We were recently asked by the President of a Fortune 500 company what we thought it meant to be a CEO. “Leadership,” we responded almost simultaneously. What does leadership really mean in terms of brand success, innovation, growth, and integrity?
Certainly there are the obvious qualifying requirements for the job: Understand the official and unofficial corporate structure and processes; Know and increase the value the company adds to its clients and customers; Appreciate and improve the positioning of the company’s products and services. And somehow make it all work. The Chief Executive Officer must execute the goals of the company.
But what are the leadership traits, characteristics and behaviors that result in successful brands? There have certainly been ton of books written on this subject. So, we will just keep it to the essentials that worked for us building of the Barefoot Wine brand:
1. Values. Hold yourself to high standards if you expect others to do the same. Put out 110%! Constantly add value to your brand, your people, and your associates. Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes and look for mutually beneficial solutions. Demonstrate a level of integrity even when it’s costly to do so.
2. Example. As Wes Roberts says in his Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, lead your “Huns” from the front lines. When your people see that you are willing to do what you are asking them to do, they will be more likely to do it and more confident about its outcome. Your credibility is essential to your effectiveness as a leader. Your passion is contagious.
3. Vigilance. Keep your eye on the big picture. Watch out for corporate “busy work” that can blur your focus and take your eyes off the ball. Visit the marketplace regularly and see your brand as your ultimate customer sees it. Don’t let your people “fix” anything that “ain’t broke.” Don’t let the production people reduce the quality to try save a buck. The existing sales they take for granted will drop. Use evolution, not revolution for all brand image changes.
4. Urgency. Act with a sense of urgency, and cultivate it in your people. Use the compensation plans to tie their performance to sales and profitability. Their ability to meet deadlines and move quickly to seize fleeting market opportunities is based to a large degree on how they are paid. Give them a financial consideration to develop a sense of urgency.
5. Flexibility. Learn from outside your organization. Be ready and willing to reorganize to remain relevant, and adjust to ever-changing market situations. Elevate the influence of your sales and customer service people over your marketing and production people. Don’t do a focus group when your sales and customer service people are already talking directly to your customers. Get that priceless feedback to the right people to improve your products, distribution, and marketing.
6. Tenacity. Hang in there no matter what! Your people are looking to you to keep a steady hand on the tiller, especially in rough seas. Your belief in your products, branding, and the course you have set for the company is the glue that holds the ship together. Make sure that belief is well founded with constant confirmation from satisfied customers, positive company culture, and loyal strategic alliances.
7. Acknowledgement. As the Chief Executive Officer, your people are looking to you for validation. Provide them with well-deserved acknowledgement for jobs well done. When you make the acknowledgement public, your whole team will understand what gets praise from the top and they will want to get some for themselves. Build positive culture by giving them more appreciation for their teammates and what they contribute.
Strong leadership is essential to brand success. It starts at the top!
Who Are We.
Having built and sold a bestselling national brand, we appreciate the value of brands and everything it takes to make them successful. Companies are valued by their brand equity. Achieving and maximizing brand equity requires tremendous respect for all your customers, from your wholesaler to your end user.
Starting in our laundry room with no money and no knowledge of the industry, we built the famous Barefoot Wine brand. We learned a lot they don’t teach in school and much of it the hard way. Although our success was in consumer products, our real world experience will be helpful to anyone looking for information and advice about brands.
We have written the New York Times Bestselling Business Book, The Barefoot Spirit: How Hardship, Hustle and Heart Built America’s #1 Wine Brand, which chronicles the history of the famous brand from its inception through its acquisition. Our book is now required reading in schools of entrepreneurship across the country. We hope this book will provide inspiration and encouragement for all those contemplating starting a brand or wanting to improve their existing brand.
Michael Houlihan and Bonnie Harvey
-Barefoot Wine Founders