Pragmatism. Not pathos. The latest on CEO communication.

A CEO’s core competencies include communicating with various stakeholder groups. As a company’s most prominent employee, his or her word carries special weight.

Typically seen as one, CEO and company are regularly described in phrases conveying an almost symbiotic relationship: “The CEO embodies the company (or its strategy), he personifies the organisation, he is the face of the corporation, he is the symbolic figure-head etc. etc.”  The CEO’s reputation is seen as inseparable from that of the company, the image of one is regarded as directly impacting upon the other.

Given the trend towards an ever more personalised media coverage, it makes sense indeed to develop the CEO’s communication as a strategic element of the total company brand: His messages and dialogues should be in harmony with those at corporate level. The CEO’s communication should be branded, and this should be achieved in conjunction with the company brand.

As a recent study shows, there may not be an absolute match between the reputation of the CEO and his company, and a CEO’s personal misconduct does not necessarily translate into his company’s instant economic decline. However, the correlation between the CEO’s and the company’s reputation is nonetheless well established.

The increasingly complex, changing, and globalized business environments also impact on the positioning of both company and CEO. Companies – especially those exposed to highly dynamic product cycles – are required to be ever more connected, adaptive, innovative and flexible in providing solutions. In view of these challenges, agile and learning organisations are more likely to succeed, provided they keep up at all times: What was correct yesterday, may be less relevant or wrong tomorrow, what was of no interest for customers a week ago may be the rave in just a few days’ time.

The same kind of openness and learning is also required by CEOs who want to successfully steer a company into the future. He or she will have to provide the framework and organisational structures that facilitate transformation and change, and he will have to adapt his own communication accordingly.

Speaking in an interview with the German weekly DIE ZEIT, Frank Zappel, Managing Director of the Deutsche Post, said: “I don’t even want to be in the spotlight at all times. My job is that of a servant.” Describing his role, he added: “I do not see myself as the chief manager who seizes everything and decides everything himself. Instead, my job is to enable the organisation and its managers to take the right decisions. Coaching, instructing, providing the right conditions – that is my role. …”  The title “Chief Executive Officer” was actually no longer appropriate, Zappel claimed. Rather, he should be seen as “Chief Enabling Officer”, he said. A chief, who ensures that others can do their job. A chief, who delegates to his team rather instead of deciding on his own.

Appel – and other CEOs like him – carry the title of CEO with “pragmatism” rather than “pathos”, the weekly reported.  This new type of CEO also refrained from displaying the insignia of power that once used to define CEOs.  The ancillary result of such pragmatism: According to the report, such CEOs stand out less than their predecessors. Some even seem to disappear behind the company brand.

These new trends in management and the changing business environments need to be taken into account if the CEO is to remain effective as a key part of a company’s total brand.  And the elements of CEO communication – ranging from content via tonality and attitude down to formats – will have to be adapted accordingly.

This post was first published in German in my blog


Pragmatismus, statt Pathos – Neues vom CEO

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