As I stood leaning on the hoe pondering the newly emerged leaves on the soil below, I thought to myself, “these two plants have always confused me!” For the master gardener, there would have been no confusion, but for the peripatetic consultant turned work-from-home farmer, it was a puzzle. To hoe, or not to hoe, that was the question.
Foxgloves and burdock don’t have much in common, but in early spring, the rank amateur can confuse one for the other. Both biennials, both fit for human consumption—though in radically different quantities (more on rural murder weapons later) – both with early spring leaves that look sort of similar. Once, my wife and I had hired a short-tenured gardener whose plant knowledge did not quite match his pleasing enthusiasm for scorched-earth weeding. He took out an entire bed of carefully cultivated foxgloves. Easy to do. Impossible to redeem. Burdock produces big plants and pesky burrs that attach themselves to every protruding garment and wandering dog. Foxgloves send up at least one spike of wondrously intricate bellflowers (more if you are lucky) in which bees love to hunt for nectar. You really do want to know the difference!
For some years, before this most confusing and disruptive time, the brand identity of companies that were the real deal (I don’t mean the ‘Real Thing’, just mean they were honest) were increasingly becoming preferred. As one client put it a few years back, “authenticity is the new coin of the realm.” Well, we have all put up with a bit much disingenuous fakery but I suspect that fake brands are really done for now. After we have all been locked in our houses, fed our hungry neighbours, feared for ageing parents, done double duty working-from-home and schooling-from-home, gone shopping in the latest hazmat outfits and wondered if our kids would ever see their twentieth birthdays, our tolerance for brands that promise but don’t deliver will be over, just over.
The wise leader of the healthy human company has long known that to purport to be what you really are not, is not only morally questionable, it is sheer business lunacy. The slings and arrows of social media will hoist you up as a fraud all too quickly. In this current crisis, future customers will ask as the post-war children did. “What did you do in the war, daddy?” Brands that chose a human face showed up with an offer of help rather than a price-gouging collection plate, will win the loyalty of us all. If ever there was a time for our business brands to live out, to embody, their purpose, it is now.
It is also time for personal reflection. A client and friend who was in one of the Twin Towers on 9-11 once told me, that in that moment of immense crisis, he saw with such clarity the true character of his colleagues and of himself. They were powerful observations that he carries to this day.
Our burdock and our foxgloves both offer some benefit. The burdock is even cultivated for its root, a medicinal herb, helpful in promoting kidney function. The foxglove, known also by its Latin name Digitalis, is not only a beautiful flower, but its extract, known by the same Latin name, is an important heart medication, but in very small doses. In larger doses, it is a useful compound for knocking off your neighbour in an episode of Midsomer Murders! Despite their fleeting similarity, it is very important to tell the difference.
As leaders of healthy human companies, even as we reel and grope our way through this crisis in business models, we need to carefully explore the authenticity of our brands, including personal brands, and ask some questions…
- Does our brand really reflect our purpose as a company (or do I, for that matter, as an individual)? Do we attract customers because we really are who we say we are, every single day?
- Are we taking actions today that reflect the promises we have made through our brands? Will our customers recognize we are being true to who we say we are? Do actions under crisis match our words?
- Do we have a brand that our people are proud to represent, even if we must lay them off, or do they have little idea of the future shape of our business? Did we keep our word, stay true to values, walk our talk?
The refining fire of this season will burn up a lot of false promises and inauthentic branding, both company and personal. The brand of the healthy human company, and of its leaders, speaks volumes of reality, not empty claims, but gritty truth. When everyone was locked in their homes, will it be said of you and your company that you lived your promises every day, to the full?
Here at The Telosity Company, our motto is to “Do Good Work”. We are passionate about helping leaders build healthy human companies. For us, Purpose comes before Profit. We need a lot of the first. There will be enough of the second. If we can help, please ask. Find us at www.telositycompany.com.
Chris Houston writes from his farm in Moffat, Ontario, where the ordered natural world and the chaotic human world get close enough so the former can teach the latter.