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Are you a good leader brand?

Advertising and executive coaching share more common ground than one would think.

Jay Kumar Hariharan        Last Updated: November 26, 2015  | 13:31 IST

Jay Kumar Hariharan
Advertising and executive coaching share more common ground than one would think. Both these disciplines are about behavioural change at the core, though the end benefit of that change could accrue to different parties. Both practices are endlessly curious about people and their stories, and result from an excellent marriage between the right and left brain (for ease of comprehension, though it has been argued that specific networks in the brain handle certain functions and they are not necessarily thought of as left or right brain). Context and process from the left and the art of connecting at a subliminal emotional level from the right. Psychology, anthropology, sociology, evolutionary biology, motivation, influence - all these disciplines find place in both practices in some form or another.

An executive coach is hired to work with leaders of various organisations to become better versions of what they are in their and their stakeholder's eyes, because leadership is a contact sport. A coach helps us understand our core - the way we are wired - and smoothen those rough edges to transform us from diamonds in the rough. Leadership is influence, and behaviour is a big part of the way we influence. A coach helps in shaping our behaviour for us to get optimal results at the workplace.

The big difference is that advertising is a paid for service where the brand seeks to change your behaviour to meets its goals, while an executive coach will work with the leader to change the behaviour that is holding him back and will work keeping his goals in mind.

Advertising helps brands sell in the marketplace by influencing users to:

a) Start consuming the brand advertised;
b) Stop consuming a competitive brand;
c) Continue consuming the brand advertised.

Both practices need to glean insights that are beneath the surface using the Ice berg Model. In short, the coach has to elicit a marketing plan of sorts keeping the coachee's goals and challenges in mind, and doubling up as an accountability partner.

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They also share the same birthplace of sorts - The Jungian archetype. Jung's theories of archetypes relate to his theory of the existence of a collective unconscious. Another famous student of the psyche, Sigmund Freud, affirmed that each person has his or her personal unconscious mind or mental state. Jung expanded this by asserting that in addition to that state, all humans shared a deeper state, which he called the collective unconscious. It is in this realm that one finds primordial thought patterns and instincts that evolved in the human psyche over the period of human physical evolution. The term "archetype," as used in advertising, is based on Carl Jung's theory that humans have an innate tendency to use symbolism to understand concepts and that the subconscious plays a role in deciding which advertising messages we retain. Archetypal images are characters that represent deeply fundamental human needs and desires, and have often been used by the advertising industry to subtly persuade consumers to purchase their products or services.

Archetypes are used in assessment tools like Myers Briggs prior to coaching engagements to increase awareness with the coachee about his mind set and preferred behaviour

Building a leadership brand is probably a good by-product of an executive coaching intervention regardless of what the coaching goal might be. Understanding where you are in the eyes of your stakeholder and carefully working through a path to get to "where you want to be" is what personal leadership branding is all about. It goes beyond mere stakeholder management.

Both practices begin with understanding the current state vis-à-vis the environment, and like any process driven project, work with clear goals and timelines. Understanding the current state happens through various steps - rigorous feedback interview sessions with various stakeholders on one end, and market research and focus group studies on the other end.

Understanding the stakeholder matrix and preparing a messaging plan for each constituent is extremely crucial. Building a leadership brand is extremely important and needs to be consciously worked upon. I am sure most of us remember in great detail a bespectacled man running across a fence and we can see bits of his clothing come off or the same man going into a phone booth and emerging, as you guessed it, Superman. When we climb up the corporate ladder, most of us have brilliant day dreams about rocking a meeting, saying all the right things, dazzling people with our insights, gravitas and ability to articulate.

Your personal leadership brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room. Be it for excellent products or for leaders at the workplace, being on top of your functional capability is the bare minimum and will get you a ticket to the games, but for you to get some skin in the game when the air gets thinner and the competition gets fiercer, branding is the only way that will set you apart.

True branding or brand reinvention starts inside and gets communicated outward. The real magic is what happens within more often than not - merely changing external appearances reeks of repackaging and will only get you so far. It's only when raw performance is met with personal vibe that is so distinctly you. That something is called executive presence.

Like all great brands, great leaders are all about consistency -consistency in values and communication and most stakeholders would experience the "Authenticity" of the Leader. They consistently work on understanding more about their leadership style and ensure they are communicating with great clarity of what that leadership style is all about. If there is a mighty tree that falls in a forest and no one hears it or sees it, did it really fall?

A great brand is all about great service alongside a great product, and great service is behaviour. And that's what makes a difference in a crowded marketplace. Behaviour shortfalls accompanied by excellent product does not make for a good brand.

There are various elements that get into creating a personal brand and we shall start with one aspect for this article.

Executive presence - do some people have it and some don't? Not really. True, some people naturally have that savoir faire that ensures they get a standing room only kind of an audience, but it is also true that gauche, unseemly leaders who possessed strong integrity and purpose shone bright and led the way.

This process starts when we dig in and find out what we are made of and consistently chip away at the non-essentials to showcase to our stakeholders. We all know of someone who is at the centre of it all, the kind of person all the fashionable labels seem to make you want to be. There are various attributes associated with this word 'executive presence'. Is it just a baritone and a good suit, or is the external accoutrement just that and the entire magic happens within to begin with?

Executive presence is that X-factor that people around you notice and speak about. Part charisma, part gravitas, with a dash of the ineffable, it may seem that true leaders are just born with it. Not so, says a new book.

In Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success, Sylvia Ann Hewlett sets out to break 'executive presence' down into its component parts and then analyse each one, relying partly on a detailed survey of 268 senior executives. Lots of people are terrific at what they do, but they hit a plateau mid-career for the same reason. "It isn't a question of competence at your job," she says.

The executives in Hewlett's study pinpointed three essential elements of "presence": Gravitas (how you act), communication (how you speak), and appearance (how you look). Gravitas, especially confidence in your own abilities and knowledge, is by far the most important of the three, according to 67 per cent of those polled, although it overlaps a lot with communication, which got 28 per cent of the vote. Appearance-by which the executives in the survey meant mostly grooming and fitness, not movie-star good looks-came in at a tiny 5 per cent.

Luckily, all of these can be learned, and Executive Presence tells how. Take gravitas, for instance. Hewlett defines it as "grace under fire" and the self-confidence to stay calm in high-pressure situations, but there's more to it than that. "A big part of gravitas is a knack for conveying tremendous amounts of knowledge and giving people the impression you could go 'six questions deep' on the subject you're talking about, but in a way that's concise," Hewlett explains. "Attention spans are so short now that whether it's in a speech or in a meeting, you have to show how you can add value in a way that's both compelling and brief."

An executive coach can be a big help in telling you exactly where you need to polish the skills that add up to executive presence.

The author is CEO and Chief Coach of Blue Fire Coaching Consultants


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