For obvious reasons, as we all cast our votes today, the topic of what makes a great leader is being hotly discussed in offices, warehouses, break rooms and factory floors across the UK.
As the country decides who will take charge of our government, and of the many responsibilities which come with that role, we are wondering what makes us believe in and support a leader, and what might not.
Whether you’re a business owner, or an entry level employee, you need to be able to trust that the leaders of your organisation have the best interests of the brand, and of the whole team, in mind. These are topics which we’ve covered time and again in our articles, and which are raised regularly in our conversations with clients.
But it isn’t just about whether the team like them, or whether they bring in enough profits to satisfy the board – it’s also about offering the best to your customers, and building strong relationships and a great reputation for your organisation, which ensures the ongoing success of your brand.
If you have a leader who alienates the people you work with, and who offends long standing clients, the lasting damage that can be done to your reputation can be difficult to come back from.
If a new leader steps up to be the face of your brand they ought to embody what you represent and all that you do for your clients – but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. When this goes wrong, and a leader becomes the butt of jokes, the target of criticism, and the voice of dissent, how do you respond?
Should you carry on regardless, hoping that the relationships others in your organisation have and your past record can carry you through their blunders? Should you distance yourself from who they are and what they stand for? Should you quietly ask them to stand down and hope to replace them with someone less controversial? Or should you publicly and vocally remove them from the post and let everyone know that they don’t speak for you?
Within politics we have seen a number of prominent campaigners distance themselves from their leaders, and even parties, when they no longer believe in what an individual stands for and represents.
Within organisations we have seen long-standing managers and business leaders do the same, if a new leader takes the helm and begins to steer the company in a new direction, or have a negative impact on the people within the company and those they serve.
Can one person truly have this much impact on the reputation of an entire brand?
Ask Saatchi and Saatchi, who lost a number of hugely influential clients when Kevin Roberts blundered, ask UKIP, whose one and only MP, Douglas Carswell, quit the party after clashing with Nigel Farage and replacement leader Paul Nuttall over the position the party took on immigration. Ask Dianne Abbott, an MP who has been asked to step down during this political campaign, with ill health and lack of preparation tripping her up in interviews.
One person can become the face of everything a political party – or any organisation – stands for, and their mistakes can cost the whole organisation dearly; when trust in the face of your brand is damaged, the knock-on effect is that trust in everything you do is gone. If you can’t position a leader who gets things right, how can you be trusted to do anything else well? If your leaders represent you, and blunder through their role causing damage and offence at every turn, the people who work with you will want to distance themselves from the damage that’s causing.
A damaging leader doesn’t just destroy morale – they destroy brands. They destroy reputations, and entire organisations.
Leadership isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone – but is a constant process of growth and development. Mistakes made in the past become skeletons in your cupboard – and when those skeletons are discovered it can devastate your reputation; many old alliances have come back to haunt prominent MP’s – and many business leaders – and we all have regrets from our own past, but they don’t have to define who you are now if you acknowledge that you learned from those errors and considered the impact of what you’ve learned.
Honesty and success don’t mean that we never make mistakes – and trust doesn’t mean you’ve never got it wrong – it means that, when you do, you admit it, accept it, learn from it and use it as a tool to be stronger, better and more successful – and if you can do that, you will earn the trust of those around you, who see you striving to offer the best you can to them. This is what makes us human – and any great leader is human first.