Does the CEO actually write his own tweets? Acquiring an executive communications mindset
“Do you really think he writes his own tweets?”
Surely you’ve heard this phrase, usually in connection with some social media post that some senior corporate executive, politician or celebrity may have used that created a bit of media buzz.
Often the answer is assumed by the very asking of the question.
“No,” we presume.
In fact, some very busy, high-profile men and women have taken to writing and posting their own tweets, Facebook posts and more, even writing their own more long-form blog posts and speeches. We start to get a sense of this when we listen to and watch those same people when they are forced to think and speak on their feet in press conferences, at shareholders meetings, or when they conduct a town hall-style meetings all without the aid of a teleprompter. We notice the consistency, the clarity.
Maybe, just maybe, they are for real, we think.
The real issue, however, may be in the question not the answer. Of course, the CEO doesn’t have time to pen every word that comes under his signature, is attributed to him, or leaves his lips in a speech.
It’s almost ironic that some people I’ve known who write for a living – who spend well more than 40 hours a week doing so – have some difficulty appreciating that someone charged with managing a huge workforce and multinational operations may not have time to do the heavy lifting of physically drafting (and re-drafting) everything attributed to the exec.
The issue should not be whether the CEO actually writes everything, but rather whether the leader intellectually and emotionally owns every message delivered, regardless of the platform for communication.
In the PR world, we tend to package all of this under the executive communications banner. That’s the function which supports senior leadership’s efforts to deliver its vision to the full range of stakeholders, internal and external.
Large organizations may have teams of people to handle different pieces of it. But sooner or later, the actual messengers of the program comprise a very small group of spokespersons, if not just one, the CEO.
Because the leader is alone at the top while representing an entire organization, his singular, recognizable voice must be genuine, consistent and above all, credible. All communications that stem from the corner office must be in a uniquely personal voice and that can only happen if the CEO has an executive communications mindset that drives everything, from the smallest details to the grandest visions.
The CEO may not have time to write the letter to shareholders, but with an executive communications mindset, the leader knows very clearly from the outset exactly what shareholders must know, how they should feel, and what must be conveyed to get them there.
Before the drafting of a speech the CEO knows exactly what the audience should know, how it should feel, and generally what must be done to make the desired impression.
Through it all, the CEO must be engaged so that in the earliest phases of content development, by the time the very first draft is ready, he’s already reading his words, his thoughts, his vision. He’s driving the process from start to finish, letting go at intervals so that the professionals can shine and polish the words – his words – without tampering with his vision.
To be sure, not all CEOs have this executive communications mindset. You can observe those who don’t by the inconsistencies in their communications, by their obvious discomfort with certain subjects and their pattern of avoiding public forums that require some degree of spontaneous response. When they exhibit the need for improvement they reinforce the notion that an executive communications mindset is as much a honed skill or a talent as it is an instinct.
As time goes by, some senior leaders find that certain communications activities are more in their comfort zones than others. One CEO may find the writing of a twice-monthly blog post almost therapeutic. A way to capture everything he’s already doing and thinking and using the process to connect with employees or other stakeholders. Another CEO may find the same refuge in her preparation process for the quarterly earnings report. And still others, may find that social media serves as a convenient and comfortable outlet for connectivity as part of the normal course.
No senior leader can do it all.
That’s why organizations have support functions. But every senior leader can acquire and develop an executive communications mindset, one that ensures that whether they write every word ascribed to them that there is no mistaking that all of it is indeed theirs.
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.
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