Authentic leadership, identity & social media – part ii

by Justin Souter on February 15, 2011


In part 2 of this series, I’m looking at how the actions of business can impact on people. Not rocket science I realise, but relevant in this context! ;-)

Arguably, by being an authentic leader, and having a suitable culture, both staff and customers can be more fulfilled. That certainly seems to be the situation with Zappos. On a related note, I have been Inspired by a podcast from Cambridge Judge Business School, which I’ll go into in more detail below.


Some may know that I am a psychology graduate, 3 years of study which changed the way I see the world. Naturally, how we all perceive ourselves is a key area of investigation for psychologists. In addition, I have a family connection with the fashion industry.

If we’re agreed that self-image is vital to people, and often gets influenced in ways that are not under people’s control, this pressure can be very negative.

It was therefore incredibly refreshing to listen to this podcast on a long journey recently [if you mouse over the link, hopefully you’ll get a pop-out player].

Identity / self-image

I realise this is a bit lazy, but I’m quoting for the sake of brevity !


Ben Barry

The blurb for the podcast reads:

Ben Barry, a PhD student at Cambridge Judge Business School, has conducted new research into the global consumer mind set. It shows that women are more likely to purchase a fashion product when they see a model who resembles them. It all began with that famous “Dove” campaign.


Quoting again, as I feel it summarises well where I’m coming from:

Innovation, Strategy & Organisation student launches book challenging fashion industry’s preoccupation with size zero

Fashioning Reality: A New Generation of Entrepreneurs reveals how companies can successfully achieve profit whilst making a positive social impact

Cambridge Judge Business School is delighted to announce

that Ben Barry, a MPhil graduate student in innovation, strategy and organisation at Judge Business School, where he is studying on an Ogilvy Foundation Research Grant, has recently published a book entitled Fashioning Reality: A New Generation of Entrepreneurs. Released in North America, it has already become a national bestseller in Canada. The book explores the topical issue of size zero and how an innovative business strategy has started to address the social perception of catwalk models.

The book chronicles the successful establishment of Ben’s own modelling agency, the Ben Barry Agency Inc., set up when Ben was only fourteen, which challenges the prescriptive standards for models in today’s fashion industry by scouting and sourcing “real” models of all ages, sizes, colours and abilities, for major fashion and beauty brands, including the Dove campaign for Real Beauty. Ben’s entrepreneurial drive was to create a company that would make a profit by driving a positive social change, striking what he calls a “balanced contract” as it changed the face of fashion.


Dr Simon Bell, University Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the School, is working with Ben on the three-year research project supported by the Ogilvy Foundation, which is entitled: “Why Reflect Reality? The Effectiveness Of ‘Ideally Attractive’ Models Versus ‘Reality Reflecting’ Models In Fashion And Beauty Advertising”.

Dr Bell commented on the new book: “Our research is enabling us to explore what types of models actually generate positive brand attitudes from consumers as well as how women want to be represented in the industry – as he describes in his book, Ben is directly applying these innovative findings to his business with remarkable success, both economically and socially.”

Wash up

So, this podcast got me thinking about how businesses can impact how people see themselves, and with authentic leadership and culture, can be a force for good. It also got me thinking about whether there is a wider trend in terms of the authenticity as a way of empowering people, and what relationship there is with the authenticity that social media demands.

What’s next

In seeking to write this series, I am attempting to pull together some disparate streams of good business practice, in order to validate being authentic and genuine at work, and allow other people to be happier as a result. Running order looks like:

  • The first post looks at how recent leadership thinking means you’re not forced to be a cheeseball at work
  • The second post is this
  • The third post examines the challenge for organisations, run on a ‘command and control’ basis, to cope with the freewheeling nature of the social media world
  • The fourth post looks at the related topic of word-of-mouth marketing, and how it is a double-edged sword – but again, dependent on authenticity.
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