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Stephen Manallack
Creativity, branding and leadership go hand in hand
1 July 2006
Stephen Manallack*, communication consultant, professional speaker and trainer, shares some quick creativity tips from his study of how advertising creatives work, and how corporates have achieved their goals

It is said that creativity and leadership are a great team. Some say they hold the key to brand. In the case of three very different companies, this has been true — they are the Tata Group, Aditya Birla Group and Australia's Macquarie Bank.

Yet, working in a creative industry, I have heard so many in senior management positions say "I just can't be creative". My view is that creativity can be learned. For the successful manager or CEO, wanting to play a role in promoting development, being creative represents the greatest opportunity and hardest challenge.

In the case of Tata Salt, a brand of Tata Chemicals, it was creativity on the problem of iodine and health that launched it to where today it has 41 per cent share of the branded salt market. For Aditya Birla Group, creativity has been to break down the borders within its diverse operations to become one company. And for Macquarie, branding creativity was to link itself with one of the oldest names in Australian history, Governor Lahlan Macquarie while building a reputation for entrepreneurial flair.

Each of these demonstrate that becoming creative is not necessarily about become another Einstein or Picasso. They do show that if you lock into your own creative juices, you will become a better leader and push your brand forward.

Here are some quick creativity tips from my study of how advertising creatives work, balanced by how corporates have achieved their goals:

Re-build an open mind
When we were kids everything was new and we had an open way of looking at things. It's worth trying to get this back now that you are in leadership. As you become more open and more creative, your leadership persona will develop.

For the Aditya Birla Group, the challenge to open the mind was expressed by chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, "Before we can truly benefit from a borderless world, we need to build a borderless organisation. We visualise free flow of knowledge and information across the group." The company adopted five core values: integrity, commitment, passion, seamlessness and speed.

The mind of Tata Salt leadership was certainly open in the early 1980s when the World Trade Organisation and the ministry of health identified a health issue for India and it was decided to iodise salt as the only way to deliver the solution cost effectively to the nation. At the same time, the company ran an awareness campaign on goitre and the role of iodine in solving the problem. The twin strategy had an economic and social benefit.

As Satish Sohoni, chief operating officer, food additives business, Tata Chemicals, says "This is the single largest penetrated brand in the Tata Group. It embodies the Tata brand, evoking respect, partnership and trust."

Don't censor yourself
One of my colleagues would be the one to say "I know this is a dumb question, but…" and then he'd ask the very question that was on everyone's mind. We don't ask these dumb questions because our mind acts as a censor. It says "you should know" or "they will laugh at you".

Just because you are in a leadership role, this does not mean you know everything. Importantly, you are not expected to know everything, so you'll lead better by being the first to say; "I don't know".

Move on from mistakes
I watched a creative team of art director and copywriter working on an advertising campaign. Some of their words or ideas were clearly ridiculous. As they talked, one or the other would come up with a lousy line or a weak joke. They just moved on. They did not keep reminding each other of the pathetic effort. They did not fear mistakes; nor should you as a leader.

The Tata brand has shown that, like human beings, it is fallible, but when it does make mistakes it is candid enough to acknowledge its error, correct it and move on. This is consistent with the Tata brand, that "behaviour is everything".

Keep active, be involved
Creativity needs feeding, and the best food is the wonderful diversity of human life. If all you do is work and attend board meetings, you will become dull. To keep your creative energies growing, get out of the chair. See a movie. If you must watch TV, watch something you would normally reject. You don't have to sit glued to the business news or current affairs. Buy a different magazine. Don't keep closing more and more doors on the outside world; start to smash some of them open. That's a big step towards real leadership.

Macquarie Bank has a strong system that provides its businesses with a balance between operating freedom and controls on risk limits and observance of professional standards. This combination fosters an entrepreneurial spirit among staff.

Tata Salt has not rested on its "brand laurels". In 2002 it launched a campaign allocating funds from each sale to the education of under privileged children, benefiting 30,000 in the first year and 40,000 in the second.

Leave things alone
Sometimes you need to get up from the boardroom table, walk away and not come back to the issue for a while. "Let's sleep on that" can be good advice, and it takes a leader to know when to say it.

As Birla expresses it, "Great businesses are never built on the quick sands of opportunism. I reiterate that, if living by our values means perhaps growing at a pace slower than we would otherwise have liked, so be it. For us, leadership lies at the heart of knowing what we stand for."

Act on the idea
Once creativity arises, you have to put it to work. Pass it on, write it down, take the action, share the idea with friends or colleagues or take any action that commits the creativity to memory. One of the big differences between real leaders and the rest is the courage to put ideas into action.

When Macquarie Bank was first established in 1969 it was called Hill Samuel Australia Ltd. But 15 years later it knew it needed a more relevant brand and it chose to be named after Australia's most successful governor, Lachlan Macquarie. He created the country's first bank and solved a supply of coinage problem by buying Spanish silver dollars, punching out the middle to create two coins for every one, and adding 25 per cent to the total worth of the coins. The idea was strong, and Macquarie Bank still stick with it today.

For Aditya Birla Group a strong activity to change the brand has been on the people front. Birla says "Over the last several years our focus as regards people has been, in a nutshell, to build a meritocracy. The most obvious outcome of our efforts on the people front is that our brand as an employer has enhanced significantly, enabling us ready access to some of the best minds and talent available in the country."

To get ahead in leadership today, you need more than technical or professional skills. You need to be more than a well-read lawyer or accountant, more than an MBA, and more than a management expert — you also need creative communication, the ability to get the message across. Even in sports, the most successful sporting figures are also good, highly trained, communicators. It is also vital for those who want to get more out of community involvement.

The beauty about learning good communication is that you win in both ways — you'll be more likely to be a leader and you will be happier. We are living in a time that is uncertain yet creative. Leaders need to think about the wonderful opportunities ahead. Economic development and growth depend on creative leadership. Knowledge is exploding. We can talk to anybody, anywhere and anytime.

Even corporations are looking for friends and partners. Nothing is impossible. A sense of creativity will make this century great. The human spirit can make it different. To develop as a leader, get out of your seats. Talk to someone. Talk to employees you've hardly even met. Talk to your family. Communicate. The future awaits us, what are you going to do?

*Stephen Manallack is a communication consultant, professional speaker and trainer. His training programs include creating a corporate communication culture, and how managers and leaders can create engaged employees. Stephen is the author of You Can Communicate (Pearson 2002). He is a member of the committee of management of the Australia India Business Council.

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