Changes ahead for modern CEOs

Charles Handy, the management guru, once said that in business, leadership is about creating a vision that gives a point to the work of others - which seemed a pretty shrewd analysis of what it is and why it is so rare.

Then the other day at a lunch, Nadhim Zahawi, the successful entrepreneur, founder and CEO of the YouGov research group, gave a quite different slant.

He said: 'The CEO's life today is more akin to that of a political leader in constant campaign mode than what was simply a corporate executive role. Given the pace of global change in this new consumer-driven world, CEOs have never been more scrutinized; their every move judged in the court of public opinion.'

One can see why, as head of a research group, he might want companies to be totally plugged into what is happening in the world around them and to be aware of how attitudes and thinking are changing.

But it seems to me that it is an approach that is also fraught with danger because it is by no means clear that the internal and the external roles are compatible and indeed whether it makes sense to try to do both.

If, as Zahawi says, today's CEO needs to react to every nuance and shift of public mood that might affect his business, how can he or she at the same time provide the clarity of message internally that allows employees to know what is expected of them?

If the person in charge seems to be constantly changing course because of perceived changes in the public mood, then that would most likely have a demoralising and demotivating effect on the workers.

Corporate PR teams these days say that communicating messages internally is as big a part of their job as communicating messages externally. Consultants say a similar thing, with even more emphasis on the need to understand a corporate culture and to deliver messages that are compatible with it. If the purpose of the politician is to reconcile irreconcilable differences in what the public wants, then the role of the PRO, it seems, is to reconcile the irreconcilable inconsistencies in the CEO's behaviour.

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