What Is the Most Powerful Tool You Have as a Leader?

What Is the Most Powerful Tool You Have as a Leader?

A brand is an essential guide for leading business, making decisions, engaging employees, and building an enduring relationship with customers.

Lindsay Pedersen: Brand Strategist, Owner, and Author of Forging an Ironclad Brand.

At Forward Thinking Workplaces, we are discovering the people, insights, and strategies that lead to Forward Thinking minds, leaders, and workplaces of the future — today. Forward Thinking conversations will define the great workplaces of the 21st century.

How can we create workplaces where every voice matters, everyone thrives and finds meaning, and change and innovation happen naturally?

Lindsay: What a big question. I was thinking about the common thread in a work environment that feels like a thriving, vibrant culture. What’s the common thread? What enables that, and what I keep coming back to, is this idea of psychological safety.

All individuals in this workspace or this company feel respected and dignified as human beings. It sounds so negative and necessary, but it’s surprisingly rare.

The common thread is people in this company feel respected and dignified as a human being.

I have noticed that people thrive and find meaning when they feel safe psychologically. When they succeed and find meaning, they naturally contribute. Meaningful to the business because they feel cared about, so they care too.

Bill: I think that’s critical and interesting. I recently posted an article on this topic. It’s so vital. Everything else works when you can do that.

Lindsay: Exactly. It’s like proper nutrition, sleep, and exercise as a foundation for health. You need those things. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how many bottles of kale juice you drink if you only sleep four hours at night.

Bill: I received an anonymous quote one time about our interviews, but it so relates. They said, “This conversation invites and allows whole beings to show up; like whole food, whole beings are more nutritious to the system they exist within.”

Lindsay: I love that. Brene Brown talks about that a lot. The wholehearted acceptance and welcoming of the whole person because we’re a whole person. We’re not just an automaton that creates widgets for a company. We have other things going on too, and when we see that, it’s very humanizing.

What does it take to get an employee’s full attention and best performance?

Lindsay: Assuming they have psychological safety, I think that’s the underlying condition. Once that’s true, how do you get the most out of this employee?

To me, it’s an overlap between what the employee cares about and what a company’s purpose is. When there is something the company stands for that human being who is an employee cares about, they will devote more of their cognitive resources.

So number one, make employees feel psychologically safe. And number two, give them a purpose as a company that your employees can galvanize around.

What do people really lack and long for at work?

Lindsay: I think it’s a very human quality to be a meaning seeker. We’re looking for meaning in everything we interact with within our environment. When that’s missing from a significant part of a person’s life, there isn’t a sense of why am I here? What is this all for?

When people find meaning in the work that they’re doing every day, it’s really energizing.

I think there’s something very existentially draining about being in an environment that has no meaning. Conversely, when people find meaning in work they’re doing every day, it’s really energizing. What people lack and long for at work is the same thing that people lack and long for in all of their lives, which means that something they’re spending their precious time and attention on matters to them.

It’s an eight-hour day, but if you’re checking your watch every five minutes, it’s because you want it over with, which is the opposite of the flow state. In the flow state, time disappears, and you get lost in creating something engaging. It’s difficult enough to engage you but not so difficult that you’re put off by it. It’s so soul-sucking when you’re in a place devoid of meaning.

What’s the most important question leaders should ask employees?

Lindsay: What matters to you? What do you care about? What do you value in life?

What is the most important question employees should ask leaders?

Lindsay: Why is this company here? Why does this company or this business deserve to exist beyond creating and perpetuating a financial profit and loss? What are we doing here?

What is the most important question we should ask ourselves?

It almost doesn’t even matter what the question is as long as you’re taking time to ask yourself a question.

I think of it in two ways. The first part is what’s the question that we ask ourselves, and the second part of it is making sure that we are asking ourselves questions, to begin with.

I think there’s such a tendency to get caught in the vortex of the busyness of our lives. There are so many demands on our time and attention that massive swathes of time can pass when we haven’t even checked in with ourselves. The first thing, and the reason I love this question, is to stop, get still, and check in with yourself. It almost doesn’t even matter what the question is as long as you’re taking time to ask yourself a question.

The question I find to be the most revealing is, how am I doing? What’s it like for you right now? How is life right now for me? How can I be my own best friend and advocate?

What prompted you to write your new book?

Lindsay: I kept noticing that I was having the same conversation over and over again. It was a conversation of demystifying for leaders what brand means. I have this bee in my bonnet to make the brand accessible to an audience that has always found it a little bit off-putting, intimidating, or mysterious. I wrote this book to accomplish the same thing that I was doing in this conversation with leaders. I wanted to share with them the power of a brand as a leadership tool. A brand is much more than a logo.

A brand is an essential guide for leading business, making decisions, engaging employees, and building an enduring relationship with customers.

