Comms is now part of a CEO's job description

The old axiom that it takes a lifetime to build a good reputation and only minutes to destroy it has never seemed truer.

Comms is now part of a CEO's job description
There's no such thing as a local story, a trade story, or even purely internal communication anymore. Everything has the ability to circumvent the globe at light speed, and corporate leaders are starting to become aware of this.

Given this backdrop, the natural instinct for some leaders has been to be less communicative and engaged with the media and other audiences. Why risk saying anything when we have less control over the outcome and the audiences it reaches? Hiding behind a virtual moat and letting others do the talking would seem the easier and safer route, so the thinking goes.

Perhaps. But it's also less credible. Stakeholders want to hear from business leaders - in particular CEOs - on a regular basis. They want to know what we're thinking, and not just about our own company, but about the larger industry we represent, the communities we serve, and the world we live in. We have a unique vantage point in that we represent the broadest set of constituencies. Invariably, that vantage point shapes our views.

Shareholders, employees, industry leaders, the media - they're all interested in hearing our point of view on issues, and it's part of the job of the CEO to communicate. My advice to aspiring CEOs out there: Take the role of communications seriously because it's a requirement of the position. You can't rely on the CEO's letter in the annual report and a few canned quotes in press releases to do your communicating any longer.

I make it a point to speak with the media on a regular basis, and not just around earnings, but on broader issues, too. Whether we have a good or a bad quarter, people want to know what I'm thinking and they want to know that I'm engaged. It's easy to talk to reporters when things are going swimmingly, but it's probably more important to communicate when things aren't always on plan. I think consistent communications with reporters - not hiding behind press releases - builds credibility over time with analysts, employees, the media, and other stakeholders. It also accrues in a positive way to a company's reputation over the long run.

I'm in the healthcare industry - my company owns and operates hospitals around the country. This has been an interesting time for the healthcare sector, to put it mildly. Healthcare reform has been the dominant conversation in our national dialogue for months, and will likely remain that way through the end of the year. Even the economy has taken a back seat to this discussion - something that doesn't happen very often.

Not surprisingly, the media and other stakeholders are curious to know what I think about the healthcare reform debate. As a leader in that sector, it's important to be engaged in the conversation; it would strike an odd chord if I wasn't. I've been on CNBC, Fox News, and Bloomberg Television numerous times over the past months, giving my perspective on what healthcare reform could mean for my company, the sector, and the economy at large. I've spoken to print reporters, and I even penned an Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal - something I've done on occasion over the years.

In fact, the Journal piece has led to a book that I'm finishing up on healthcare reform, which will be out in late November. I never imagined that I would write a book, but I felt compelled to expound on my thoughts. It's been a fun, challenging, and creative process, and has really forced me to think through the issues in a much deeper and critical way.

To aspiring executives, I repeat: Communications is a growing part of the job description. You can no longer lead a company without communicating your leadership, plain and simple.

Alan Miller is chairman and CEO of Universal Health Services (NYSE: UHS), which he founded in 1978. A Fortune 500 Company, UHS is one of the largest hospital management companies in the nation. It owns and operates 132 facilities in 32 states, Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico. Net revenues of the company are in excess of $5 billion annually.

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