Where are the leaders? Characteristics of a true ceo.

When Ian wrote Brand Engagement in 2007, just before the economic bubble burst courtesy of the collapse of the banking system, he talked about the dangers of hero-worshipping approaches to totemic leaders like CEOs. Why?

1. It places too much responsibility on 1 person to be the pivot around which the brand rotates

2. It is ultimately unrealistic to expect a single person (or small group of people like a board of directors) to be able to connect with all of their stakeholders when, rather like the Queen, everywhere they go “smells of fresh paint”

3. It disempowers the day-to-day leaders, the chief engagement officers or line managers who are the beating pulse of engagement for the “everyman” community

This important observation has been backed up time and again since in research, papers and reports. Ian’s point is that the communication role of the CEO has to be more “primus inter pares” or first among equals now. Communication simply can’t be controlled via the PR department, as we’ve seen once again with the Newscorp scandal. It has to be systemic and focused on multiple stakeholder groups, not just the perceptions of shareholders and the markets.

Around the same time, Ian conducted research into the characteristics that best define a chief engagement officer or ceo. The research embraced the views of 1,500 people in line manager roles and came to the following conclusions:

  • openness
  • honesty
  • bravery
  • charisma

were the  most admired qualities of leading communicators, whether local or several stages removed. Whereas at the top of the list of the most disengaging qualities was insincerity or spin.

Interestingly, Fombrum’s* traits of companies that employees would most like to work for include:

  • they promote trust
  • they empower
  • they inspire pride

These dichotomies present a range of challenges. Not least, they challenge the wisdom of the constant debate about employee engagement as if responsibility rests within the HR department alone. Leaders should recognise that there’s a very compelling business case for creating an authentic, engaging organisation, first and foremost and that at the forefront of the movement to create that organisation should be the liberation of champion leaders in the ceo mould.

* ref his 1996 study as referenced in Ian P Buckingham; Prof Phillip Kitchen Who is responsible for corporate communications?,  Admap July/Aug 2005.

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