The Public Role of the CEO
A former colleague sent me an engaging article from Gawker about CEOs and hubris. The first half of the article was actually about powerful CEOs sock exposure when their legs were crossed on stage. But the article hit the nail on the head when it comes to CEOs. “A Wall Street CEO primarily serves as the human embodiment of the firm—the competent, reassuring face that the many-tentacled monster projects to the world. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb once said, ‘A C.E.O.’s incentive is not to learn, because he’s not paid on real value. He’s paid on cosmetic value.’ This is not to say that these wildly successful men are dumb; it is simply to say that their job is not about muddling in the details, or tinkering with the gears of the machine. The CEO’s job, in public, is to frame the perception of what his company does, to cast the company’s activities in the proper terms, so that it sits in the public’s mind in an acceptable way.”
I thought that this quote and the part that I bolded sums up well the role of the public CEO — positioning the reputation of the company to its many publics in the most effective way. Of course, I could go on about how important the narrative is and how it should be distributed to maximum effect. But it does go to the central core of the CEO’s external job today. Internally, the CEO’s job is vastly different — modeling the values of the company, inspiring and motivating employees, building a top team, and communicating its mission and purpose. Creating meaning for the workforce and making sense of it all. A massive job.