The celebrity leader and the 10 best ways to f@*K up a company culture

Lord Byron, who died at the age of 36 and was certainly a superstar in his own lifetime, couldn’t have been more wrong when he said, ‘A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn’t know.’  Or, to be more generous to a man who pre-dated modern social media by 160 years or so, he couldn’t be more wrong today. Being glad to know people is at the heart of modern, successful celebrity life.

Senior corporate leaders are celebrities.  Even in a big company, everybody knows the CEO.  Members of the executive committee are splashed across the company intranet daily.  People mention to each other when they see them, what they said, how they said it.  Every aspect of their life is scrutinised.  Internally and externally to the business, they exert huge influence.  Think Musk, Trump, Jobs.

Which is why, when it comes to company cultures, celebrity leaders are well-placed to get things wrong.  Here’s the ten very best ways they can do so…

–       not matching words and behaviours

–       thinking that rank is a right not a privilege

–       not making time for the ‘little people’

–       being the loudest voice in the room

–       thinking that the executive committee has all the answers

–       rewarding those who agree, rather than those who speak truth

–       sacrificing long term change for the short-term sound bite

–       not celebrating difference and divergent thinking

–       being inconsistent

 –       …and, most simply of all (and with a nod to his Lordship), not being glad to know those around them

Which is why the role of the trusted internal communications expert has never been more important.  Long overshadowed by more glamorous counterparts in media relations and public affairs, the 2020s will be the decade when the internal communications discipline stands tall.  Why? Glassdoor, employee surveys, changes to the Corporate Code in 2018, greater shareholder expectation, obvious links between employee engagement and company value: the list of reasons is long.

Corporate leaders who believe in good, ethical leadership and embrace their respective ‘Heads of’ Internal Communications will thrive.  Those who don’t?  Those who remain certain that they have all the answers and pleasing themselves is all that matters?  They should remember that culture eats celebrity strategy.

Every time.

Wayne Reynolds, founder and Managing Director, Birchwood Knight


11th September 2019

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