Executives becoming public figures
I was recently asked about the current trend of Founders and CEOs trying to turn themselves into public figures. It often appears that their full time job has become conference keynotes and panels, guest hosting or blogging on Huffington Post, making YouTube videos promoting their ethos, doing media interviews, and more. Is this good for their company – or just for their own egos?
I believe that the impact of a CEO who works to position himself as a celebrity has both positive and negative impacts on his or her business. Before I reveal my final verdict at the end of this article, here are a few of my pros and cons.
1. Pros of a celebrity CEO
A famous CEO means lots of exposure, and therefore free PR. When done well, this will help with customer acquisition, investor acquisition, and/or partner acquisition. These are very good things. Additionally the “fame” will come with invitations to conferences and events around the world. Companies can save money with the free attendance for starters, and get access to people and events that otherwise might be off limits.
Notoriety will pave the way to get meetings with other leaders and companies that otherwise might be very difficult to secure. It should help with recruiting. It will likely help an eventual public offering and may even help facilitate an acquisition. These also are very good things.
2. Cons of a celebrity CEO
A CEO in the spotlight puts focus squarely at the top of the organization and takes credit away from employees and other management. This is dangerous.
Additionally, all the effort to “get famous” certainly distracts a leader from really important issues of strategy, tactics, coaching and team building, and may distract him from customers, the customer experience and the product. This is also very dangerous. Whenever a leader shifts time and resources away from customer efforts, it makes me nervous.
A final word of caution is that building up the notoriety of one leader can often result in jealousy and resentment for others in senior management, on the board and in the employee ranks. I’ve always found far more business success in promoting the accomplishments of others, and crediting my team, rather than building myself up.
The final verdict:
The platform provided by a CEO in the public eye also provides a platform for identity building – for both employees and to the outside world. My belief is that good leaders will pursue publicity in a measured way as an extension of their company’s identity. The good ones do so with the company goals in mind all the time, and the not-as-good ones do it because they crave the personal spotlight (and wish they were Brad Pitt but it turned out they aren’t as good looking).
If done correctly, pursuing a modest amount of celebrity for a CEO is a good thing. Just don’t let the trappings get in the way. Don’t let yourself start to believe the hype. Don’t forget what is important (hint: your customers and your employees). And use your spotlight to share the credit with your team.
Looking good, Brad.