Secrets from the C-Suite

While it’s true that CEOs have always played a central role in communicating within the organizations they lead, their roles as chief communicators have evolved significantly over the last 20 years. And this evolution is being shaped by many of the same trends driving enhancements across Internal Communications functions – a more strategic view of the discipline, the breadth of channels available, the proliferation of video and the rise of social media, to name just a few.

It should come as no surprise, then, that communications leaders are increasingly being asked to dedicate resources to drive and support the CEO’s multi-faceted agenda. Whether you’re in position to redirect or increase staff, or find yourself adding this critical task to your existing, personal workload, here is a list of tips that may help – all of which we’d be happy to discuss in more detail.

  • Personality fit is critical. CEOs generally have little time or patience for training or building relationships. Study the exec’s style and tendencies, and fill the role with someone who has a natural inclination to adapt to these individual traits. Thick skin also is essential as there often is little time for niceties. If you can’t find the right fit or don’t have the hiring/staffing flexibility to do so, you need to become the right fit. The same rules apply – study tendencies and continually adapt your approach to meet his/her style.
  • Learn her or his voice. All human beings employees have distinct ways of expressing themselves – unique turns of phrase, favorite expressions, often-used (or overused) words. Your CEO may reference HBR articles, trot out sports analogies, quote movie dialogue or draw from biblical parables. Find their sources of inspiration and become fluent in the genre. This will serve you well not only in ghost-writing, but also in coaching them for live speaking appearances.
  • Think beyond the job description. Senior executives often look to their communications leaders for more than comm support. You’re in a unique position to be the eyes and ears of the organization, alerting and informing them of things they can’t see from the C-suite. You’ll know you are viewed as a true cabinet member when he/she regularly asks how employees would think or feel about a given issue. (And if you’re not sure how you’d answer, see our post on building a dialogue capability.)
  • Be proactive. Some CEOs may operate as if they only want an order-taker to do their communications bidding. But even the most dictatorial leaders will come to appreciate someone who brings them new ideas, fresh perspectives and information to which they aren’t privy. The key is to strike the right balance – deliver well on their requests, and find the right time to bring forward a suggestion or piece of intel they may appreciate. If your attempt falls flat, shake it off – but don’t give up on the approach.


To see other examples of our work, go to Mini Case Studies.

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