The Imperial CEO is Dead!

Trust and Authenticity

The era of the imperial CEO is over.  Command and control behavior is less effective in today’s business climate.  Neither is the absentee CEO, who operates in a void by failing to engage strategic stakeholders critical of the company’s behavior, internally and externally.

As the Economist recently noted:  “Effective communications skills are a relatively new requirement, the result of the increasing intrusion of the outside world.  A corporate leader must talk convincingly.  Motivating employees requires a gift to present a clear vision persuasively.  A leader who cannot inspire trust and convey authenticity will find the task difficult.”

Hard Power and Soft Power

There is an analogy for business leaders in the foreign policy model developed by Professor Joseph Nye, dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  He talks about the hard power of military force and coercion, while soft power is based on attraction and intellectual legitimacy.

Hard power, for CEOs, is making the numbers; soft power is about values, ideas and leadership.  Soft power can inspire and justify corporate decisions, which may be based on hard power considerations.  Effective CEOs and corporate leaders explain their decisions in the context of the company’s vision and mission.

CEOs also need to exert leadership on the public stage, interacting with key players in government, the media, activist groups and the community.  The CEO’s absence from the stage surrenders the spotlight to all manner of opponents, from disgruntled employees to demagogic public officials to headline-grabbing plaintiff’s lawyers.

At the same time, CEOs must act as stewards of the corporate reputation, which is the umbrella for workplace values, product excellence and social responsibility.  They must forge relationships with multiple stakeholders based on continuous communications, respect and transparency.  The key to effective corporate reputation is trust, built by regular interaction with strategic stakeholders.

What Matters Anywhere, Matters Everywhere

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright was recently asked what advice she would give to world leaders.  She did not hesitate for a second.  “An essential qualification for any world leader is the capacity to understand that what matters anywhere, matters everywhere.”

It’s not hard to see how this advice applies to leaders within your own organization.  What matters in any division, function or team within a company matters everywhere.  What matters to your customers should matter to every division of your company.  To the degree that it does not, you’ve got trouble.  Like a car with an engine that can’t fire on all cylinders, a business consisting of silos with competing agendas may move forward for a while, but eventually, it stops running.

A leader’s most valuable currency is not money, charisma, self-sufficiency, an MBA, industry expertise or the ability to analyze a case study, read a P&L statement or build a really cool PowerPoint deck.  A leader’s most valuable currency is relationship.  It is emotional capital.  Leadership defined in terms of relationship, and taught and measured in terms of capacity to connect with employees and customers at a deep level.

The next frontier for exponential growth, the place you’ll find a new and sustainable competitive edge, resides in improving human connectivity.  It is here that significant gains can be made, both in inter-company relationships and increased market share.  

Learning by Teaching

Last week, we presented to the Association of Fundraising Professionals about the basics of raising awareness through traditional and social media. It’s part of a 3-session series on “Essential Strategies for Effective Non-profit Communications,” and the group had some thoughtful discussion on the ins and outs of real world media experiences.

Participants came with a wide variety of backgrounds related to the media—some were old pros; some knew the basics, but hadn’t applied them in years; and some were learning how to interact with the media for the first time. We structured our presentation to (hopefully) provide new tips for attendees of all levels. A quick recap of who’s who in the newsroom, interview tips and media monitoring techniques, as well as how to craft and pitch a story for both traditional and social media venues.

One of the biggest “Aha!” moments for the group seemed to come during our “Weak,” “Strong,” “Stronger” examples of how to write for social media. It’s such a fast-moving channel that it’s sometimes easy to forget how to maximize each and every post.

The session also was a great reminder that we can continue to learn by teaching others.

Take a look at the abbreviated version of our presentation below, and stay tuned—Session #2 rolls out next Tuesday!

Link to .pdf of PowerPoint presentation: AFP PPT for Blog

Media Relations Push and Pull

If you’re trying to increase awareness for your brand or company, it’s one thing for you to tell the media how great you are; it’s quite another for the media to proactively call you. While many companies start out in the first category, the goal of a good media relations strategy is to move you into the second — where media recognize your expertise and seek you out. It takes time and diligence, but the benefits of being on their expert source radar are huge. Here’s how to move from that early “push” approach to a “pull” strategy.

Build Relationships Early

Reporters have a lot of story ideas coming at them on any given day, so you want them to know you in addition to your story. That means reaching out early and regularly. The goal is to get them to:

a) Recognize your name (or at least your company’s),

b) Start connecting that name with your area of expertise, and

c) Move you up their list of “potential sources.”

Start local. Introduce yourself in person during informational desk-side interviews, and stay in touch with interesting white papers, announcements or insights you know they’d value. It’s a good idea to meet with the top 3-5 reporters on your list at least a couple of times a year. This keeps the relationship going strong, and keeps you top of mind as they’re planning that next story.

Maintain a List of Fresh, Relevant Story Ideas

In moving from push to pull, it helps to have a track record of relevant pitches and stories. If you’ve delivered on good ideas and content in the past, reporters are more likely to come to you for their next article or interview. Keep a list of story ideas handy. It should include a general headline for each topic and a short description of your company’s expertise in that area. This is helpful to share in your initial relationship building with reporters, and it’s helpful as a reference for when a reporter calls out of the blue looking for an angle.

