I recently opined in a tweet that branding is an extension of a leader’s EQ. That low EQ leads to bad branding decisions, lack of awareness & message obsession. This post came from observing some recent behaviors displayed by leaders.

If you do a search on “emotional intelligence” you will find thousands of articles – all of them essentially saying the same thing: the best leaders have high EQ.  Here is a short summary of some common traits of leaders with high EQ:

  1. They have deep convictions about being a leader. This could be the mission for the business, their purpose in the world, how they treat others or a combination of all three.
  2. They have high self-awareness. They recognize their strengths and weaknesses and tend to build teams that help with both. This also helps them recognize and develop talent.
  3. They have a heart for others. Call it empathy or intuition or just good old fashioned kindness – but they tend to love people.

Here is the direct link between high EQ leaders and branding …

If you cross-reference leaders with perceived or known high EQ (for example, Richard Branson, John Mackey, et al), you will start to notice a pattern: companies with high EQ leaders have dominant brands.  Conversely, every bad branding decision can be traced back to a leader with low EQ.

The connection between leadership and branding is older than we think.  Walt Disney, Henry Ford, FDR, George Patton and many other 20th century leaders and innovators were very brand sensitive. But most business leaders still tend to lead in relative anonymity.

In the industrial age, leadership was about growth, market dominance and making numbers. Of course, those still matter but the social era of business has created a new role for leadership as it relates to brands. Formerly only about perception management and name recognition, a brand is now the convergence of three areas:

  • Leadership style – manifested in company culture.
  • Innovation –manifested in differentiation and customer experience.
  • Reputation – manifested in social, word-of-mouth and talent attraction.

Because low EQ leaders suffer from a lack of self-awareness, their organizational brands and personal brands really struggle with this convergence. They come across as tone-deaf in their leadership style, their visual brands tend to seem stale or boring and their reputation is managed through coercion rather than inspiration.

Largely influenced by the EQ traits mentioned prior, leaders with high EQ tend to be very mission and people-centric with their brands. In essence, they organize the brand around the mission, then find the right people to carry out the mission.  This intrinsic approach to branding plays particularly well in creating authentic buzz, a a focus on building a community of followers and comfortably being the “face” of a brand.  A recent example is Dan Price, CEO of Gravity Payments who made a huge splash with a conviction that he had about pay structure.

A brand led by high EQ leaders will have great clarity of purpose, intuition about strategy and a gravitational pull to the right people – all of which add up to a formula for modern branding.

Written by Justin Foster

Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster are cofounders of the intrinsic branding practice known as Root + River. Together with their defiantly different clients, they uncover then articulate the foundational elements of the brand. Then, they provide brand strategy and brand coaching as the brand is rolled out internally and externally. Obsessive about language and differentiation, Emily + Justin are also authors and speakers. Follow @rootandriver @fosterthinking and @emilyatlarge.

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