Executive communications is a unique demand — and challenge — facing all CEOs, senior executives, national leaders, elected and appointed political leaders, and heads of organizations, public, private and nonprofit.
Most leaders have communications divisions in their organizations with talented and experienced professionals. The communications teams work with the national, trade, specialty, new and social media. They write press releases and statements, publicize announcements, and manage product rollouts, store and plant openings and events. They handle good news and bad news. Investor-relations communicators handle earnings releases, investor/analyst calls and annual meetings.
Executives need something different — they need leadership communications. Their communications set the tone and direction for their organizations, both internally and externally, for all stakeholders and the public at large.
In my experience, reading and research, leaders today face ten unique communications needs:
- Leaders frame, articulate and reinforce the big picture: The vision, mission, purpose, strategy, energy, commitment and community spirit of their organizations.
- Leaders address the big questions: Who we are. What we’re doing. Why we’re doing that. Why we’re the best at that. Why that’s good for all stakeholders and the public.
- Leaders embody their organizations: Their public spirit, market presence, policy approach and “tone and manner” — the sense of humility, humanity and service.
- Leaders use communications to convey strategy and drive change: Internally, to achieve alignment, cohesion and sense of purpose, passion and ownership among employees. Externally, to have an impact on the markets, missions and public they serve.
- Leaders recognize the urgency of communications in crisis, challenge and change: When things go wrong or change course, as they always do, leaders communicate much more, not less.
- Leaders communicate constantly and personally: The executive “ivory tower,” with aloof distance that conveys arrogance, can be disastrous in the Internet Age.
- Leaders communicate openly, honestly, and with a sense of accountability and command: All stakeholders, internal and external, are looking to executive leaders for comfort, confidence, clarity, and sense of direction — the path ahead.
- Leaders communicate more today given their increased accountability: From their boards of directors to employees, customers, partners, shareholders, constituents and others, leaders are finding they have more, and more demanding, audiences to reach and satisfy. The increased separation of the roles of CEO and Chairman of the Board means CEOs have to communicate more with their boards.
- Leaders are never on the defensive: In their communications, leaders don’t point fingers, blame others, or focus on where critics are wrong. They never blame the media. They consider, weigh and accept responsibility for perceived shortcomings or failings, but mostly focus with confidence on the strategy and future direction of their organizations.
- Leaders are people: These women and men were selected for their leadership roles because they exhibited — or had the potential to exhibit — the leadership approach and qualities their organizations needed.
In their roles, leaders are symbols and drivers of their organizations. Most care deeply about their organizations and the people who make them work. Most work 14-18 hours a day, over the weekends, and on vacations. They are human — women and men with lives, families and other interests. They’re often misunderstood or miscast. But the more they communicate who they are, why they welcome and appreciate the chance to lead, and the direction they seek, the better their organizations will grow, thrive, weather the inevitable challenges, and achieve their vision, mission and purpose for the benefit of all stakeholders.
In sum, leaders have unique — and exceptional — executive communications needs that understand and advance their leadership goals.