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Reveals New Roles for CCOs
- 09.05.2011 | Information vs. Defamation: Impact of Courtroom
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- 08.09.2011 | CCO as Advocate for C-Suite Openness
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- 05.17.2011 | Can You Counsel With Your Mouth Shut?
- 04.24.2011 | Leadership Ambiguity (Otellini, Intel)
- 04.23.2011 | Must CCO's be Cassandra at the C-Suite Table?
- 04.14.2011 | Are We There Yet? New BP Leader Faces the Slippery Slope
- 02.10.2011 | Wisdom of Unorthodox Communications
- 01.18.2011 | Is Time the Enemy of Truth for Business Communicators?
- 01.01.2011 | Shrink Your Message to Nine Seconds?
Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International
August 9, 2011
"Quick, boss, you need to apologize!"
Are these the first words out of the mouth of the chief communication officer when the CEO owns up to personal accountability for a negative situation?
We don't think so.
More likely, we think the hapless, surprised CCO will be thinking:
Maybe now they will listen to me. Maybe they will let me in on things I should know about before stuff hits the fan. Maybe they will believe me when I say virtually everybody will know (and maybe should know) everything virtually all the time. Maybe they will understand that you can't keep anything secret in this day and age...¹
In fact, the CCO in the C-suite following disclosure of trust-shaking events will take her seat at the management table and say something like:
"Okay, the question out there in the media and in the stakeholders is going to be what do we know and when did we know it. So, could we start with what happened that we thought we could keep secret?"
Real events bring this to mind as we consider the rough side of leadership communication.
News Corporation's CEO is forced to acknowledge the extent of pay-offs or legal case settlements to keep their reporting practices from public disclosure.
HP's CEO has to answer to a concealed record of spending time and company money with an attractive consultant.
Whole Foods' CEO uses his wife's pseudonym to chat with Internet strangers about the company he is leading.
In each of these cases, the CCO was apparently not in the know.
Our interest is not in na´ve assumption that leaders will never stumble or, through arrogance or self-delusion, act as though they are above honest dealings with stakeholders — or, with the law.
Our interest is in lessons in leadership strength for the expert communicator.
If you are the expert communicator, you need to protect the organization (not to mention yourself!) from being surprised or blind-sided by embarrassing, if not illegal, trust-shaking decisions of leadership.
Roger Bolton, the former CCO at Aetna and a national leader in corporate communications² has made the point that in the authentic enterprise, the chief communicator's loyalty to stakeholders is at least equally important as loyalty to the company.
As the CCO moves up in management, his or her constant effort has to be toward openness, and certainly not secrecy beyond patents, legal and trade matters, in the C-suite.
As the advocate for stakeholders, as protector of the vital trust deal that's in the interest of the company, you need, above all, not to be among the last to know what's going on.
Using the respect you earn through your counsel and support to others in the C-suite, you need to know as much as you can what's going on in HR, legal, operations and financial that has any potential to become part of the dialogue among the company and its workers, owners, business partners, government, communities and other stakeholders.
Let's review some leadership communication lessons: Information flow is your accountability. There is no secrecy. Post-action apologies are a losing leader's gambit. The warning flags of missteps need to be known in your wheelhouse. CCO's must probe for information and push (if not exactly preach) transparency.
Detachment from information, the incremental grist that precedes stakeholder communication, can be professionally fatal to you.
And, luckily or otherwise, there are lots of examples of damage — including leadership downfall — to embolden you with your leadership.
¹An earlier version of the topic addressed in this chapter appeared in
Corporate Greening 2.0: Create and Communicate Your Company's
Climate Change & Sustainability Strategies, E. Bruce Harrison,
PublishingWorks, Inc., 2008, p. 55.
²Bolton, who served as president of the Arthur W. Page Society, is an
author of the society's major study on business trust, conducted with the
Business Roundtable. See awpagesociety.com
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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