Was this Indian corporate (Tata) leader caught unawares by the absence of branding?

And then the previous leader gave way to a new one…

Why does this happen? Because, they don’t say enough and don’t say the correct things? Or they say the right things but do not pay enough attention to threading them all together into a cohesive brand story that continuously creates a favorable and relevant perception of the leader?

Is the exit of Cyrus Mistry, the Chairman of Tata Sons a large conglomerate in India and the world a case in point?

Keeping aside my individual judgments of competence or otherwise, how about we look at this high level exit as the absence of branding? Perhaps leadership branding was given a go by and the sense of self-assuredness on part of the leader did not get translated adequately into the public domain. The result — possibly a confused scenario for the whole Tata Group and a temporary dilution of the brand’s steadfastness.

My premises for branding the leader

Premise 1: The perception of an organization is actually a long shadow of the leader and leadership. Bordering on being purposively simplistic, I would hasten to add that the while the leader is part of the larger corporate brand, he/she is seen as the one who is having a public conversation with the various ‘interested publics’.

So how do the publics perceive the leader, seen as the one who is symbolizing the corporation? What does the leader convey — Energy? Credibility? Stewardship? Do the corporation’s interested publics see inertia or dynamism (some kind of forward movement), post the advent of a new leader? Do they hear a whisper of change?

Premise 2: Leaders ought to be conscious of how they present themselves to the outside world. Especially if they have inherited a past and the shoes of the previous leader are big to fill.

Being conscious is the first step.

Defining oneself as a personal brand is the next.

Understanding all the associations that one needs to trigger for the leadership, a brand definition ought to follow.

Lastly, orchestrating a complete messaging framework so that there is an explicit, cohesive image of the leader is crucial and perhaps that is what makes the leader a leader.

Premise 3: Leaders especially of large organizations are extremely self assured so much so they forget or overlook the need to convey the same quality of confidence to the outside world- those of the interested publics. These are the publics who are looking at the needed associations (fundamental principle of branding) the leader is able to create and reinforce. How do they see a leader? What is the first thing they recall when they think of him/her? What are those elements that they piece together in their minds to see a picture of continuity, which in turn strengthens the perceptions of the leader?

Leaders are symbols and symbols have public conversations.

Businesses today have large employee strengths. Some of them are akin to large groups and nations with individuals drawn from different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds. Such large businesses have the potential to impact daily lives and somehow seem to be sensitive to the leader’s ideas, values and their propagation.

In my branding experience, while there may be many spokespersons for an organization’s projected journey and values, the leader is the main ambassador and the significance of the statements and values the leader espouses is crucial to the creation of positive public opinion.

A leader like Gandhi impressed upon the power of soul force. Perhaps he was endowed with it in a unique way and his whole Satyagraha principle was largely based on it. This called for deep insights into the human mind and heart and the will to lead a nation with an unusual weapon resting in the soul. Soul force vs. brute force was his weapon.

“Satyagraha is literally holding on to Truth and it means, therefore, Truth-force. Truth is soul or spirit. It is, therefore, known as soul-force.”

Four dimensions of a leader

Philosopher Peter Koestenbaum mentions four dimensions of a leader — vision, reality, ethics and courage that in turn determines the long-term success. His contention, which strikes a chord is that, these dimensions could very well work for brands. How brands behave on these dimensions is what the public sees as conversations by the brand with them. He further articulates that brands work in just one or two dimensions and that is not adequate. Brands need to possess all four of them. His contention is:

“Bland brands that do not possess courage or vision will only attract people by default…To see how this works, relate the idea back to individuals. We admire people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela because they operate in these four dimensions. If Mandela lacked a sense of reality, we’d say he was a dreamer. If Gandhi had no real vision, people would not have followed him.”

From leadership and corporate values to vision and mission. This seems to be the logical next input in creating and marketing a brand with an outlined and well understood journey. Both seem to matter as they form critical inputs in the corporation’s strategic plan.

For farsighted corporations, collective agreement on where the company ought to go and what kind of mental spaces they need to occupy is part of the marketing journey. Partly spearheaded and catalyzed by the founder/s or the leadership team, the collective envisioning of the company is an interesting public conversation and a definitive marketing and symbol- creating tool.

Obviously for Cyrus Mistry it did not go that way?


Gandhi 23.3.1921: Young India

Koestenbaum, P. 1928. Leadership: The Inner Side Of Greatness: A Philosophy For Leaders. California: Jossey-Bass

Evans, Jennell.2010: April 24. Vision and Mission — What’s the difference and why does it matter? Accessed from internet https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/smartwork/201004/vision-and-mission-whats-the-difference-and-why-does-it-matter