By Tim Hayes

In today’s business world, CEOs can’t be spectators, but must be active combatants using effective communications as their most trusted tool. 


Leadership by example is the only way that organizations can find clarity, direction, inspiration, and the sheer will to fight their way out of the economic fix they’re in these days.  And that responsibility falls squarely on the CEO.  Just ask John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems.


“I’m the roadblock.  In command and control, the enabler is the CEO,” said Chambers in a recent interview with McKinsey & Company.  “Part of it is the ability to paint a picture of what’s possible…You’ve got to communicate, communicate, communicate…And the leader has to not only say the talk, she or he has got to walk the talk.  Got to be the best example.”


At issue, though, is a simple fact of human nature – people can’t follow a vision they can’t see, don’t understand, or one that has not been conveyed to them with power, persuasiveness, and passion.


Earlier in my career, I served as the communications liaison for the CEO of a major financial services provider.  He had assumed the office following the long tenure of a man who had quite dramatically and effectively rescued this company from liquidation some years before.  But by the time he retired, the company had become stale and set in its ways.  The new CEO planned to set a fresh course to keep the enterprise vibrant and growing in what had become a new competitive landscape.


I advised him that if he were the only person in the company who really “got” this new vision, then he’d be the only one working to carry it out.  So we set out to capture the main elements of the vision, develop key message points that everyone from executives in the C-suite to tellers on the front lines could easily grasp, and push the information out into the company with vigor and enthusiasm.


And the guy most visible – through speeches to employee groups, customer gatherings, and investor conferences, along with a dedicated internal website and many other communications tools – was the CEO. 


A spectator?  Never.  An active combatant?  Always.  Effective communications that took his vision and made it understandable and actionable to everyone in the company made a real difference.

Copyright 2009 Tim Hayes Consulting