“Mr. CEO, what do you believe?”

Summary:

Many leaders neither understand nor are able to communicate their company’s mission and values.

One of the most disheartening moments in my career occurred at a meeting between senior managers of a FORTUNE 100 company and its PR team that included me.

One of the client’s people asked: “What should our CEO’s position be about . . . . ?”

Looking around, I was the only person shocked by the query. Indeed, the experts on both sides of the table assumed it was their role to help the CEO define his company’s values.

I disagreed. Flounders define the standards and values of an organization.  Then, those values become an inseparable part of the company’s culture as it become successful and sustainable.  Over time, those principles that made the company first succeed evolve under the leadership of each new CEO, but remain fundamentally intact.  Every CEO must know where to stand on challenging issues, relying on leadership ability and an awareness of the company’s core values. While the CEO should seek advice, no one in the company should question the leader’s ability to decide where the company stands. In this particular meeting, it was clear that the big boss had no position on this and  many other business issues.

The leader of a company must understand and communicate the company’s mission and values, and be able to apply them in making day-to-day decisions. This leadership gives to employees, customers and shareholders. That clarity is critical for everyone in the company to deliver the goods.

What makes me know I am right? This particular FORTUNE 100 company no longer exists. The CEO negotiated a merger with a competitor on the eve of his retirement, adding a lot of fabric to his parachute. None of those senior managers, who thought he lacked beliefs, are still with the joint organization.

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