Cover2Cover Books is a quintessential "meaningful" brand. Its mission is simple: to excite young people from South Africa's townships about books and get them reading. It does so by publishing its own fiction.
The problem isn't lack of libraries, says Palesa Morudu, managing director at the Cape Town-based social enterprise: "It's that the children don't want to read the book in the libraries."
Cue the Harmony High series. Based on a fictitious high school, the books touch on romance, drugs, family – "things that kids can identify with," says Morudu. Titles include Jealous in Jozi, Broken Promises and the hard-hitting Too Young to Die. The authors hold workshops with students to ensure the books resonate with their audience.
The formula is working. FunDza, the not-for-profit arm that Cover2Cover set up to distribute the books, was recently named in Fast Company's list of Top 100 Most Innovative Companies. The judges drew particular attention to the organisation's mobile site, which hosts Cover2Covers' titles as well as enabling students to publish their own work. FunDza's mobi-library currently counts 350,000 registered users.
Compared to the big players in the media industry, this small South African startup is a minnow – its clear social mission also differs from the industry mainstream. Even so, it presents some vital clues for any company looking to breathe real meaning into its brand.
Tone from the top
First and foremost, meaning comes down to leadership. Integrity can't be faked. Few large media companies today lack an ethical code of conduct or a corporate responsibility charter. For those messages to have credibility, however, business leaders have to reflect these in their leadership style and their decision-making.
Jez Frampton, chief executive at branding agency Interbrand, insists that business leaders can't pass the buck on this agenda: "Deciding where our company goes long term and talking about our corporate citizenship behaviours, these things are on my desk."
It's a bold stance to take, and one that doesn't always coincide with the kind of conventional business logic that fits so well on PowerPoint presentations. "It needs someone who is visionary, smart and persuasive because such a perspective can be difficult to understand and to communicate," adds Christian Toennesen, a media sector expert at corporate responsibility consultancy Carnstone.
It'd be wrong to write off the industry entirely. Jeremy Darroch, for instance, has done a lot to champion issues such as cycling and rainforest protection during his time in the top job at British broadcaster BSkyB. Likewise, Jay Hunt is credited with explicitly spelling out Channel 4's role as an "agent of social change" in her role as the broadcaster's chief creative director.
A second lesson centres on authenticity. Marketing managers would love to imagine they are solely responsible for creating a brand's identity. They don't. In today's social media age, the online public increasingly influences how brands are perceived. When the two fall into sync – brand message and audience perception – that's where authenticity is found.
Brand owners need to know how to strike this "perfect pitch", explains Bryan Welch, publisher of Mother Earth News and author of Beautiful and Abundant. Cover2Cover achieves this not only through its content (Harmony High is based on a typical township high school), but its product delivery too; 72% of South African youth have mobile phones, a recent Unicef report (PDF) reveals.
"If you run a magazine about the manufacturing of cardboard containers, you need to understand what's important to people who manufacturer cardboard containers. Their concerns, interests and passions should be your concerns, interests and passions," Welch states.
Last but not least, Cover2Cover demonstrates the importance that a sense of purpose can bring. Palesa Morudu and her colleagues passionately believe in their product. They don't only publish books. They're involved in public advocacy debates around child literacy issues; they participate in community campaigns for better public libraries; they speak about youth literature at book festivals, and so forth. "We love what we do, and we have a lot of fun doing it," she enthuses.
How many mainstream media bosses can say they feel the same (and really mean it)? A handful, perhaps. Arianna Huffington at least has the rhetoric right. Founder of the online newspaper Huffington Post, she is one of 14 inaugural members of the so-called B Team – a business-led initiative to prioritise people and planet alongside profit. "The pursuit of short-term profit at the exclusion of everything else isn't working for anyone," Huffington wrote at the B Team's launch back in June.
She called on media companies like her own to change tack: "There is a real danger that by focusing exclusively on what is not working and what is dysfunctional, we are missing out on spotlighting the leaders and organisations already taking steps to change the way we do business around the world."
The media industry has a long way to go in that regard. Too few media brands are meaningful because too few media companies espouse a genuine sense of meaning. That's a shame. Why? Because the media industry provides a vital service to society: informing, illuminating, inspiring.
