CEOs: Blog or Die

Baseline Magazine has some pretty adventurous views; so I approached the recent article by Tom Steinert-Threlkeld , CEOs: Blog or Die, with equal parts curiosity and skepticism. After all CEOs go to the top by being master reflectors or deflectors. Toms call for more CEOs to join the small but impressive list of current CEO bloggers, seemed imminently vulnerable. After all, the reflectors would have a safe underling do the blogging and address one key issue and get the remaining 9 pap messages direct from PR and/or HR. The deflectors would use their Teflon-honed skills to suggest that blogging was highly volatile, subject to dominance and dissonance from Slash.hackers-assassins and a drain on the time of an organization engaged in such-and-such critical community-enriching endeavor(s).

But Tom advances some compelling arguments:
“The big news will be when a CEO such as Lee Scott at Wal-Mart or Rick Wagoner at General Motors begins to blog. These are CEOs of companies that have a fundamental effect on lives and economies everywhere. They are CEOs who, IMHO, need this no-cost, readily accessible and universal means of communicating directly, heart-to-heart and mind-to-mind, with customers and other constituencies they must convince of the rightness of what they are doing.”

Now in this context it is interesting to consider the work by McGill University Professor Henry Mintzberg who has done a lot of empirically based research on what top executives, and particularly CEOs, actually do. Professor Mintzberg has written several books including the Nature of managerial Work and has advanced a theory of ten major top managerial roles. Somewhat surprisingly, those key 10 roles are largely involved in processing information and direction for the organization. Even more interesting are how top managers are engaged in getting organizational goals and strategy conveyed and implemented among various stakeholders. Mintzberg sees five of ten roles as primarily communication oriented: Figurehead, Desseminator, Info Monitor, Liaison, Spokesperson. In sum, at least half of a CEOs time is spent in adopting, setting and communicating organizational role and mission.

Now given this lineup of roles, the CEO who passes on Blogging as an effective means of communication either by delegating or resisting/avoiding using this mechanism may be risking more than first considered. The delegator may find their proxy spokesperson setting more of the agenda or responding in crises such that their own authority is not so much questioned as allowing for an alternative voice/conceptual leader to be recognized as worthy of consideration when things do not go well. The resistor will find that the Net is famous for working around obstacles; and short of draconian “thou shalt nots”, lower level voices will start to appear unofficially or semi-officially on the Net. One need only watch and see what is happening at Microsoft. Blogging has slowly but surely gone up the ranks finally reaching the executive and VP level.

Now PR guru Seth Godin is skeptical of Blogs and advises CEOs that there are some high measures of success that have to be considered before blogging. But when CEOs speak(or blog) they automatically have at least 3 of the 5-6 measures on their side. But the biggest downsides to not blogging is that avoiders may get displaced by others or downgraded in performance marks on 5 of 10 executive roles. Hmmmm …. being replaced as CEO for many executives is the equivalent of dying. This appears to be the end of the proof. QED: Toms hypothesis=> CEOs: Blog or Die.

(c)JBSurveyer 2005