Mastering the how and when of taking the bully pulpit

Mastering the how and when of taking the bully pulpit

I did not vote for Donald Trump.” – My Nov. 9 blog post

 

After writing a brief post on our presidential election, I had several people ask why I took a public stance on a controversial issue. Historically, CEOs don’t often weigh in on national issues, but that has changed.

 

Recently, CEOs have publicly engaged in social activism and are taking positions to a greater extent than ever before. Yes, taking a stance poses risks, but it also offers advantages. Speaking to the values of the company you lead – authentically, relevantly and thoughtfully, can actually reinforce brand loyalty, particularly among millennials.

 

Today’s CEO has expanded from the guardian of a business, to someone who defines a brand, culture and values. And while you should carefully consider climbing the bully pulpit, the desire to speak your conscience is appropriate. In fact, many of today’s consumers expect CEOs to engage in thought leadership.

 

Quite often, when CEOs take a public stance on issues that align with a company’s values, brand loyalty is strengthened. Take Apple and Tim Cook, for example. While speaking out against Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act last year cost the company a $40 million project, a recent Harvard Business Review study showed “higher intent to purchase Apple products among respondents who were exposed to Cook’s CEO activism than among those who were not.”

 

Still, there are some important considerations prior to engaging in social activism.

 

First, make sure you’re truly passionate about the position and that it makes sense within the context of your business. Also ensure you’re OK with having that position in the long-term.

 

Second, be authentic. A public stance should truly reflect your values. If there’s a whiff of self-service, self-promotion or inauthenticity, it could hurt your company. Remember last year’s Race Together Starbucks cup fiasco? The public pegged the move as promotional – maybe even a little exploitive – and the company soon ended the program.

 

Third, pick and choose wisely. Consider if taking a position truly makes a difference, and then take a careful, measured and selective approach.

 

Fourth and final, don’t surprise your stakeholders. Try to get them behind you, which isn’t always easy. Try and connect your position to an organizational benefit, and prove that a public position provides the company greater operating leverage. Even if you cannot get your key leaders to support your position, and take it anyway, don’t let your statement take them by surprise.

 

As for my election post – while I publicly expressed my position, I parlayed it into enthusiasm for possibilities. It was genuine, heartfelt and tied into the values of Scheer Partners – anything is possible and an unwavering ‘can do’ attitude.

 

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