Working Wounded Blog: Tough Guys Finish Last

Mobile billboards, pop-up ads and product placements in movies and TV -- brand advertising today is beyond ubiquitous.

Don't believe me? Then sort around inside your own head to see how many jingles are lying around just waiting to terrorize you. My latest tormentor is "Armor hot dogs, what kind of kid eats Armor hot dogs, fat kids, skinny kids, kids who climb on rocks, tough kids …"

Recently, a study on brands broke through the clutter for me. And I believe that anyone who is serious about being a leader today needs to pay attention to this remarkable look from the front lines of brand marketing.

I'm not exaggerating. The study was titled "Enlisting Madison Avenue: The Marketing Approach to Earning Popular Support in Theaters of Operation." Yep, this $400,000 study by Rand examined how Iraqis were responding to our military "brand" on the battlefield known as Iraq.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Rand summed up our current marketing message as the "Show of Force" brand. Unfortunately, "Force" is more New Coke than Apple. More Ishtar than Potter.

The research found, remarkably, there is a brand that Iraqis would respond favorably to. It's the "We are here to help you" brand. And successful as this message may be in the theater of operations on the battlefield, it probably has even more potential for the theater where you work.

Many of us grew up with bosses who snarled as they ate roast beef sandwiches at their desks. Tough guys and gals who were more inclined to give you a smack on the side of the head than an atta boy slap on the back. People who responded to your great new idea by snapping, "It's my way or the highway."

Times have changed. The tough guy has fallen on tough times. It's best summed up in an e-mail I received a few years back. The author was a boss who described the plight of today's manager perfectly. "When I was first starting out in my career my boss treated us all like crap. I couldn't wait to become a boss so I could treat them like crap. Then I became a boss and I had to suck up to my people. When is my time?"

I'm sure there are a few of you out there who think that I'm overstating the case, people who feel that when you spare the rod you spoil the employee. It may be easy to blow me off, but it's a lot tougher to blow off the people who wrote the book on force -- the military. And the force guys are on their heels right now, because they're being told that the whole carrot thing works better than a ton of smart bombs.

How do you manage more with a carrot? Here are a few suggestions -- bite your tongue in meetings and wait to hear your people's ideas. Don't jump down people's throats when they make a mistake, especially if you've just told them to think outside the box. And finally, ask them how you can help them to do a better job.

So next time you want to be tough at work, remember today's mantra should be we want to help you. Or as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower said, "Hitting people over the head isn't leadership, it's assault."

Quote of the Week

"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining." -- President John F. Kennedy

Book Excerpt of the Week

"Managers Handbook" by Robert Heller (DK, 2002)

"Motivation lies at the heart of managing people, and goes far beyond praise for a job well done. As a manager, you need the skills to understand and create the conditions in which all team members can become motivated. This is a huge challenge: Different people will respond to different conditions, and these conditions can change over time."

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at bob@workingwounded.com.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

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