Activist CEOs: A new generation of leaders

Type: Articles
Topic: Communication Coaching
By Daniel Munslow
1 May 2018

The role of a CEO, the highest-ranking executive in a company, has traditionally been defined as having the primary responsibility for major corporate decisions, managing the overall operations and resources of a company and acting as the main point of communication between the board of directors and corporate operations.

Over the past few years, the role has evolved to encompass so much more than this. The modern-day CEO is a leadership figure who not only navigates an organization though strategic, operational and financial challenges, but also plays an increasingly important part in proactively managing a brand’s reputation and protecting a brand during a crisis.

A recent report by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research, “CEO Activism in 2017: High Noon in the C-Suite” measured people’s attitudes toward the trend of CEOs speaking out on hot-button social issues. According to this research, 47 percent of millennials (ages 18–36) believe CEOs have a responsibility to speak up about issues that are important to society. Only 28 percent of Gen Xers (ages 37–52) and baby boomers (ages 53–71) agree. Millennials also see this as a growing responsibility—56 percent say CEOs have a greater responsibility today to take a stance on key issues than they used to. Considering the current and future buying power of this generation, it would be wise for organizations to heed their views.

Some CEOs still choose not to speak out proactively on key issues, or decline to be interviewed in the aftermath of a crisis. And there is now evidence that with silence comes risk. Enter CEO activism. Nearly 50 percent of Americans, for example, say that CEOs who do not speak out risk criticism, whether from the media, customers, employees or government. And 21 percent say silent CEOs risk declining sales.

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Daniel Munslow

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