Rebuild trust through strong leadership

Dan Vasella, CEO and chairman of Novartis, and longtime Ruder Finn client, was recently honored with a “distinguished achievement award” from B’nai B’rith International, a...

Dan Vasella, CEO and chairman of Novartis, and longtime Ruder Finn client, was recently honored with a “distinguished achievement award” from B’nai B’rith International, a global Jewish humanitarian organization.

His acceptance speech was brief, but it said a lot about how CEOs and senior executives might address the scrutiny they have recently received. He called the award, “a quiet reminder of my own shortcomings in face of other people’s needs and suffering.”

This contemplative self-awareness goes beyond the buzzwords for building and rebuilding trust. It demonstrates a humble awareness of what President Obama called for in his inaugural speech, “a new era of responsibility.”

When the president visited the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and participated in the tradition of leaving a handwritten note in the wall, he wrote: “Help me guard against pride.”

This personal insight and sensitivity is the mark of a true leader and is an approach that can strengthen a leader’s credibility. As GE CEO Jeff Immelt recently confirmed, "leadership is a long journey into your own soul.”

As we look to emerge from the global economic crisis in which so many business leaders have failed, so many others have been tested and forced to look inside to test their mettle. Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic recently wrote that CEOs like Vasella are “demonstrating the kind of visionary leadership that will reshape the U.S. economy.”

The way forward will nonetheless be difficult and at times frustrating. As Dr. Vasella put it: “Despite all related emotions the way forward should neither be paved with anger, resentment nor embarrassment. The bridge which leads into the future is built on engagement, perseverance and resilience.”

Kathy Bloomgarden, co-CEO of Ruder Finn

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