2 – Look at me!
Article by Dr. Riaan du Preez
I will focus a lot on YOU as the leader of your practice in these articles. The reason is exactly because you are the leader, the owner, the drive and the passion of your practice or business. After all, you (and your team) are building your (and their) futures on the foundation of YOUR dreams! You are the one who had hopes and dreams many (or a few) years ago about your career and the practice, enterprise or organisation you were going to build. You are in a business where YOUR name appears on the bronze plate at the entrance, or if you decided to go into “big business” – on the bottom of the letterhead where law states the director’s names should appear.
Of course teamwork is very important to the success of any enterprise, but because you are in an industry where YOUR knowledge and skills are basically the main strategic competitive advantages (SCA’s) of your business, YOUR leadership, vision, drive and brand equity are the crucial ingredients for success. A business which employs the most dedicated and customer-orientated frontline personnel, but with a bombastic, grumpy and unapproachable boss might (perhaps) survive because of those employees. However, in the professional services industries this might only be true if you are absolutely one of the very best in your field of expertise and customers have no choice but to put up with your character if they want the very best in skills or knowledge. This is why the focus, in these first few articles, is so much on YOU as a brand name, as the heart and as the shaper of your practice’s culture. We can focus on the rest of the team and other management related topics later, when we have sorted out the most important factor - leadership.
Leadership is earned
I have always been extremely fascinated by history, especially the history of the Greek and Roman nations. One of the biggest questions I always had was how the Greeks managed to repel the onslaught of King Xerxes of Persia, when he attacked Greece with nearly two million soldiers and twenty thousand warships at about 480 B.C. Through unbelievable acts of individual and corporate bravery and valour, the Greek allied army of just more than one hundred thousand men and less than two thousand vessels eventually triumphed over the enemy. In the first battle of this war, King Leonidas and only three hundred handpicked Spartans, together with their personal servants and arms-barriers (about another 700 men), stalled the 500,000 advance troops of Xerxes in a mountain pass near Thermopylae for nearly a week, before they were eventually all killed! This unbelievable act of bravery bought enough time for the rest of Greece to evacuate Athens and a few other cities and converge in Sparta to put up a concerted (and eventually successful) defence.
One of the biggest factors in Greece’s success, according to historians (Barnes, Herodotus, Homer), was this kind of attitude and leadership – right down to platoon leader level. When the Greeks formed their battle formations, the platoon leaders would of course station themselves before their platoons (as would any other platoon leader of any other army). The difference however came when the enemy was advancing and coming very close, and fear might have crept into the hearts of the Greek soldiers. At this stage the Greek platoon leader would turn his back on the enemy and call to his men: “Look at me!” He would keep on calling till every soldier in his platoon was looking only at him and not at the enemy. He was trained to always exude calmness and would now “instil” this calmness in his men by starting to either recite a battle poem or sing a battle hymn – in which his men then followed. Only then would he again turn around and lead his men in battle while singing!
I would like to use this analogy in coming back to the personal development of yourself as the leader of your businesses. Can your team look at you as leader in times of business or economic turmoil and hyper competition and feed on your strength, calmness, future vision and strategic leadership? Can they Look at You instead of at the environment which may appear ambiguous and uncertain? Will they “follow you in war” – as a figure of speech – because they truly understand and buy into your dreams, vision and strategy. Do they do this because it makes sense and they can perceive their own personal future success in helping you to achieve your dreams? Are they accepting and living the new culture in your practice or business, inspired by your example?
These are crucial questions that every leader has to answer, because if you want to achieve future success for yourself and your practice, you will have to create, manage and drive a new culture in your practice. This may all seem very “soft” and philosophical and unfortunately it is. Major change (in yourself or your enterprise/organisation) does not occur by itself, neither even by a neatly drawn up “10 point plan”. Change only occurs when people make normative choices to change, and then of course follow through on those choices with actions!
In conclusion - if you (and your practice which in effect is an extension of yourself) want to become a unique and desired provider of professional services – a category of one as stated in the previous chapter – meaning a preferred brand name, there’s no step by step recipe. Personal branding is not as simple as it may seem on the surface. If you were hoping to get an easy formula and spend a lot of money on marketing that will create you as a brand, while remaining emotionally detached from your business, employees and customers, you need not embark. Branding is a never-ending journey only meant for those passionate souls who love their patients or clients as well as what they do for them. For the rest it happens by rare accident only.
- Barnes, Jonathan. 1987. Early Greek Philosophy. Penguin. London.
- Herodotus. The Histories. (1996) Penguin. London.
- Homer. The Iliad. (1950) Penguin. Hammondsworth.