Vladimir Putin inspired worldwide scorn and a few great photoshops this week when he announced his plans to aid the migration of some unfortunate birds with the help of his trusty hang glider and a superhero-esque costume. In some sense, people are right to laugh- Putin is a crazed autocrat, so mad on his personality cult that he is to an extent divorced from the realities of the media.
And yet, we might consider an alternative, somewhat disruptive viewpoint. There is something here the western media are missing. A Russian friend of mine recently remarked to me that it’s difficult for an outsider to grasp the necessity of projecting an image of macho power to maintain dominance in mainstream Russian society. In mocking Putin we are implicitly denying the fact that this is a serious means of holding on to some serious power.
What’s more, scoff all you want but you can’t deny Putin’s achieved some kind of result. In the wake of the Pussy Riot scandal, his brand was about as toxic as a politician’s can get. Now, he’s a laughing stock abroad- probably one step up from a tyrannical monster- and at homeamongst the less vocal majority of Russian society, his masculinity is re-affirmed.
What builds a personality and makes an icon is unpredictable. Twenty years ago it would have been extremely difficult for a person with severe disabilities to enjoy national treasure status, now our newspapers are full of smiling paralympians. The result of sustained, progressive public perception changing work this may be, but it goes to show that, when it comes to the motivations of the crowd and the drivers of fame, you really can never say never.
There’s a lesson here for CEOs. Don’t behave quite like Putin, but accept that building an inspirational brand involves activities which might sound ridiculous or unachieveable to the naysayers. Sometimes, it really is best to shut out the critics and go your own way.