A Tale of Two Leaders

One of my heroes died last Wednesday. Not Steve Jobs, though his death is the one that captured popular notice, and not A.C. Nielsen, whose name has become synonymous with popular television and costly advertising dollars.  Jobs and Nielsen each contributed something critical to our world, but neither is among my heroes.

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who was one of my heroes, also died last Wednesday, at age 89. He lead the civil rights movement in Birmingham, Alabama, then known as “the most segregated city in America”.  Rev. Shuttlesworth sat at lunch counters, called in federal protection for the Freedom Riders and helped after the violence they encountered, joined the march in Selma, urged Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Birmingham, and more.  He wasn’t especially well-known outside Alabama; certainly, no fame on the order of Steve Jobs’ fame, nor has his name attained the widespread use of Nielsen’s.

But Rev. Shuttlesworth embodied leadership:  the kind of leadership that puts principle and dedication to an end result in the forefront. His actions (along with those of countless others, both well-known and not) led to a fundamental change in the world.  He is described as fearless in the face of intimidation and physical attacks, a firebrand who preached integration from the pulpit and even more through action, a blunt speaker who refused to run even when his home was bombed.  Although he gave rousing sermons and speeches, his focus was action.  As he said, “We got a lot of things done that we wouldn’t have had just by words and philosophy alone.”

Though Rev. Shuttlesworth was the de facto leader of the Birmingham effort, he sought out King’s leadership. King had the credentials and the prominence to be the movement’s spokesman.  Rev. Shuttlesworth’s single focus was on the success of the movement.  He believed that any movement could have only one “person after whom an episode or a generation is named,” King being the one for this instance.

Why should this matter to you in the context of building your practice? It matters because Rev. Shuttlesworth’s life is a remarkable example of leadership.  The juxtaposition of his death with the death of Steve Jobs illustrates that at times a leader determines that the action should get the focus (as Rev. Shuttlesworth decided) and sometimes the personality of the leader himself becomes synonymous with the action, as Jobs and his technology became almost one and the same.  In a similar way, King became the face of the civil rights movement, though behind him (as with Jobs) many, many others were required to act to accomplish the identified mission.  Does Rev. Shuttlesworth deserve to be better known than he is now?  Undoubtedly.  But he determined that the movement needed a different face than his own, and the success of the movement was more important than his own legacy as its leader.

Both style and substance are critical to an effective leadership message and an effective marketing message. Steve Jobs is mourned for the person he was as much as for his role as architect of the technology he created, but had he not built Apple, the world might never have noticed that personality; Rev. Shuttlesworth would not have inspired the people he did had he not shown himself as a plainspoken, mission-driven activist.

As both these leaders did, you must choose when to focus on substance and when to focus on style to get the maximum effect.

Here’s the question you must ask:  how do your clients see you? Right now, do you need to bring in more personality a la Steve Jobs, or would it be more effective for you to focus primarily on the substance?  Should you market the substance of your practice, or should you market yourself in some way?  In other words, does your practice stand on its own, or must you be its face?  Does your practice need a face and a champion other than your own, such as referral sources who may be your representatives in the community?

When you consider marketing through this lens of style and substance, you determine whether substance is the most effective way to connect with potential clients and referral sources. Make no mistake:  you must deliver on the substance, and your style must be such that potential clients are drawn to you, or at least not repelled by you if your substance pulls them in.  And you must decide at every juncture which attribute you will highlight and why.

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