Do you really have to be a brand? Don’t worry, some of the best leaders aren’t

Social media news feeds constantly tout the necessity of turning ourselves into a brand but if we don’t want to can there still be an upside? 

Women in particular are often asked to position themselves as brands. We are told that this will enable us to circumvent the hierarchies and glass ceilings that have prevented women from rising to power for so long. But is self-branding really an essential need in our digital work-life? And more importantly, what does it do to leadership?

Not much good, actually, if you consult the evidence. Presumably being a brand helps to inspire people. And it definitely helps find  a new job. But it doesn’t make you an outstanding boss. All kinds of studies show that a certain modesty and humility are the most important traits in successful leaders. Putting one’s ego behind a greater cause is much more significant for getting things done than charisma. Excellent leadership is about helping others grow, not about growing one’s self.

The irony is that many women are pretty good at helping others grow, because a whole lot of caring expectation is written into the scripts of their lives. And now we tell them to turn themselves into brands instead. Brands that convey caring qualities if necessary, but brands nonetheless.

When you think about this, turning people into brands means they become yet another commodity that is tradeable on the competitive market. It fully subordinates humans to capitalism. This comes at a loss for society. Because while there is no shortage of brands in capitalism, there is a definite shortage of care. In her book “Unfinished Business” (Random House 2016) Anne-Marie Slaughter described the tension between competition and care as one of the most challenging issues capitalist societies must solve.

This is no call to make women invisible again. We definitely have the right to develop ourselves into brands, and those who thrive on such tasks shpuld by all means pursue them. But a society where everyone is a commodity is a frightening concept. Humanity has prospered exactly because throughout history qualities like communication, collaboration and care have again and again triumphed over cutthroat competition. Progress has so often succeeded only because pride and egos were put aside. 

One step towards a more positive change is to help men develop their caring qualities, so that  respective responsibilities could be distributed more evenly between the sexes. Having plenty of caring men and women in charge would make for better workplaces, too. One reason leadership has fallen short of conforming to the ideal for decades is that there is too much branding and too little care in the C suite and below.

Also, brand-building consumes a lot of energy. If some of this energy was invested into people management instead, many organizations would be better places to work. So, if self-promotion is not your thing, just remember — many fabulous leaders have never been brands. 

This text was published by NewsMavens on May 16, 2019.