Alex Gordon is the founder and CEO of Sign Salad, a company that uses semiotics (the study of signs and symbols) to help brands and companies understand how culture affects the way people respond to their brand and products. And if you don’t know what semiotics is, (which I didn’t really before talking to Alex), it’s totally OK, you will still find value in this post.
Sign Salad was founded in 2007 and became an award-winning company by helping brands all around the world build their presence and adjust to the cultures so that they can actually succeed in what they’re doing.
When I asked Alex who is a leader and what leadership is for him, he responded that a leader is someone who creates a narrative of the future, a vision around which supporters and colleagues can coalesce around, and support, help drive forward to reaching a goal or a vision. And I found the topic of creating a narrative as a leader extremely important.
Oftentimes leaders have a great vision of what they are doing, but how much is it worth if a person actually can’t communicate this vision to those who follow? Why should a person create a narrative instead of just communicating the goal?
Creating a narrative helps people to feel excited about and to galvanize a sense of energy among supporters, followers, and those around to drive forward in the agenda for the realization of a vision. In the 20th century, people often used a “top-down” model of communication, having a leader who has the vision, and everyone else has to follow. And, Alex says, it’s quite an old-fashioned way. Nowadays, the most successful leaders use the “bottom-up” narratives, meaning that even if it’s one person who is leading, the narrative is about something which comes from the bottom up, meaning, it’s not a story of one person – it is a shared narrative.
One of the great examples would be the case with Barack Obama. When he was running for the office he used the bottom-up method, calling out to the common history, interests, problems etc. He showed that everything can be achievable through fellowship and common consent. But as soon as he got to the office he started using the up-down model, which caused problems for him. The leadership, especially political leadership is directed at a top-down model, and that causes a lot of clashes.
In order to be a truly good leader, one has to understand the importance of using the bottom-up model. It helps everyone to feel empowered and to drive forward that agenda, deliver it together rather than individually. It’s about being a part of a group and moving together, rather than being on top of a group and trying to pull everyone else up. Bottom-up leadership helps avoid absorption in egoism and narrow interests and helps everyone to develop and grow. In a bottom-up narrative nobody is deprived of the importance of their role, and everyone is acting together towards the common good. Narrative helps everyone to buy into what you are doing and stay on board with you. You want people to know that they all have the ownership of the situation and let them partake, rather than idolizing yourself and saying that you will solve everything by yourself. A true leader wants the best for the people around him, and not the benefits just for himself. And that’s what bottom-up leadership will help with.
Some things one can do to start nurture the bottom-up build-up of the narrative are:
- Creating a group of people who are supporting each other and learning from each other – they will be the first circle of the people who will support you
- Be open to learning and developing at all times
- Make use of the knowledge to empower others around you
If you are interested in learning more about Alex’s opinions on how to bring other people on board and make sure that they stay on board with you and how to be a leader who others want to follow, you can listen to the whole episode here.
Stay tuned and be genius!