Finding Courage

People don’t follow titles, they follow courage. In a society with as much dourness as there is today, I attribute this condition to a lack of courage in decisions being made in both public and private institutions. This is causing citizens and employees dissidence in reaching alignment with the people we follow because leaders seem to make decisions based on personal interests rather than the courage of following strategic principles.

Often we think of leaders in terms of politicians. Democrats and Republicans alike have demonstrated self – serving hubris rather than the transcending mission of government. Examples are everywhere, but on the Democratic side we have Eliot Spitzer disgraced AG from New York and Charles Rangle censured Senator for ethics violations and tax evasion. Republicans fare no better with Tom Delay jailed for money laundering and Duke Cunningham jailed for bribery and corruption.

Many leaders in private industry also appear to have self interest as a guide for their behaviors lacking courage to honor strategic principles.  For example, despite all corporate posturing about being solid citizens, twenty five of the largest one hundred companies pay their CEO more than the corporation pays in taxes (Reuters, August 31, 2011). Examples are GE, eBay and Boeing. The accounting is presumably legal, but is this socially in the best long term interest of shareholders, other stakeholders and overall global wellnes?

As simple as it sounds, I work with CEOs and boards to find decision making courage within the framework of their company brands. As the Constitution is the time – honored strategic guide to public mission, brand is the corporate commitment to customers and embodies the company’s mission. Thus a brand model becomes a process, like the Constitutional one for government, which causes deep reflection on the promise to customers. And if used to its fullest, brand concepts serve as a management decision making platform from employment to investment, from social initiatives to fiscal imperatives.

An corporate example of this principle i.e., using brand credos to frame complex management decisions, is when James Burke, CEO of J&J during the 1982 Tylenol – cyanide crisis. Burke believed that J&J’s first responsibility was to its customers, second to its shareholders. During the crisis management meeting he asked his executive team what the basis of the J&J brand was with its customers. The response: TRUST.

He had the courage to order a recall Tylenol product, which could have been the death march for the leading analgesic brand in the US. He said: “It became clear that our value system had been vital to our ability to outperform the competition for nearly one hundred years.  Whenever we cared for the customer in a profound-and spiritual-way, profits were never a problem.” After pulling all product from the shelves, Burke’s courage was vindicated within three years when Tylenol regained its market share which increased later based on demonstrated goodwill and innovative tamper proof packaging and new product forms like caplets.

Net, decision making, whether guided by the Constitution for government or brand strategy for business offer frameworks for leaders to use in building commitment to goals and actions that achieve results.

This entry was posted in Brand, Leadership, Management Practices. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Finding Courage

  1. Dave says:

    Cal – very well stated – and a very powerful concept.

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