Honest CEOs are better CEOs


It’s not hard to find corporate leaders who are willing and able to discuss strengths and successes. However, a survey of business bloggers places a premium on corporate leaders who are also willing to discuss shortcomings and failures as well. It demonstrates honesty and authenticity, they say. This is especially true when they are asked to discuss corporate excess.

The survey was produced by 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 Dr. Jeff Levine, founder of Gotham Research Group. “There’s something more authentic and relatable about a leader who can admit that mistakes were made.”

One of the bloggers surveyed said by way of example that it rings very hollow when a CEO blames lack of resources when it comes to employee compensation and benefits after just having personally received a hefty bonus.

“Authentic CEOs are real. They avoid corporate-speak and engage in a dialogue that is specific and honest,” says Clare DeNicola, principal and co-founder of the 10 company. “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.”

The study identified common traits of inauthentic CEOs:

* 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.

It also offered five phrases that are inauthenticity 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 cliched, 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.