In this hyper-connected world, the role of the CEO extends far beyond mere internal leadership than it has ever done before. We are seeing higher expectations for transparency coming from all stakeholders that have cemented the notion of the CEO as a core component of a company's image.
So should company leaders be adopting a strategy to ensure the CEO is positioned in a way that both matches and enhances their company's reputation?
The complexity of CEO reputation
Researcher Marc Fetscherin introduced the notion of a "branding mix" for CEOs in a 2015 study. He found that CEO reputation indeed has an impact on both financial and nonfinancial performance.
Unsurprisingly, personality traits were a primary driver. Fetscherin suggested that honesty and humility positively impact organisational outcomes, which isn't surprising considering the emphasis the corporate affairs profession places on such traits. Congruently, narcissism and manipulativeness were not seen to fit within the ideal CEO persona.
Additionally, Fetscherin found that other factors, such as the degree of experience, education, execution, succession planning, and even the physical looks and facial expressions, all had an effect on the CEO's image.
Emphasising the importance of communication
Corporate communications expert, Walter G. Montgomery, who served as CEO and on boards in various organisations over his extensive career, wrote an opinion piece for the University of Pennsylvania. He expressed how CEOs often undervalue the importance of communication – a major mistake when today's communicative landscape is characterised by immediacy and transparency.
"Chief executives need to focus on communications as a management capability much more seriously than they typically do," said Mr Montgomery.
But how can this be achieved?
Managing CEO communications
Researcher Ansgar Zerfass argued that CEO positioning is just like any other form of corporate communication – if it is strategically managed, involving research, planning, execution and, of course, evaluation – it will be more sustainable and successful.
Zerfass and his colleagues found that in high-power distance countries, it is actually very common for corporate affairs to abide by a rigid communication strategy. However, in English-speaking countries like Australia where low-power distances both in society and in organisations are far more apparent, this is far less common.
But the particular competencies of an ideal CEO are often difficult to procure, as CEOs generally are required to be both great managers and decision-makers as well as charismatic communicators – a combination that is not easily found.
Just like you would manage any other communications campaign, to ensure consistency the persona of the CEO should also be managed.