The X Factor for CEOs
I can’t help feeling that taking up the position of CEO of a big corporate is becoming like being a contender on some sort of X Factor tv show, where popularity with a non-expert audience matters more than expert insight. That’s OK for the entertainment business, but far more dangerous for company leadership.
We’re used to sports and TV stars being reduced to a two-dimensional cliché – but not so much with our business leaders. Looking at online chatter in twitter and blogs in the last couple of days, we’ve had rock stardom for Steve Jobs at Apple and mass booing for Leo Apotheker at HP.
There are plenty of other places you can read about their respective success levels – I’m not going into that here – but what about this growing trend for very public, rather clichéd depictions of business leaders? If it develops further and begins to influence our corporate culture more significantly, we could have a real problem.
The business problem
Who would want shareholder support for CEO candidates to be influenced by a public image (good or bad) that may be so over-simplified that it’s meaningless?
Criticism of the CEO (justified or not) often means brand damage for the company, affecting confidence and share price.
Those of us advising companies on innovation strategy always emphasise the critical need for a culture where failure is accepted and learned from – but how can we manage that when the X Factor culture works against it, creating an environment where people are scared of a public label?
These two-dimensional depictions are under constant pressure to remain so. Once the stampede of comments depicting someone in a particular way gets going, it becomes increasingly difficult to see any dissent from the general direction the herd has taken. Put another way, labels on twitter use super-glue as standard – despite all the complexity that really exists within a person and their career.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be free to comment (far from it) but I do see that we need to be ready for a potential, serious downside – one that will make it more difficult to create the right environment for innovation to thrive.
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