What’s Better Than Branding the Organization with the CEO?

Artist work by John Hannah

Published in http://authenticorganization.com December 9, 2008

Graeme Martin , Director of the Centre for Reputation Management through People at the University of Glasgow, has written an interesting post on his blog, about the Dangers of Branding Leaders .

Writing about the practice of creating an organization’s brand / identity from the celebrity personality of the CEO as a strategy for improving the organization’s ability to attract and retain employees, Graeme argues that there are real dangers associated with this practice.

Some of these dangers include:

* an over-reliance on the CEO’s behavior for influencing the organization (when research shows that leaders   rarely have a major impact on organizational performance), and

* a tendency towards counter-productive narcissistic behaviors by these leaders, whose egos get stoked by their personal identities being used to represent the organization.

Graeme thus questions:

Is it better to have leadership brands that are less reliant on powerful individuals and more on distributed leadership throughout the organization, i.e. build organization systems and brands where the actions of powerful and skilled individuals matter least?

I don’t think that the solution is to build organizational systems where “powerful and skilled individuals matter least” — and based on his published views I doubt that Graeme means to suggest that organizational systems should make skills unimportant! But, here’s what I want to clarify about celebrity CEOs, leaders as brand, and organizational identity:

A Better Practice

Rather than linking the CEO and the organizational brand… the challenge and opportunity is to build an organization where all/most individuals contribute to the organization’s identity, through systems of behavior and (where possible) attitudes that create and reinforce what defines the organization’s identity.

Once that’s done, it’s easier for communications people to create an organizational brand / identity that is compelling, because that identity / brand will be more real . The communication professionals can promote the organization’s image more confidently, because the organization’s defining characteristics will be designed into the organization itself.

These defining attributes will not be dependent upon the presence and participation of the CEO.

Ultimately, this kind of authentic organizational brand /identity will be more attractive to potential and current members, because members can actually participate in it themselves, not by association with the CEO but by participation in the organization.

Why is creating an authentic organization better than branding the organization with the CEO?

Because the excitement and appeal is no longer about being in the company of these celebrity CEOs and their brands, but is instead about being part of the company itself.

Artist work by John Hannah