Click on the web site of the Albright Group, a leading reputation management firm here on the East Coast, and you’ll find this great statement by co-founder J.R. Hipple: “Job number one for a CEO is to serve as spokesperson-in-chief, as the behavior and tone from the top set expectations for employees, and tell customers what they should expect from the company.”
Hipple is a much sought-after advisor on leadership communications, as well as issues and crisis management. When I asked him about the quote recently, he explained what years of working with corporate, nonprofit, and academic organizations and executives had taught him: the principal responsibility of the CEO is to be the one who communicates the vision and values of the organization.
“While most leaders understand that at a certain level,” he added, “too often leaders are not intentional enough about making communication a major part of their job.”
And that can be a big problem, especially when a leadership team is trying to execute a new strategic plan. “The number one reason strategic plans fail,” Hipple said, “is lack of execution. And typically that is because of a communication failure.”
Hipple noted that, “When CEOs are sitting in the parking lot before they go into the office, most are not thinking about communication as a top 5 priority. But they should be.”
Part of the problem is lack of preparation. “The typical CEO comes up through finance, or sales and marketing, or a technical division,” Hipple said, “where they don’t have much need to communicate to a far flung organization.”
Interestingly, Hipple also believes that, when it comes to communication, some CEOs are too dedicated to teamwork. “Teamwork is great, and some CEOs get their jobs by always putting the team first,” he said. “But when it comes to major initiatives like a strategic plan, or when it comes to dealing with a crisis, the CEO must step to the front. He or she has to be the spokesperson-in-chief.”