Category Archives: Politics

The Rise of the CEO

What if your organization’s CEO was the most trusted person among the staff? Among citizens in your community? In the United States or around the globe? If you are the CEO, what if it was you?

There are more than a billion mentions of CEOs on Google. CEOs going to jail. CEOs threatening to “axe” mediocre staff. CEOs who are the best performing executives in the world. CEOs accused of sexual harassment and misogyny. CEOs who are activist leaders. There are debates about the merits of female CEOs in a world overwhelmingly populated by male CEOs. There are stories of high-profile companies with low-profile CEOs. All manner of debate, conversation, and confounding analysis.

None of it explains the recently released 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which reveals trust has changed profoundly in the past year. People have shifted their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their “employers.” Globally, 75% of people trust “my employer” to do what is right.

• 58% of employees look to their employers to be a trustworthy source of information about contentious societal issues.
• 67% of employees expect employers will join them in taking action on societal issues.
• 71% of employees believe it’s critically important for “my CEO” to respond to challenging times.
• 76% of the general population concur – they say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for government to impose it.

Uncertainty Is The Only Certainty

Stephen Kehoe, chair of the reputation practice at Edelman, points out that “in the face of heightened expectations on CEOs to step into the trust vacuum left by government, pressure is on them to do more – and quickly – to invoke a sense of certainty, reassurance and confidence with employees as well as the general public.”

If, as Kehoe writes, “CEOs must clearly also consider the significantly heightened expectations on them to be advocates for change in a world that is still confused and uncertain,” a critical question remains. How does a CEO lead in a world that is “still confused and uncertain?” As writer Kirsten Ludowig cleverly noted, “For CEOs, uncertainty is the only certainty.”

Michael Ventura’s new book “Applied Empathy, The New Language of Leadership.” explores the significant improvements in customer satisfaction and new business opportunities when companies deploy empathy as part of their overall product and service development cycles. Consumers are increasingly savvy about what makes truly great products and services. Under the right circumstances, when asked to contribute their ideas and opinions, consumers – residential and commercial alike – will happily share their insights.

The momentary discomfort of a cold toilet seat brought about several innovations to warm things up. The push to eliminate the use of toilet paper will drive others. The commercial application of automatic flush toilets, hands-free faucets, towel dispensers, hand dryers, and even those nifty paper dispensers next to the bathroom door, keeping customers from grabbing the door pull bare handed, reflect empathy for the concerns (and fears) shared by travelers, hotel guests, and consumers. While most of us believe our sense of empathy is well-developed, there are always lessons to be learned. The effort by U.S. airlines to shrink the size of the standard airplane bathroom from 48 inches to 24 inches wide may be distancing empathy for and from travelers.

Are Best Performing CEOs Empathetic?

Assuming empathy is a critical component of leadership, so too is performance. In seeking to assess the best performing global CEOs, Harvard Business Review (HBR) examined companies in the S&P Global 1200 Index. The top 100 roster is full of well-known brands from around the globe—Marriott, Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Disney, Northrup Grumman, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Microsoft, Accenture, and 92 other firms.

With the rise and potency of populism in the global political environment, business leaders are facing the reality of a range of dynamic business conditions. Whether it is government tariffs, a long-term trade war, or citizen push-back on tax incentives for corporate relocation or growth, CEO’s are finding fresh uncertainty.

The significant amount of push-back aimed at Amazon and its selection of a new HQ in Long Island City, New York further illuminates the point. Amazon was set to receive $1.2 billion in refundable tax credits and an additional $505 million grant assuming the company created 25,000 net new jobs in New York by 2028. The deal broke down over protests by  residents, unions, and political leaders concerned about increased housing costs, congestion, and the scale of the taxpayer funded incentives.

Asking HBR’s high performing CEOs for their take on how best to manage this and other uncertainty was instructive. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon pointed out that, “If you want the right public policy, you have to be an advocate…you can’t be parochial. You can’t talk only about that one little regulation that’s going to help your company. You need to talk about tax policy, trade, immigration, technology.” In other words, you need to build trust and that’s how you earn a place on the barometer.

