Today’s most successful businesses run on relationships and reputation; they’re centered on connections and credibility. In a word, they’re human – and so must be the people who power them. Of course leaders are human. But it’s not just about physical being and presence. (Machines haven’t taken over. Yet.) More importantly, it’s about an executive’s ethos, persona, and ability to inspire confidence and trust – among employees, customers, investors and other publics.
These are among the many reasons executive visibility is increasingly critical to a company’s success (and a leader’s career). And Stern Strategy Group client Kimberly Ramalho, vice president of communications and public affairs for Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems, agrees with us. We asked Kimberly to share her objective perspective on the topic – as a seasoned leader herself and one who’s led the charge for elevating the visibility of others.
Here’s some straightforward insight into executive visibility – why you need it and how to make it work for you and your business.
Why is the visibility of top leaders, inside and out of their organizations, important?
Employees don’t always join a company; often, they join a leader. Leaders have real impact on employee experience. Personally, I make a big effort to get to know my staff and have them get to know me: what I’m about, my philosophy, my vision. It helps them see me as credible, someone they trust and someone they want to work for – and continue to work for.
The next generation is demanding leaders and companies stand for something. Same goes for customers and even investors. They also want to know the people behind the company. When I joined Lockheed Martin eight years ago, there was no face to the organization. Today, we’re synonymous with our CEO; Lockheed Martin is Marillyn Hewson. Her visibility has put a human face on a defense contractor; it’s unusual in our industry and it’s made a big difference – internally and externally.
Leaders already have competing demands for their time. How do you invest in efforts to raise and sustain visibility – and convince others to do the same ?
The simple answer is to work within existing rhythms. Yes, we’re all busy, but if you’re able to make it easy and almost effortless, everyone wins. Say an executive is going to X location to meet with a customer. Carve out time for a media meeting while in the area. If you’re bringing a leadership team together, do it at one of the company’s sites and make time for employee engagement. Organize an all-hands meeting or record a webinar.
Here’s the convincing argument that the effort is worth what you put into it: No one wants to work with a faceless, voiceless executive. Behind every organization are talented, creative, influential people who run it, and they won’t succeed if those who work for and with them aren’t confident that management is doing the right things to help the business grow. Relationships are everything. Knowledge is power. I’m big on work-life balance and satisfaction; I talk about it within Lockheed Martin, but I also write about it and promote my perspectives elsewhere. This helps me – and my messages – become more real, and reinforces who I truly am, inside and out, which I believe has contributed to my ability to retain employees and improve rapport with my teams. And that commitment, in turn, helps the business grow and flourish.Behind every organization are talented, creative, influential people who run it, and they won’t succeed if those who work for and with them aren't confident that management is doing the right things to help the business grow.Click To Tweet
What tactics or channels do you believe are most effective in elevating visibility?
It’s different for everyone. What works for me may not work for someone else. I don’t use traditional media; it doesn’t reach my target audiences. LinkedIn is much more important and effective for my needs because it connects me with my employees, as well as others inside and out of Lockheed Martin who might benefit from my advice or experiences about figuring out next steps, removing obstacles to growth, etc. Those are my goals. And it’s also why I am so invested in 1:1 meetings, mentoring and being a champion for the company’s women’s impact network.
So, the first step is helping your executive determine her goals. Our CEO, for example, has many constituents, and she reaches and engages with them in several ways, including investor calls and media profiles. My EVP, on the other hand, engages minimally with media. Instead, he focuses on face-to-face customer meetings, webcasts with all 35,000 employees, guest speaking opportunities with the military veterans community. He wants to be a very present leader and we make sure he has time to do that.
You don’t have to put significant time toward an impact. Keep it realistic. Map the individuals’ goals with those of the business, and let those goals shape the strategy.
Bottom-line: what’s the value of executive visibility?
This is true in life and in business: it’s imperative to be credible, genuine and authentic, for people and especially for leaders. If you are trusted by all constituents, you can make almost anything happen. The world runs on relationships. Technology is taking away human connection; it’s up to you to hold onto it and make the connection stronger. Pick up the phone. Take your team to lunch. Handwrite a thank you note. At the end of the day, I need people to trust me. I want the discretionary effort from my staff. I want reporters to know I’m reliable and will give them straight answer
The same goes for those you partner with. My Stern Strategy Group team, for example, is only as good as the support I give them. I’ve made time to ensure they know me and how to work with me, and in turn, they’ve delivered great results. It wouldn’t happen without camaraderie, coordination, collaboration. That’s no different for any stakeholder or constituent.
Make time for people. Be human. Otherwise, you’re going it alone. And that’s not fun, or profitable.