Thou Shalt Heed the Need for a CEO’s Communications Skills
I received a press release from the HR consulting group Robert Half Management Resources which posed the following question to 1,400 CFOs at companies across America: what is the most desired leadership quality in today’s business leaders?
The leading answer, at 31%, was integrity. There was a tie for the second leading answer: both experience and communication skills came in at 27%.
Integrity, of course, goes without saying – particularly in the way Corporate America conducts itself. Experience seems like a no-brainer to me – few inexperienced people ever gain executive leadership positions unless they have a very powerful daddy (shout out to the Murdoch family – g’day, mates!).
The fact that communication skills came in second as a key quality for business leadership actually surprised me. Paul McDonald, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources, commented in the press release: “Financial executives must be able to translate complex concepts into terms other audiences, from investors and board members to employees and the general public, can understand. The ability to motivate and inspire also is crucial for fostering loyal and productive employees.”
McDonald’s comment is fascinating to me because it puts the onus on corporate communications directly in the lap of the CEO or company president – that individual is the ultimate PR spokesperson, not the communications director (or whatever title the PR person is given).
But then this raises new questions: does the PR person have adequate access to the CEO to determine the depth and scope of the CEO’s communication skills, and to make sure these skills are being used properly? Not every person is a natural talker or is comfortable addressing large groups of people, and I’ve been in plenty of meetings where a CEO’s speech could easily be bottled and sold as sleeping pills.
But if the PR person cannot emphasize the importance of communications skills to the CEO, or cannot even get an appointment with the CEO to get that point across, then there’s going to be a problem in the near-future.
In researching my book “The New PR,” I received repeated confirmations of what I feared the most: PR people within the corporate world lack the status and influence to stress the importance of communications (both external and internal). Part of this is not their fault, as external communications usually has to run the gamut of legal and risk management approval before it gets aired while internal communications is often shucked to HR people.
Yet it is also partly the fault of the PR people that they have the C-Suite door slammed in their faces. Until such time that PR people think like business leaders, rather than wordsmiths, they cannot and should not be taken seriously. Anyone who doesn’t see PR as a vital tool in strengthening a company’s bottom line fails to understand the power of PR.
FYI, the third quality cited in the aforementioned survey on desirable business leadership qualities was technical or functional expertise, which came in at 11%. Now that’s a quality many corporate PR people need to brush up on!
(Phil Hall is the former president of Open City Communications, a New York PR agency, and former editor of PR News. His latest book "The New PR" will be released later this year from Larstan Publishing.)
Great post. Indeed, the chief PR/Communications officers don't (and probably never will) have a "seat at the table" in large corporations. How many Fortune 1000 companies have a CEO that came up the ranks from Marketing or Communications? Not many.