By Emily Soccorsy + Justin Foster

To be a leader you need a healthy ego. Leading with your ego will kill your brand.


Not sure what to discuss? We got you.

First off, we need an ego. It keeps us alive and moving. It looks out for us and spurs urgency. This is why the ego makes a great employee but a terrible boss.

Leaders who allow the ego to lead are making themselves highly vulnerable to destruction.

Not just the destruction of their own brand or reputation, but the destabilization and potential razing of their business as well. Unfortunately, the more successful (financially, at least) an ego-driven leader is, the less likely they are to change. And the less likely they are to realize their ego is leading.

Because leading with your ego works — brilliantly. And it does for a long time.

But it does not work forever.

[Cases in point: Trump, Musk, Kalanick and probably a dozen or so people you know in real life.]

Here’s what leading with your ego looks like:

  • Being numbers (and data) obsessed as an antidote for insecurity
  • Taking highly emotional or personal reactions and making them policies
  • Objectifying people as either targets to persuade or tormentors to rage against
  • Willful ignorance of your own power and influence you have on the people around you
  • A cult of personality in your organization or team

Here’s how all that kills your brand …

  • Repeatedly allowing tactics to drive strategy
  • Cost-cutting in the culture and customer experience
  • Obsession with the competition
  • Managing your image instead of not acting like an asshole
  • Crisis management expenses are a line-item
  • You get fired from your own company, sued and ostracized.

Soul-based leadership looks very different from this. Soul-based leaders are still achievers; they still have a drive to win. Just not at the expense of their soul, culture and brand.

They have made the conscious choice to get clear on what their mission is in life. They understand what their soul’s imperative in this life is. And they have chosen to allow that to be the true driver of whatever endeavor they find themselves in — business or personal or philanthropic.

Unlike those driven by ego, soul-based leaders are others-minded, not self-centered.

They have the humility to understand it is their team of people who will make their goals real, not just themselves.

They have an insatiable curiosity and healthy skepticism that compels them to doing things differently; to defy conventional wisdom and formulas.

They are not afraid of failure. In fact, most soul-based leaders encourage failure.

Most of all, soul-based leaders see the world differently. They see people and profits. They see possibility and problems. They see the past and the future. They see strategy and tactics.

Here are 10 ways being a soul-based leader shows up in your brand …
  1. Your brand is rooted in truth and love, which means branding and marketing activities are the amplification of what’s real, not the reinforcement of a construct.
  2. You have a consistent strategy. Tactical pursuits always serve the strategic imperatives. And tactics are flexible, never rigid.
  3. You have a heart-based message that everyone who touches the brand believes in.
  4. You care about the way things feel, look and are experienced. Customer experience and people are the last places you look for cost-cutting.
  5. You create and own a category that didn’t exist before.
  6. You choose to pay for retention (talent and customers) instead of paying for attention (advertising).
  7. You know improving yourself improves the business, and you encourage everyone you know to do the same.
  8. You are unafraid of sharing your deep beliefs, standards and mission with everyone inside your doors and outside your doors.
  9. Failures are acknowledged – and then used as opportunities to grow the business.
  10. There is an intentional but natural regeneration of your culture and your brand.

So we have a challenge for you.

Where do you think you are? Are you an ego-based leader? Or a soul-based one? More specifically, give yourself an honest 1-10 (10 being highest) rating on the above 10 traits.

And if you know Trump, Musk or Kalanick, please send them this post. That would be fun.

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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