonymous with, and therefore limited by, its enigmatic leader. Not a great strategy for those seeking growth, or indeed looking for the exit.

Allowing an organisation’s brand of whatever creed to become this entwined with the personal brand of its leader is high risk. It leaves organisations vulnerable to ad hominem attacks. And, like those 16th Century merchants, whose foolish grandiosity led to increasingly elaborate and unwieldy figureheads, businesses pinning their hopes on one lone figure are far more likely to sink when things go wrong.

Empowering a number of experts within the organisation can be incredibly valuable in protecting the company by not only spreading the risk, but also ensuring it is seen as experienced market-leading organisation, rather than the personality of an individual.

While business brands need all the personality they can get, the distribution of power should be shared, rather than resting on one, fallible and potentially vulnerable, individual. This will allow for a more balanced business and smoother sailing through those choppy corporate waters.