A Transparency and Leadership Primer

OBAMA_PRESSOver at the AssociationsNow blog, Ernie Smith wrote a story about the White House Correspondents Association(WHCA) complaining about “transparency” and lack of access during the President’s recent golf vacation.  Ed Henry, the president of WHCA issued a protest statement.  “I can say a broad cross-section of our members from print, radio, online, and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the president of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency.”

While “leadership transparency” is a worthy goal, it struck me as counterproductive to pick a public fight with the Press Secretary to the President of the United States.  It was made doubly awkward that Henry, who previously worked for CNN and C-SPAN currently works for the highly partisan Fox News Channel.  The White House Press Office fired back with a series of statements about the regular access the press enjoys with the President.  This all got me to thinking.  When it comes to staking out a public position, or pursuing an agenda for change what leadership lessons can be found here?

1. Pick the right spokesperson. When your organization stakes out a controversial position, be sure your spokesperson is not perceived as conflicted.  Pick your spokesperson carefully be sure they are credible and especially well informed.

2. Have your facts at the ready. While the White House Correspondents Association was quick to complain about access to the President, they offered no hard data to support their position.  The White House says the President has done 591 interviews, 104 with major news outlets. On average, that’s almost two interviews a week with reporters and one interview with major news outlet every two weeks since the President was elected in 2009.

3. Stick to the story. White House Correspondents Association President Ed Henry says it’s all about “transparency”.  He then goes on to say, “We’re not interested in the violating the president’s privacy. He’s entitled to vacations like everyone else.” So which is it? Transparency, access, the right to the President to take vacations or not wanting to violate the President’s right to privacy?  Keeping the WHCA’s message about what exactly they mean  by “transparency”  both clear and concise would have helped immensely.

4. Manage your member/customer/client and team’s expectations. See #2 above. While people may feel “extremely frustrated”,  it’s equally important feelings alone don’t drive your organization’s public relations or policy agenda.  Life is unfair, frustrating and occasionally boring.  Is that really the basis for a public spat on transparency?

We understand White House Correspondents would probably prefer to die of exhaustion than boredom in their line of work. Sitting around the Holiday Inn while the President of the United States vacations at the Floridian Golf Resort probably seems unfair to many reporters accustomed to regular access.  That said, allowing the President of the United States enjoy a few days vacation with friends hardly seems reason to launch a public relations outcry that ends up making your organization appear petty and ill-informed.

How Are Your Poll Numbers?

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of 1,000 adults taken between August 27-31, 2011 found that generally speaking 44% of Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing.  51% disapprove.  The other 5% aren’t sure.  The President’s poll numbers improve when respondents were asked about issues—his handling of foreign policy (50% approval) or Libya (46% approval).

What is absolutely certain is that generally 82% of these polled Americans disapprove of the job the United States Congress is doing.  Men and women alike.  Surely as the leaves changing color in fall, we can expect a new cycle of polling numbers in the months ahead as the Presidential election cycle heats up.  Some of those numbers may give us pause.  Some will reflect our own feelings.  Our perception after all is our reality.

What is more interesting in general is that many disdain polls in governing.  There is a notion that somehow, great leaders and their visions rise above the lowly poll.  Being your own person, setting your own course or hearing the beat of your own drummer is celebrated in American leadership.  Yet too many organizations are led by the tone-deaf leader—a person unable or unwilling to listen to those around them, hear the voice of the customer—or reflect on the data streaming their way to take meaningful actions in response.

How many times have you spoken directly with a customer in the past week?  Not the ones who have called you, but ones that you have personally dialed up for a conversation?  What are they telling you about your organization?  About your team?  What perceptions are your customers/clients/members sharing with you?  Even the President holds “town hall” sessions to gather ideas and insights.

So what questions are you asking to better understand where your organizations stands?   For example, asking someone, “Based on your experience, what could we do to improve our [product/service/quality] here?” may reveal some clear action steps.  Or try asking, “If you were in my shoes, how would you respond to this situation?”  Sometimes the simple act of asking someone to “tell you more” about a given situation or issue will yield significant value.

These personal conversations go far beyond what you might discern from a member research project, an educational event evaluation or a client satisfaction survey.  As a leader, your personal outreach and your willingness to listen—and to act—are paramount to understanding and bettering your own leadership “poll numbers”.  Time to get busy.