Traditionally, CEOs have been measured primarily on shareholder return. But more recently the role of CEOs has evolved to include showing employees that they’re invested in their values, showing customers that they can be trusted, and generating profit while championing purpose-driven missions within the company. In other words, chief executives are no longer just decision-makers—they’re the faces, hearts and minds of their organizations.
Executives should take this evolution to heart—especially in the wake of economic disruption and social unrest. As the CEO of Influence & Co for nearly a decade, these responsibilities are something I’ve come to take seriously. It has become my job to ensure that I’m meeting the expectations of both my customers and my community and am living my values each and every day through my actions to set an example for my employees.
And make no mistake: High-profile companies aren't the only organizations that need to ensure CEOs are living up to their role. Regardless of your company's size, you can take steps to be the CEO your employees, customers and industry expect you to be.
Put Your Face Forward
A CEO's image can affect whether customers work with a company. This might sound like bad news, but it implies that CEOs who are willing to put their face forward for their businesses can make a big difference. These days, the purpose-driven movement heavily influences customer behavior, so CEOs have the opportunity to drive sales while also being good global citizens.
One avenue is reaching out to customers directly. If something went wrong in the customer’s interaction with the company, the CEO reaching out can make them feel heard and encourage him or her to come back despite the mishap. Or, reaching out to longtime customers can solidify their loyalty.
Another option is hosting all-staff meetings and then sharing some of that content. For example, if you're talking about your vision for your services and why this is the direction you want to take, it might be beneficial to share those insights with your customer base to keep them informed and gather their input.
The public often looks at how companies treat their employees, too, so ensure your team members feel valued and supported and like they're on a greater mission for good. For example, one company created an employee support program that provides employees with an anonymous hotline they can call to get mental health support. Another example is how my own company rolled out a mental health policy. We also joined forces with employees to donate to charitable organizations that are fighting for racial equality.
Make Your Views Known
One of the most overlooked opportunities for building relationships with external stakeholders, customers and the public is professional branding. Sharing your perspective through guest-contributed articles, blog posts and other formats allows you to connect with the world in an engaging, authentic way—and it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your values and showcase the ways you and your company are working to make the world a better place.
But as you start building a professional brand in this era of the redefined CEO, keep these tips in mind:
1. Author your own content.
As the face of your organization, you shouldn't wait around for the press to interview you. To build authority and a positive reputation, also share your opinions, expertise and knowledge on your own terms.
This might look like sending an email to your customers seeing how they're doing and how you can provide value during COVID-19, guest-contributing articles to industry publications, writing for your own company blog or publishing articles on LinkedIn. Regardless of the avenues you choose, the important thing is that you share consistent content. This gives you the opportunity to cultivate a professional brand around the topics you're passionate about and the core values your company champions live by.
2. Pinpoint your niche and elevate voices who are experts in other areas.
As the CEO, you might be the face of the company, but that doesn't mean you're the most knowledgeable in all areas of your business. Instead of trying to author content or answer reporters' questions about something your head of HR or chief technology officer might have more knowledge about, elevate other voices on your team . This way, you can help your colleagues further their professional brands, focus your messaging on the subjects you're truly an expert in and gain respect from your people because you're giving them a chance to shine.
This doesn't mean you should dodge interview questions from journalists. Instead, give your opinion and then suggest another person on your team who they can get more in-depth information from.
3. Make sure your words reflect your actions.
One of the biggest mistakes CEOs make is giving advice they don't actually follow. For example, if you're a micromanager in your own day-to-day and then write an article on how to give up control and empower employees, the contradictions will be obvious to your team and tarnish your credibility internally. And it's only a matter of time before that becomes visible from the outside, too. So make sure you actually believe in what you're saying enough to live by it.
The public often looks at how companies treat their employees, too, so ensure your team members feel valued and supported and like they're on a greater mission for good.
One thing that differentiates our company culture is allowing all full-time employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave. But talking about that benefit publicly would fall flat if we didn't practice what we preach, so that's why company leaders lead by example. I just got back from maternity leave, and my team supported me leading up to and throughout the time I spent bonding with my first child and transitioning into this new life stage as a family of three.
That's not to say you have to be perfect. When you're creating content, ask those you work closely with to read drafts of your content and call you out on anything you're recommending that you struggle with. Then, acknowledge your struggles in your content. This way, you can give good advice, be authentic, grow as a leader, and build an image that reflects the new purpose-driven role of the CEO.
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