Bloggers would like CEOs to acknowledge the mistakes and excesses of corporate America to show that they are in-touch with reality, even if the CEOs’ companies have shown no bad behavior, according to a survey of prominent bloggers who cover corporate and business news, conducted by fledgling public relations consultancy the 10 company and Gotham Research Group.
"The bloggers we surveyed expressed a desire for CEOs—particularly those in the financial sector—to explicitly acknowledge the corporate excesses of the last several years, even if their companies were blameless,” says Jeff Levine, founder of Gotham Research Group. "There’s something more authentic and relatable about a leader who can admit that mistakes were made.”
Such recognition would show that CEOs are more aware of what average employees and consumers are thinking, according to the bloggers interviewed. Emotional intelligence is now seen as a crucial job requirement for any executive.
Meanwhile, almost any CEO statement regarding a shortage of financial resources for their company initiatives or lack of raises and better benefits for their employees is viewed with skepticism, especially if there is a perception that CEOs are inordinately well-compensated or receive large bonuses. One blogger commented, “I hate it when they cry poor, and I know they just got a big bonus.”
Perceptions of a leader’s authenticity play a critical role in the overall assessment of a CEO’s ability and performance, according to the bloggers surveyed. CEOs perceived as “inauthentic” by bloggers were not only considered to be less likeable than authentic CEOs, but also thought to be less capable and less effective leaders.
Bloggers expressed a universal sentiment that CEOs who display any of the following traits are inauthentic by definition:
• Lack of courage. Bloggers believe that CEOs are too tightly handled and scripted, and, as a result, too tentative not only in their public statements, but in their actions.
• Failure to engage in unscripted “give and take.” Bloggers believe they should have an opportunity—even if only once a year—to ask questions, preferably in-person, and get a glimpse of the real person inside the CEO.
• Failure to acknowledge and discuss their company’s challenges. Bloggers are always on the lookout for potential problems that can undermine the companies they cover. A CEO who is not similarly vigilant is viewed with suspicion.
“Authentic CEOs are real,” says Clare DeNicola, principal and co-founder of the 10 company. “They avoid corporate-speak and engage in a dialogue that is specific and honest. When a blogger is looking to speak with the person in charge, he’s looking to speak to the ‘person,’ not the ‘in charge.’ It can’t always be corporate jargon and unfettered optimism.”
While bloggers surveyed said that no CEOs are getting blogger relationships right today, the CEOs who were most often named as being authentic were Warren Buffet, Herb Kelleher and the late Steve Jobs.
Survey respondents identified the following phrases as red flags:
• This deal is a win-win. Bloggers say that few business deals, if any, are really win-win – particularly in the current economic climate.
• Thinking/working/planning outside the box. The phrase is viewed as classic corporate-speak.
• We’re not here to talk about the past. This is seen as a clichéd, not-so-clever diversionary tactic designed to avoid an unpleasant topic.
• We are an innovative company. Innovation has become an empty promise – something that many companies say they stand for, but few, if any, can actually deliver.
• Executive X is stepping down to spend more time with his family. This phrase is code for an executive who is being forced out of a job.