It all comes down to where a company's "North Star" lies, according to Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder at B Lab, a US non-profit organisation that certifies businesses as sustainable. "If your North Star is ad sales and circulation and ratings, then you will effectively journey towards that North Star and do whatever it takes to get there," he reasons.
In contrast, the 46 media companies that carry the B Corp seal are unashamedly idealistic. Their guiding mission is to use the tools and resources at their disposal to "engage citizens to create a better world". Simple as that, says Coen Gilbert.
There's no reason that leadership, authenticity and a sense of purpose need to be the preserve of the minnows. Yes, it's easier for small, privately owned enterprises to go their own way. But every media company has it in them to build a meaningful brand. It just takes individual leaders to buy the vision and act on it. There, a heroic plot for Cover2Cover's next novel.
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Leadership vs. Management
Disciplines > Leadership > Leadership vs. Management
Managers have subordinates | Leaders have followers | See also
What is the difference between management and leadership? It is a question that has been asked more than once and also answered in different ways. The biggest difference between managers and leaders is the way they motivate the people who work or follow them, and this sets the tone for most other aspects of what they do.
Many people, by the way, are both. They have management jobs, but they realize that you cannot buy hearts, especially to follow them down a difficult path, and so act as leaders too.
Managers have subordinates
By definition, managers have subordinates - unless their title is honorary and given as a mark of seniority, in which case the title is a misnomer and their power over others is other than formal authority.
Authoritarian, transactional style
Managers have a position of authority vested in them by the company, and their subordinates work for them and largely do as they are told. Management style is transactional, in that the manager tells the subordinate what to do, and the subordinate does this not because they are a blind robot, but because they have been promised a reward (at minimum their salary) for doing so.
Managers are paid to get things done (they are subordinates too), often within tight constraints of time and money. They thus naturally pass on this work focus to their subordinates.
An interesting research finding about managers is that they tend to come from stable home backgrounds and led relatively normal and comfortable lives. This leads them to be relatively risk-averse and they will seek to avoid conflict where possible. In terms of people, they generally like to run a 'happy ship'.
Leaders have followers
Leaders do not have subordinates - at least not when they are leading. Many organizational leaders do have subordinates, but only because they are also managers. But when they want to lead, they have to give up formal authoritarian control, because to lead is to have followers, and following is always a voluntary activity.
Charismatic, transformational style
Telling people what to do does not inspire them to follow you. You have to appeal to them, showing how following you will lead them to their hearts' desire. They must want to follow you enough to stop what they are doing and perhaps walk into danger and situations that they would not normally consider risking.
Leaders with a stronger charisma find it easier to attract people to their cause. As a part of their persuasion they typically promise transformational benefits, such that their followers will not just receive extrinsic rewards but will somehow become better people.
Although many leaders have a charismatic style to some extent, this does not require a loud personality. They are always good with people, and quiet styles that give credit to others (and takes blame on themselves) are very effective at creating the loyalty that great leaders engender.
Although leaders are good with people, this does not mean they are friendly with them. In order to keep the mystique of leadership, they often retain a degree of separation and aloofness.
This does not mean that leaders do not pay attention to tasks - in fact they are often very achievement-focused. What they do realize, however, is the importance of enthusing others to work towards their vision.
In the same study that showed managers as risk-averse, leaders appeared as risk-seeking, although they are not blind thrill-seekers. When pursuing their vision, they consider it natural to encounter problems and hurdles that must be overcome along the way. They are thus comfortable with risk and will see routes that others avoid as potential opportunities for advantage and will happily break rules in order to get things done.
A surprising number of these leaders had some form of handicap in their lives which they had to overcome. Some had traumatic childhoods, some had problems such as dyslexia, others were shorter than average. This perhaps taught them the independence of mind that is needed to go out on a limb and not worry about what others are thinking about you.
This table summarizes the above (and more) and gives a sense of the differences between being a leader and being a manager. This is, of course, an illustrative characterization, and there is a whole spectrum between either ends of these scales along which each role can range. And many people lead and manage at the same time, and so may display a combination of behaviors.
|Focus||Leading people||Managing work|
|Approach||Sets direction||Plans detail|
|Power||Personal charisma||Formal authority|
|Exchange||Excitement for work||Money for work|
|Direction||New roads||Existing roads|
|Concern||What is right||Being right|
Power, Risk bias, Self vs. Others preference, Followership