Boards – Consider a communications professional as your next CEO

By Mike Browne, director, How-Now.

The pandemic has seen the value of communications as a strategic function become more recognised and its seat at the top table acknowledged, but we still don’t hear of many communications people making the step up to CEO. Why is that?

There are ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors determining how any job is filled. Candidates push themselves forward for a role and the decision-making process whittles them down and pulls up one candidate. As a sweeping generalisation, communications people get lots out of their varied, interesting and challenging day jobs and may not push themselves forward for a CEO role.

Here’s why, if they do come forward, the board should consider them.

Strategic overview In order to set out the authentic corporate story for an organisation, synthesising everything about it is essential. What other discipline knows the business ‘warts and all’ like the communications function? Telling a good story isn’t magic, it comes from a talent for being able to take a helicopter view of an organisation, including all of its internal and external issues. This is an inside-out skill vital for a CEO.

Strategic thinking – Setting the strategic vision, purpose, values, goals is something the board will want their CEO to work with them on. Communications people understand the external environment their messaging is aimed at, how it is changing and how your organisation needs to change with it.

Speed of decision making – It is so ingrained for communications people that they often don’t realise, but making evidence-based decisions at pace is their bread and butter. Rapidly assessing situations and making decisive calls, whilst keeping their eye firmly on long term goals is what they do. Who wouldn’t look to their CEO for this?

Crisis handling – In a crisis, to quote Ghostbusters, ‘who you gonna call?’ Communications is usually at the top of the list in calmly shaping the response to an issue and framing how it is messaged and released. You can’t do the second of these without the first and communications people always have an eye to the issue as well as the presentation, considering both can lead to a different and better response. This is an invaluable mindset.

Planning – Effective communications campaigns linked to your corporate agenda have clear goals, activities and success measures. Your organisation needs these too and a communications person can deliver.

Selling the vision – A CEO should be your organisation’s composer and choreographer, they should write the song your organisation sings internally and asks the world to dance to externally. Leadership and effective communications are a great combination.

Partnering – Much of what you do needs to be delivered with and through others. Communications people naturally network across staff and governance inside their organisation and work with external stakeholders to get things done. A CEO adept at relationship building and collaboration is an effective one.

So, next time your board are thinking about recruiting the top post for your organisation, why not think about the skills a communications professional can bring?

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