Follow the leader

Succeeding as a CEO has never been harder. But those who work on their communications might have a built-in advantage.

It’s tough at the top.

Just ask the average new UK CEO. According to PwC research, they have a shrinking amount of time to make their mark and perform. In the last seven years or so, the length of tenure has almost halved, from 8.3 years to 4.8. That’s not quite as bad as being an English Premiership football manager where the average tenure in the hot seat is just 1,165 days – but it’s still fairly challenging.

The new incumbent will likely need some quick, intensive work on their external narrative before being put in front of the press pack. That’s up to the communications team to sort – assuming they don’t face the chop under the new leader. It’s often a difficult subject to broach at such a time but it’s a crucial thing to advise on as the change is made.

Some new leaders have been on a trajectory for a while but need to make the mental, and perspective, shift from being a manager to a leader: for example, CFOs who become CEOs now need a vision, not a spreadsheet. Others are stepping up from being medium-time to really big-time – like a singer who suddenly faces a crowd at Madison Square Garden having been used to playing local gigs.

Whatever the background, they often face a broader spread of stakeholders than they are used to – regulators, lawmakers, heads of state – or are representing much broader concepts such as ‘finance’, ‘responsibility’ or even simply ‘business’ for the first time.

In our experience, few leaders are instantly confident with the increased communications burden. Some decide it’s ancillary to their immediate needs, when faced with a packed work diary. Most come to realise, sooner or later, that they have to represent a whole range of things from brand to ambition; vision to purpose. And that takes some effort.

Time spent honing the narrative at an early stage during the process helps many a new leader make the transition more smoothly.

It might even help them beat that 4.8 year average lifespan.

  • Sign up for our latest news & views

You might also like:

Let’s talk about your story