Bimbo Banter

Should A CEO Be Spontaneous?

  • Leadership
  • May 8, 2019
  • by Merrie Spaeth

The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer: Expectations for CEOs revealed that people (63 percent of respondents) want a CEO who “speaks spontaneously over one who delivers well-rehearsed speeches.” We submit this is a totally false choice. What people are really asking for is credibility.

A leader should be able to speak conversationally but should certainly think through and rehearse. Today, everyone is a reporter and eager to share everything a CEO says—and that’s what leadership is all about, but too often “spontaneous” equates with “I wish I hadn’t said that.” One of our favorite training examples is when an employed asked a bank CEO, “Are there going to be more layoffs?” and he responded, “We have to be competitive.” Whoosh! Rumors of layoffs spread throughout the bank. However, it wasn’t true. Lack of preparation led to company-damaging missteps. The bank lost employees it wanted to keep.

Now, let’s turn to the phrase “well-rehearsed speeches.” Any speech that looks well-rehearsed isn’t. That’s a synonym for “canned." A “presentation” as opposed to a “speech” should have interaction, props, stories and, if appropriate, visuals.

Today, we want our senior leaders, led by the CEO, to model the behavior we want to see throughout the enterprise. One of the most important skills is to be able to use what we call “person-to-person, video-enabled” speech. That is, straight to a camera, smartphone or tablet.

Every CEO should strategically plan how social channels like Instagram and Facebook are used and be available and adept at connecting via them. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon successfully deployed this tactic at a conference for young entrepreneurs at the University of Pennsylvania. He filmed a Facebook Live at the venue to connect with Walmart employees and remind them of their entrepreneurial roots. This was clearly not “spontaneous” because someone arranged it, and we’ll bet McMillon thought about what he was going to say. But it did achieve the goal of credible, energetic conversation. It’s the kind of “spontaneity” to which a CEO should aspire.

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