November 20, 2014
Thu 11, 2014

Make no mistake, the CEO is your senior communications’ strategist


At the end of the day, there is no one who is more senior a senior communications’ strategist than the organization’s chief executive officer.

Who else do we want to hear from when our company is going through a major transformation, with a new direction and job losses that may or may not include our own? No one can replace the voice and presence of the CEO during these times. Sadly, too often, the most senior leaders, especially the CEOs, are no where to be seen or, if you’re lucky, their image might be on a screen along with a few words.

I may be biased – communications is my business – but I’d challenge anyone to prove me wrong. It takes a superb communicator to create meaning and isn’t the ability to create meaning at the core of great leadership?

In my experience, whenever a real crisis happened (death, injuries), I was always happy to have the CEO, hospital president, or plant manager to call on. Their comments and presence gave a weight and credibility to the discussion and helped manage the emotion.

Recent comments from McKinsey and Company, “Creating meaning: A pillar of the CEO mandate” really drive home the point that leaders who aspire to be great can only get there through outstanding communications’ skills.

Sure, all leaders are expected to have some or all of the skills and knowledge of the company they’re working for — that’s a given. But what’s not a given, and should be, are leaders who know how to communicate. As the top communications’ strategist, they have accountability for the conversations that go on inside with their employees and with others outside, who may be critical of the company’s long-term success.

That doesn’t mean CEOs and other leaders are now suddenly the media spokesperson on every topic or the only ones who can deliver a great speech. No, it means they’re on top of the strategy that’s been mapped out thoughtfully, and they know their part and can deliver on it.

Despite what I’ve said here, senior communications’ strategist is not a role most CEOs embrace or a skill that headhunters usually look for when recruiting top leaders. Inspirational and motivational are words seldom used to describe leaders.

What do you think? Should the CEO become the chief communications’ strategist?