We are the company – the interconnected CEO

The company is me. This statement – in the vein of Sun King Louis XIV – claims absolute leadership. Whether it was ever actually realized, of course, remains another matter.

But whether it was or not, such leadership models are certainly outdated today. “Sole rule has become a hindrance,” Boris Grundl maintains in a recent book on the ‘man of action’ management model. The reason? The industrial age which was based on the notion of plannable and predictable growth has been superseded by the complexities of globalisation, he argues. The new order of business economics requires new capabilities of both managers and employees: In particular, flexibility and the ability quickly to respond to market developments are key criteria for success today.

So far, so good. However, agility and flexibility are in no way qualities which some people happen to have and others not.  To assume so would mean to ignore the conditions which make successful, adaptive behaviour possible in the first place.


Placing trust in self-management

What enables human beings as well as organisations to adapt to changing complex scenarios in an agile fashion? The answer to this question is often described in a series of opposites: Network instead of hierarchy, openness instead of instruction, development instead of pre-design, flexibility instead of persistence, agility instead of reactance … The wordings indicate nothing less than an organisational transformation. Companies have to develop a new culture of management and cooperation to facilitate innovation, collaboration and flexibility. They have to tackle their own internal structures and processes to remain successful in an age of increased unpredictability and uncertainty. Promoting self-organisation is key: The knack is to allow employees not only to be co-workers but co-thinkers who take charge and contribute to shaping the company – responsibly, appropriately and effectively.


Walk the walk

A transformation of this kind also changes the role of the CEO. Ideally, he or she is the one to kick off or trigger changes within the organisation. The CEO has to embody the change he wants to see happen within the company. Above all, the CEO should not merely outline strategies for development to succeed in an ever-changing complex world. He also has to adapt the organisational framework of his company to allow change to happen in the first place. He has to convince and reason, show why change is needed and act on his beliefs, too. He has to walk the walk. And he has to keep up the dialogue with the people that make up the company.


From many to many

Let’s have a look at strategy design. According to the Sun King model of management (“I am the first and the ultimate…”) the lone ruler also claims to be the sole cause, facilitator, innovator and maker of success. The interconnected CEO acts differently: He or she is a team player even at strategy level. Rather than trying to assess his company’s ever more complex market scenarios unilaterally, he enters into an early dialogue with and actively involves the company’s top management, high potentials and employees. The interconnected CEO knows and appreciates that success has many fathers and mothers. And that it has to be won collectively again and again. Companies which rest on their laurels put their future performance at risk. They often have stopped asking important questions and listening to the many who can contribute to the right answers.


“It’s good that we talked”

 The ability to communicate well is a core competence for business leaders.  However, the interconnected CEO has an even more fundamental affinity to dialogue and exchange. Communication is ‘what he is about’ and in radiating this quality he comes across as authentic. As a result, he seeks dialogue across the company – whether face to face, or web-based – and he invites questions and is happy to give answers.

Of course, communication and the exchange of information – the key resource of today’s knowledge economy – is not an end to itself.  Yet it is the precondition for successful action: Communication implies that the better argument can win. That makes successful effective in a way that should not be ignored!

Surprisingly, many CEOs have yet to discover the power of Social Media. Yes, the global connectedness achieved by Social Media is a blessing and a curse at the same time: CEO statements can prompt waves of support as well as waves of disagreement. An ambiguous tweet can send share prices falling, alienate customers, and annoy employees. But: Good news can also spread like wild fire.


A CEO profile – or a CEO who stands out?

Given the power, e.g. of Social Media, interconnected CEOs are well advised to be aware of both the opportunities and the risks of communication – whether in relation to strategy design or the implementation of messages, issues and commitments, events and presentation forums, or formats like speeches, chats, videos and photos.  Positioning a CEO and setting his public stage is way more demanding than jotting a four-line caption for a stamp-sized photo in a company brochure.

This post was first published in German in my blog



Wir sind Konzern – Zur Rolle des vernetzten CEO

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