Getting to Likeable
I wanted to mention this terrific conference I went to last week. It was hosted by PRWeek and featured a stimulating array of speakers. Suzie Welch, author and journalist, spoke about how hard it is for companies to get themselves into the “conversation.” She was thinking back to her days as editor of Harvard Business Review and the many times CCOs would call with what they thought was an explosive idea: “If you’re coming in, trying to be a thought or idea leader, and you don’t have the results to back it up, you’re just beating against the wind. And it backfires later, because when you actually have something to talk about, you already have the stink on you from having tried to sell yourself too soon.” PRWeek has more on her talk.
She mentioned that timing matters, having something uniquely new (Amazon’s drone shipments), knowing how to exit the conversation if in crisis, authenticity and “likeability.” Suzie was incredibly likeable herself and appeared very approachable and “real.” Seems odd that she is so accomplished but goes by what I presume is her grade-school name, Suzie. When it comes to thought leadership, she also reminded the crowd of mostly senior pr professionals how critical it was to have the courage to tell your CEO when their breakthrough idea might just not be ready for prime time. After all, as Suzie said, there are very few new ideas in the business today. I think we’d all agree. Of course, she brought up the topic of CEO celebrity. She was right in saying that no CEO starts out saying they want to be a CEO celebrity. It just happens because everyone wants to know about them. Richard Branson was mentioned as a good example of an individual who became a celeb CEO in service of his brand, Virgin.
Dan Roth, executive editor of LinkedIn, gave some fascinating examples on how CEOs were posting on LinkedIn’s influential Influencer Program and how they eventually find their authentic, human voice after some false starts. He used Prime Minister David Cameron as an example of a leader who over time went from third person to first person in his posts. Roth also mentioned how some CEOs were big on asking for feedback when they submitted their posts. His comment reminded me of a CEO who continually asks anyone within earshot how his company was doing in the marketplace. What was the word on the street? It was a terrific signal that he was interested in hearing as much as talking. Roth ended his talk with some fine advice about the Influencer program — CEOs should realize that they “are not creating content, they are creating conversation.” We all sometimes focus too much on content and getting our corporate message across and not enough on establishing arelationship or demonstrating how human we might actually be.
Although everyone uses the word “authentic” today, I have to make a case for “likeability,” to use Suzie Welch’s word. For most companies and leaders, working on likeability would go a long way in making their companies great places to work. It’s a good word for reputation-building.