Ask your CEO what keeps him or her up at night. You might get a circuitous response.
In 2022, as organizations search for the ‘next normal’, executives face a prismatic world that can’t be seen through a single lens or addressed by one facet of the business – not by a strong balance sheet or best-selling product portfolio, a flexible supply-chain or political connections.
COVID-19, geopolitical tension, ESG accountability, economic turbulence, climate change, cryptocurrency, the future of work, tech disruption, personal liberties—senior leaders are responsible for decoding the complexity of these forces, understanding business impact and addressing stakeholders’ divergent, oft-impatient demands. The spotlight is white hot. Executives must not only run a profitable business but demonstrate confidence and control in how they deal with the countless contingencies.
At Cognito, we work with a range of executives across finance, technology and professional services – some of them established Fortune 500 and IDC 100 leaders, others leading disruptive financial technology start-ups and challenger brands. Over the past two decades, never has Cognito seen such a dramatic increase in the demand for direct, personal engagement from a company’s C-suite, from virtually every company stakeholder, including investors, analysts, regulators, media, communities, customers and employees. We’re finding the appetite for counsel and assistance is particularly prevalent among financial industry leaders, whose feet are increasingly held to the fire in today’s stakeholder capitalism environment.
The good news is that business executives who understand this new environment – who can ‘see around corners’, anticipating how their stakeholders may think and behave – have an enhanced personal opportunity to strengthen their company’s reputation and brand in the spotlight fixed upon them. In a landscape riddled with reputational landmines, well-prepared executives have a golden opportunity to be seen and heard, to demonstrate engaged corporate and societal leadership, to join and drive conversations shaping their industry and our world. Done well, a strong, proactive executive positioning program – built on trust, transparency and authentic thought leadership – can be a major force multiplier for any organization. In 2022, no matter which tectonic-shifting field you’re playing on, the adage lives on: The best defense is a good offense.
Smart executive positioning isn’t simply about building a personal brand; that, by itself, is a vanity project. Executive positioning requires a customized, systematic 360-degree approach that enables senior leaders to engage key stakeholders where they are. Each interaction produces a vital positive benefit: Office and plant visits (cultivating workplace culture), community volunteering and philanthropy (earning public and political endorsement), investor road shows (shoring up financial support), keynotes and panel discussions (influencing customers and industry players), media interviews (advancing corporate storytelling), rankings, awards and VIP invitations (validating experience and expertise), social media conversations (having a voice in the virtual town square)—the list and reasons go on.
Whether you’re new to the public arena or a battle-tested veteran, I continue to encourage senior executives and their communications teams to think about where – and how – you want to ‘show up’.
Bear in mind a few best practices as you think about an executive positioning and thought leadership platform:
- Find the white space. Prioritize opportunities where you can own conversations on timely topics that are aligned with business priorities.
- Be bold, even contrarian. Don’t simply spot trends; come with a point of view and illustrate understanding and implications in a way that others can’t – or won’t.
- Be consistent, think long-term. Explore how your positioning can be sustained. What topics will remain important to both your business and the external environment? Sustained executive positioning will generate more attention and behavioral change over time.
- Be concise, share the insights. Think in headlines. While you may know all of the facts, focus is key. Anticipate what your audiences will want to learn; be thought-provoking yet succinct in delivery.
- Be human. Breathe life into your public engagements with stories, personal anecdotes that invigorate your subject matter expertise. Authenticity earns attention, attention earns trust. Ultimately, trust earns action.
If your company’s senior leaders are done playing defense and are ready to firmly plant their stake in the ground, please reach out to Sean McCarthy at email@example.com.