If you hope to become CEO, you can’t be a wallflower. A key part of any CEOs job is to represent their organization to diverse audiences, including analysts and investors, the media, members of the local community, government officials and even heads of state.
Most candidates for the top job know this, and most thrive in the spotlight. Yet surprisingly, many of the CEOs in our study revealed that they didn’t feel as prepared as they might have been to fully handle this part of their duties. “I was well prepared for the internal responsibilities,” one executive told us, “I was less prepared for the external responsibilities.” Another remarked that he was “surprised at how brutal the analyst community and the press are. The were all negative.” A third didn’t realize, “the public scrutiny or how people would criticize me and my family. It takes a toll professionally and personally.”
Even if a CEO’s interaction with the media is relatively smooth, participants in our study noted the strain of having to be “always on.” “I must continually be mindful of what I say and how I say it,” one executive told us. “It is so easy to say things in a way that leads to misinterpretation or over-interpretation by any of my constituencies. It just seems to be human nature to read more into my comments and even in my inflections than was intended.”
To prepare to become your company’s public face, our participants suggested the following:
- Observe how your current CEO interacts with the world. Attend meetings with regulators or debrief sessions for analyst calls. Compare your own knowledge of your CEOs beliefs with press coverage. Think about what you liked or did not like about the CEO’s performance and spend time thinking and discussing with your coach how you might approach this situation.
- Read detailed transcripts from investor and analyst calls from other companies inside and outside your industry. Many of these are available online. As you read them, develop your own lists of what to do and what to avoid in these kinds of interactions.
- Spend time with your head of investor relations. Learn about the current dynamics in your shareholder community. Invite input as to what the company is doing well and where the challenges are. Demonstrate your openness to coaching, guidance, and feedback.
- Know your Sarbanes-Oxley. What requirements does it place on you and other officers? How have other CEOs you know modified their leadership practices to comply?
- Thoughtfully cultivate your public persona. Work with an executive coach to prepare for some of the important, early conversations you’ll have with stakeholder groups. If you feel you’re weak talking to the media, arrange for media training.
- Talk to your family. Make sure they’re ready to see you in the public eye, including seeing you criticized publicly. As one participant remarked, “The CEO title has greater impact in some ways on the spouse and family than it does on the incumbent. My wife and kids read about me in the press, some of it flattering and some of it not—and some of it is factual and some of it is simply not true.”
Perhaps the greatest thing you can do to prepare is muster your own internal resources. Do you have a thick skin when people take shots at you? If not, now is the time to get one. Set aside your emotions, and don’t take criticisms personally—they really do go along with the job.
Living in the public eye can be scary at times. Don’t let the whirlwind of headlines, opinions, and criticisms carry you away. Stay calm, focused, and centered. Here and elsewhere, be the strong, decisive leader you know you can be.
More on the CEO study can be found in the book Preparing CEOs For Success “What I Wish I Knew”. For more information, visit the CLG Bookstore.
And, for more information about CLG Executive Advisors and the support they provide to CEOs, c-suite executives, and high potentials on issues such as leadership, strategy execution, succession, new leader transition, change implementation, and teamwork among senior teams visit the CLG Executive Advisor section of the website.