How we experience leadership


How does leadership feel to a stakeholder? The employee, the customer, the investor, the watchdog, the excluded? Remember that these people are no longer remote from leadership – the network delivers a new kind of "blind intimacy", wherein successes, failures, promises and betrayals are – now within minutes or hours rather than weeks or months – uncovered, shared and discussed. And acted upon, most importantly.

A failure of leadership is not experienced simply as a headline, a scandal. It's experienced by the stakeholder emotionally and physically. We feel a sinking of the heart, a hollowness. I call this entropy. We've been feeling entropy with increasing frequency. Just watch the news. Walk round and look at people. See the world as it is.

Great leadership builds not just purpose, but energy.

Great leadership, in contrast – with the surges in shared meaning it creates among stakeholders – actually builds not just purpose, but energy. It fuels the organisation, all those who cluster around it and those who come into contact.

Today's leadership challenge, before anything else, is to re-establish for commerce the shared platforms of meaning – among all stakeholder groups, not just customers – that will tell us where we're now heading. And why. And that will provide the fresh energy that fuels the confident, credible forward movement we long for.

Why is branding important here?
Branding, by which I will, from here, mean no less than responsibility for how organisations are seen to behave, has, like marketing communications overall, recently contributed little of note in terms of useful insight to commerce. Commerce and its brands, in turn, have contributed almost nothing of note to the world.

The world, in the meantime, is now so networked, so data-savvy, and increasingly cynical, that the failings of corporations and brands are a daily feature of the news.

We can change that. This paper is a manifesto, a form of compass, for a new way of thinking for business, a new way of leading for leaders, and a new, critical, role in the unfolding drama, for the discipline of branding.

We need – a crucial example of the new thinking – to accommodate a new and powerful challenge to leaders and the brands they represent – the global networked tribe.

As presented here, branding in The Age of Meaning is the mindset, the processes, the organisational commitment that drive this new shared energy and meaning, that authentic leaders must now create, through every touchpoint, to deliver and optimise a virtuous cycle of positive stakeholder experience and expectation.

The new challenge
This is like nothing that's ever been seen before.

Or is it? Think about Carphone Warehouse, John Lewis, Harley Davidson, Apple. These are not simply great brands. They are great organisations whose sense of shared meaning extends far out from their corporate headquarters. For them, brand is not mere messaging and imaging. It's doing. Their branding is woven into their beliefs, the way they behave. And the way they are led.

About The Author

Michael Bayler
Michael Bayler

Michael Bayler is a strategist and futurist based in London. He specialises in the impact on brands, organisations and individuals of developments and trends in culture, media and technology.

Older Comments

I read a series of your essays today and I'd like to comment on 'leadership' and 'on-line communities'. I fully agree that the unifying element of an on-line community is energy and passion for whatever the community focuses on. It takes leadership to provide the focus and fuel that passion.

I think that until business begins to provide real leadership to social issues, it's efforts to draw people together using the Internet will be costly, and not as successful as they'd like.

I lead the Tutor/Mentor Connection based in Chicago and at Every day I invite people who want to end poverty by helping kids be in jobs by age 25 to visit my web sites, learn from the information on-line, and join in actions that make this wish a reality.

I've had more than 150,000 visits to my sites, even though I have virtually no funds to advertise. Imagine what would happen if the CEO of BP or some other major coporation put as much focus and passion into this vision as I have been for the past 30 years.

If you know of corporate or university folks who'd like to test this premise, I'd like to serve as a channel for their learning.


Dan Bassill