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Living your brand

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Leaders need to demonstrate authenticity and consistency yet constantly challenge the status quo.

We learn so much from observing other leaders, those who work closely with us and those who are iconic, from afar. Some lead by good example, from others we learn what and how not-to-do. Those who stir and excite me are the leaders who consciously develop their teams, who actively look for tomorrow’s leaders, then guide and skill them. Leaders need to constantly question, they cannot afford to be complacent, they need to listen to their followers, be flexible and adventurous in their thinking, yet remain humble.

Leaders are the icon of the brand; they are the ones who bring it to life. This role and responsibility is theirs 24/7. A brand is not just a look nor logo, but an experience that sits in the hearts and minds of people, and yes, the most important people are staff. I regularly quote Sir Richard Branson: “Our first priority should be the people who work for the companies, then the customers, then the shareholders. Because if the staff is motivated then the customers will be happy, and the shareholders will then benefit through the company’s success.”

Having only ever experienced the Branson brand horizontal in a Pilates class at gym and upright when airborne in cattle class, I was delighted to be treated to flying Upper Class with Virgin Atlantic. Excited too about having a good night’s sleep in pyjamas (100% cotton, supplied of course), under a duvet in privacy without some smelly stranger snoring next to me. Whilst sipping my first glass of champagne I ensconced myself in my ‘seat’ (a private compartment from which I could not make eye contact with another soul...bliss), Richard Branson walked past me and settled himself in his. If my feet could have touched the floor, I would have fallen off my leather reclining seat. He wanted to sleep and I wanted to talk. I resisted the urge of introducing myself and looking like a first class first-timer.

Discretion, an essential component of a professional personal brand and something I pride myself on, is obligatory in the front of the plane, unless one wishes to connect over champagne and cocktails at the well-stocked bar. And connect he did – with every member of his staff, in an authentic and endearing way. While I was blown away by the facilities, food, privacy and space of Upper Class, my most memorable memory of being an upper class virgin will always be of witnessing Branson bring to life my words and his brand, genuinely.

While writing Raise your Leaders™ I struggled to find a heading for the final chapter, which is about leadership of the future, adapting to change and leaving a legacy. I wanted a phrase that would encapsulate what a leader of the future should demonstrate. When Philip Hayes, CEO of the Laser Group and initiator of the Laser Leadership Academy, which I have the privilege of facilitating, sent through his foreword with the leading quote; “Leadership development leads to raising our human spirit and potential – and with it we will achieve and sustain our organisational competitiveness. Enhanced performance requires enhanced behaviour. Enhanced behaviour requires enhanced leadership. Enhanced leadership creates the right environment. The right environment gives real meaning to work.” I knew that I had found the appropriate term for leadership of tomorrow – enhanced leadership.

In his message he states that we have to rethink the fundamental assumptions about management, the meaning of work and organisational hierarchy and life. I agree.

Exceptional leaders provide the right environment. Leadership development needs to be sustainable – not just a once-off approach whereby a leader sends potential leaders on a quick course – but instead offering a process that ignites the spark within individuals who demonstrate the right attitude, and developing their aptitude. While it is up to the employer to offer growth and opportunity, it is actually up to the employee to be self-directed in their learning.

How does one inspire this? By outlining the benefits of their personal development to them, unveiling their strengths, and then ultimately helping them to see their purpose in their work. Once an employee knows where they fit in and how their contribution impacts on the overall company, they take better ownership of their role and become more motivated.

In the next ten issues of Leadership we will include a ten-part series of how to raise leaders. We will cover three threads of leadership– preparation, practice and play. The first article will cover the theory of leadership, and the next three the skills and insights required. The fourth will focus on brand development (a subject close to my heart). These first four modules together provide a good foundation in leadership preparation. The following four will address best practice; the penultimate chapter covers communication; and the final article will reflect on where we are heading in contemporary leadership. No business is successful by accident, they have a plan.

Leaders and ambitious individuals too, should have a plan. The articles will include practical ten-point plans which will be easy for you to adopt and adapt to your own needs. If you are impatient, like me, and want all the material in a package, then Raise your Leaders™ is available in leading bookstores. The book is a catalyst. It is designed to stimulate, challenge, inspire and guide you. 

It is a fresh take on old ideas. If you are a leader, I hope that you will read it and use it as a living document with your team, growing them into great leaders. 

Jenny Handley


About the writer

Jenny Handley is a brand, leadership and high performance facilitator. She has her own weekly column in the Cape Times. Her latest book, Raise your Leaders™ is available as an in-house leadership academy for companies at Kalahari or by emailing rsvp@jhpr.co.za. Her previous books, Raise your Game® (co-authored with Gavin Cowley) and Raise your Profile, were all bestsellers.

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