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CEO Communications: Five Phrases That Signal 'BS'

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Leading business bloggers say the perceived authenticity of a CEO plays a critical role in how they assess a leader's abilities and performance overall, according to interviews conducted by the 10 company and Gotham Research Group.

CEOs who are perceived as inauthentic are viewed as not only less likeable than authentic CEOs but also less capable and less effective leaders, the interviews found.

Below, other findings from The Value of Authenticity: Managing Bloggers' Perceptions of the CEO, a report based on in-depth interviews with 10 institutional bloggers who cover corporate and business news for top-tier national, regional, and trade news outlets.

CEOs in the financial and banking industry were consistently rated by the interviewed bloggers as "less likely to be authentic."

Bloggers' observations of high-profile CEOs in that industry (as well as their perceptions of the culture in the financial sector in general) lead them to believe that such CEOs tend to be "tone deaf and scripted," according to the report.

The interviewed bloggers most often rated the following CEOs as authentic: 
  • Warren Buffett ("He's a straight shooter.")
  • Steve Jobs ("He was always himself, even if it rubbed people the wrong way.")
  • Ray Kroc ("He wasn't in some Ivory Tower; he was out in the field all the time.")
  • Herb Kelleher ("His door was always open—I think he ate with lunch with his employees every day.") 

Asked to name the top 5 phrases that raise concerns about a lack of authenticity, the bloggers cited the following:

  1. "This deal is a win-win." Bloggers commented that few business deals, if any, are really a win-win—particularly in the current economic climate.
  2. "Thinking/working/planning outside the box." That phrase is viewed as classic corporate-speak, according to the interviewed bloggers.
  3. "We're not here to talk about the past." That expression is viewed as a clichéd, not-so-clever diversionary tactic designed to avoid an unpleasant topic.
  4. "We are an innovative company." Innovation has become an empty promise—something many companies say they stand for, but few, if any, can actually deliver, according to the report.
  5. "Executive X is stepping down to spend more time with his family." Among bloggers interviewed, that expression is code for an executive who is being forced out of a job. 

Bloggers agreed that CEOs who exhibit any of the following traits are not authentic:

  • Lack of courage. Bloggers say CEOs are too tightly handled and scripted and, as a result, too tentative not only in their public statements but also in their actions.
  • Failure to engage in unscripted "give and take." Bloggers say 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, who are usually looking out for potential problems that can undermine the companies they cover, say a CEO who is not similarly vigilant is suspicious.

"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," said 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."

About the survey: The report is based on findings from 10 one-on-one in-depth interviews with  institutional bloggers who cover corporate and business news for top-tier national, regional, and trade news outlets. The interviews were conducted in December 2011 by the 10 company and Gotham Research Group. Each blogger participated in a 30-45-minute interview designed primarily to assess their views of CEOs and the C-Suite at large public companies.


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  • by michael o'daniel Fri Feb 17, 2012 via web

    You left out 5A, which is "leaving to pursue other opportunities."

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