Be Prepared

This is perhaps the biggest factor in successfully moving to a pull strategy for media relations. When reporters do call, you must be ready! This is where all your work on the first two tips comes into play. By now, the reporter should know you and your company fairly well (They’re calling you, aren’t they?). And you should feel comfortable speaking to any of the topics on your Story Ideas list. You might even have a couple of talking points prepared for each of them, which you can reference on a moment’s notice. Sometimes, it comes down to something as simple as your ability to supply a quote faster than the other guys.

Remember, media coverage is a fast moving animal, and you don’t want to squander an opportunity by not being fully prepared — especially if the reporter is proactively seeking you out instead of the other way around.

Keys to Developing Engaged Employees


A client in the banking industry is in the exciting transition from managing economic challenge and struggle to leveraging new economic promise. As part of that journey, bank leadership recognized an opportunity to revive a focus on service – to both customers and co-workers. After all those months of working to keep their heads above water, finally there’s an opportunity to support employees in re-engaging each other and customers in powerful, important service interactions.

The bank’s internal communications and human resources teams paired up to develop a framework for service expectations. Using four, strong words – Pride, Positivity, Professionalism and Passion – they outlined essential attitudinal and behavioral expectations in each area. The key to employee buy-in and ongoing engagement in those areas? A well-planned, respectful and fun communications campaign timed to roll out gradually.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   GBPridePoster

The keys to success lie in the planning, approach to employee engagement and presentation of the campaign. They’re keys that can work for any organization.                                                                                   GBPassionPoster

  1.  Plan thoroughly. When determining messages, channels, timing and metrics, start with the end in mind. Where do you want employees and customers to be in one month? In six months? What changes do you want to see, and how are you going to measure those changes? Then, leverage as many of your organization’s existing processes and systems as possible. If managers are the hub of your internal communication processes, engage them early, equip them well and use them wisely. Back-up all messages in multiple channels – the intranet, employee newsletter, messages from senior leadership, internal events. Time the roll-out to allow for everyone to learn, gain understanding, talk as teams, practice the new expectations and celebrate successes.                                                                                                          GBProfessionalismPoster
  2. Respect employees. Asking your team to focus on attitudes and behaviors can be threatening if perceived as “Management wants to change you.” Our client wisely recognized that given the right tools and permission to focus on customer service, employees willingly respond to “You’ve got it in you! Just let it shine!” Most people want to be kind, helpful, responsive. What’s needed when an organization is emerging from a stressful period is simply a respectful nod to reviving what we wanted to be doing all along.                                                                                                   GBPositivityPoster
  3. Make it fun! An engaging theme captured in a bright, appealing logo set the tone for a casual, yet meaningful, campaign. And once the official campaign is over, the logo sticks around as a reminder of how seriously our client takes customer service. Other elements designed to trigger ongoing employee interest include impromptu manager-led team “meetings” to keep the “P” words front and center, colorful silicone wristbands stamped with the service logo, vinyl clings strategically placed at work stations, small posters with powerful messages, organic videos of employees “caught in the act” being resourceful and helpful, and ongoing support from HR and senior leadership. 

Want to engage your employees in customer service – or something else? You can’t go wrong if you make and follow a plan, show respect along the way, and have some fun while you’re at it.

Why Should the C-Suite Listen to You?

The people in the C-Suite listen to you when you understand what they value and approach them with an executive mindset that recognizes the challenges and demands of a “day in their life.”

A fast way to learn what C-Suite types value is by looking at their professional backgrounds and skill sets. What do they tell you about what they value? Let’s take a look.

 For the CIO:

  • Transformed IT into strategic business partner
  • Established rapport and credibility with department heads
  • Hired and managed geographically dispersed staff of differing cultures, weaving them into a team
  • Contributed to the definition of key strategic business objectives

 For the CMO:

  • Skilled at reducing marketing costs
  • Analyzed industry trends and competitive business practices
  • Created, tracked and evaluated internal metrics and management reporting to identify performance of marketing and effectiveness of programs
  • Delivered a 50 percent annual growth rate

The mindset of C-Suite executives is the framework you need to work within to get their attention and build credibility. The chart below summarizes those mindsets and the desired outcomes.

(Click on chart to reveal larger chart.)


With an understanding of what C-Suite executives value, as well as the challenges they face and their desired outcomes, you can build trust and credibility, the two main elements of believability.

C-Suite people trust you when they know that you’ll not put them in harm’s way by doing anything that impairs their reputation and brand. In order to put their trust in you, executives need to know you understand their challenges. Credibility, on the other hand, is all about your expertise or capability to make executives successful and further their causes. With credibility, they simply are trying to determine whether you can get the job done.With an understanding of what C-Suite executives value, as well as the challenges they face and their desired outcomes, you can build trust and credibility, the two main elements of believability.

Gaining believability with the C-Suite comes from a conscious effort to refocus your branding, marketing, sales and communication efforts on the things that matter most to executives: risk, outcomes, personal goals and their peers. Recognizing C-Suite trust and credibility cues is a mission critical if you want the boss to listen to you and your team.