I found that every time a leader grasped that message, something shifted for them. They embrace this idea of focus in a way they previously couldn’t. There was such a great buzz from that transformation experience that I wanted to bring it to more people. I wrote this book to pull back the layers and demystify what branding is. What’s in it for a leader, and why should they care? What are the steps to building one? How do you create a vibrant brand for yourself as a leader and as lively for the business in creating value that only your business can create?

Bill: I think that’s brilliant, Lindsay. That’s exactly what lit me up when I started reading your book and discovered those aspects of a brand. I had never heard a brand discussed as a leadership tool before. Was it something you learned through your work?

Lindsay: My background is in consumer packaged goods, so I spent a lot of my career at Clorox, which comes from Procter & Gamble and this old consumer brand model. There’s an ethos in consumer packaged goods where a brand is your most sustainable competitive advantage. A brand is what you stand for. It’s the thing that you uniquely own and bring to your customer.

It is so powerful and was always so powerful in that world. I was surprised when I left consumer packaged goods and found that most people outside of that realm thought the brand was a logo. Given how powerful the brand was for me as a leader at Clorox, I wanted to call attention to it. The brand was the most powerful tool that I had as a leader. There’s no reason why a brand is useful in consumer packaged goods but not be useful elsewhere. A brand is valuable anywhere where you want to build a meaningful, profitable relationship with your customer.

Brand was the most powerful tool that I had as a leader at P&G.

There are many books on branding. What makes your book different?

Lindsay: Many books are written for marketing people and not for leaders and not for an audience that might have some baggage against branding. What makes my book different is the audience that I was writing it for. It’s for leaders, and because I am of the same ilk. I come from running a P&L business as a leader.

I have a lot of empathy for what it’s like to be a leader and that constant tension of trying to survive in an increasingly competitive world while also building a thriving and enduring business. I wanted them to harness brand as a leadership tool in the same way that I had been able to in the consumer packaged goods world.

What question is at the heart of your book?

Lindsay: My book asks what is the one thing about your business different from anyone else and that your customers care about? When leaders can answer that pairing of questions, that’s their brand strategy. The thing that you uniquely bring that your audience really cares about.

When I wrote this book, I wanted to get my reader in a philosophical place. They know that their business is here to create returns for investors and to create a livelihood for their employees. But it’s also here for some other reason. What is that reason because that answer will be the thing that fuels your employees. It’s also going to be the thing that fuels your customers in the long term. Ultimately products and features can be copied, and patents eventually will expire. But the relationship that your brand has with your audience is not something that others can copy. It’s a worthwhile exercise to discern that.

What is the readers' takeaway? What would that be if just one (or two, or three, etc.) idea(s)?

Lindsay: The first is that there is a massive power in focus. There’s enormous power in single-mindedly bringing to life one strength of your business. The brand is a way to reveal what that focus should be and shine the light on that focus continually. The second takeaway is that brand is not a merely creative right-brained intuitive exercise. It’s an exercise that you can approach in a step-by-step way.

There’s enormous power in single-mindedly bringing to life one strength of your business.

If you’re a person who is allergic to warm fuzzy concepts, you’ve likely been dismissing the brand. What I’m here to say is a brand is not squishy. A brand is the most enduring source of value and financial value creation we have as a business. You don’t have to sit passively and wait for the muse to tell you what your brand is. You can deliberately and intentionally define your brand. When you do, you not only unlock a lot of value for your business, but you also make your business feel more meaningful to lead.

Bill: I think those points are right on target with what I got from reading your book and some of your articles, Lindsay. You expanded my understanding of brand and what was possible. What I really liked was how you could create that focus and use it in a powerful way to lead your company and your people forward.

Lindsay: I’m energized by what you just said that now you understand in a bigger way what brand is. I’m not a purist when it comes to brand. I hope people can start to think about brand in this big way that I’m talking about.

It’s less than I’m dogmatic about the word brand and more to say, “Hey leaders, you know that thing that you’ve been searching for? A sense of purpose that can be your focus as a business? Brand is a way to get to that purpose. I don’t want brand to feel like an I should. I want brand to feel like a get-to. I get to do this.

It’s not brand for brand sake. It’s brand for the sake of focus and purpose, and clarity.

Sometimes I’ll even talk to leaders after taking them through what brand really means, and they still feel like it’s squishy. But they are on board with the idea of getting deliberate about what their purpose is and what their focus is. That’s okay with me because it’s not like, “Oh, I’m the brand police, and you have to use the word brand correctly.” It’s more like this is a tool. The ultimate reward of using that tool is the focus and purpose that it brings.

It’s funny for me to say that, having just spent a lot of time defining what a brand is and trying to demystify it. But at the end of this, brand is in service of purpose. It’s not in service of itself. It’s just the most empowering way I know to get to a purpose that creates value for your business and for you as the leader.