Almost four months ago, COVID-19 disrupted businesses large and small, forcing many to shutter, and nearly all to reevaluate company fundamentals like employee safety procedures, WFH policies, and go-to-market channels. As we noted, corporate leaders had to make difficult decisions, and communicate them effectively.
As we now enter the fourth month of quarantine, individual states are testing various stages of reopen. But the national conversation has largely turned into a long overdue one about racial justice, policing, and protest. The pressure on corporate leaders, especially those of consumer brands, to take part in the discussion and pledge meaningful support has never been higher. As a result, many high-profile CEOs have been thrust into the spotlight – and with mixed results.
Last week, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman’s insensitive tweets cost his company dearly, dissolving both the affiliations with small gyms that built its grassroots fitness movement, and very lucrative partnerships with brands like Reebok. On the other side of the spectrum, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell voiced support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, even apologizing for not supporting his athletes’ right to protest sooner.
When silence is unacceptable, leaders must demonstrate, for their employees, customers, and stakeholders, that they are taking this moment in history seriously, reacting with empathy, and responding thoughtfully. But while this particular media environment provides an extraordinary crucible for leaders, the most admired senior execs are already showing clear thinking through bylined articles, thought leadership in the press, and even best-selling books.
Executive reads have come a long way from How to Win Friends and Influence People, and current chart-toppers feel like a happy marriage of self-help, autobiography, and tell-all memoirs. Like any good piece of thought leadership, the best examples fulfill a critical need for the company upon release. The following executives performed admirably when writing through a relatable corporate challenge, for the benefit of all of us:
Prepare for a turning point
Bob Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime debuted in September 2019, chronicling his career-long ascent through the ranks of ABC television to ultimately serve as the sixth CEO in Disney’s storied history. Of course, we got a few chapters about early home life, Iger the student, and some fun misadventures in producing sports television with ABC. But Iger spent the most time deliberately mapping out the why’s and how’s of the three blockbuster acquisitions – PIXAR Studios, Marvel Comics, and 20th Century Fox – that transformed Disney into a media powerhouse with properties that speak to consumers of every age and type. Iger also took us through the reasoning behind a reorganization that put the separate business units of parks, experiences, and consumer products together in a new division helmed by Bob Chapek, and packaged international and direct-to-consumer together. This perfectly teed up the Disney+ streaming service as the company’s flagship entertainment product. A few months later, after Disney+ had launched to impressive subscriber numbers, Iger’s publicity tour around the book wound down, and Disney seamlessly announced Chapek as Iger’s successor.
Establish a long-term mission
Microsoft’s longevity as a powerful, iconic tech brand is enviable, to say the least. Just like Forrest Gump and R2D2, the pride of Redmond, WA has been a part of nearly every technological breakthrough for over three decades – from the earliest days of the PC to leadership positions in applying edge processing to artificial intelligence. Staying on-trend in an ever-changing industry demands well-read, engaged leadership. But in a company of 150,000 global employees, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella can’t simply call an all-hands meeting to galvanize the troops. Instead, the company has made a point to pair key executives with a co-writer to fully develop their thoughts around ambitious new directives into a book, so all their employees, partners, and others in the industry can get on board.
We first saw this way back in 1995, when Bill Gates penned The Road Ahead to illustrate just how important the Internet would be to his company, which had made its name on operating systems and office productivity software. More recently, Nadella painted a picture of a transformative Microsoft embracing multiplatform, cloud services, and above all, empathy, in the cathartic Hit Refresh he wrote a few years after assuming the CEO role.
Chief Technology Officer Kevin Scott also joined the writing party earlier this year, drawing on his rural upbringing to deliver Reprogramming the American Dream, an impassioned, practical exploration of how communities that have mostly been left behind in the information age can marshall artificial intelligence to resuscitate dying businesses manufacturing and smallholder farming.
Cement the company’s place in history
With over 8,000 active microbreweries in the US alone, craft beer has very quickly evolved from humble beginnings into a bona fide, stable industry. The father of the movement, Jim Koch of Samuel Adams brewery, penned an enjoyable “founder’s journey” book in 2016, Quench Your Own Thirst. New fans can learn all about where it all started in 1984, while hobbyists and aspiring brewmasters will appreciate the hard work, experimentation, and skill that went into Sam Adams’ unlikely, David-and-Goliath rise to prominence. Above all else, Koch’s adventures in challenging global beer brands for a small, but loyal, audience are an inspiration to any small business owner.
What about you?
We may not all have a New York Times bestseller just waiting to pour from our fingertips. Good writing that’s clear thinking, honest feeling, and delivered with purpose can win friends and influence people – even as a byline in a trade journal or a thought leadership post on LinkedIn. For help with executive elevation, messaging, and editorial/social media support, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.