Saturday, January 28, 2006

Great CEO Communications Lesson

I hate to overlook an excellent CEO lesson even when it comes from my own company Burson-Marsteller. The lesson was so perfect (in its uniqueness) that it still sticks with me days later.

During my visit to our Tokyo office, our Asia-Pacific CEO Bill Rylance gathered the office together for a slide show on his trip to Africa with his 13 year-old-son Eliott. Bill spoke for nearly an hour taking us through their three-week journey climbing mountains and living with the Maasai tribe. [You should know that Bill rarely takes vacation but his son's birthday was a milestone he wished to mark. As he explained, a male 13-year-old Maasai turns from boy to man during this time and is sent to live on his own in the bush for 90 days after the ritual of circumcision. He wanted Eliott to experience this passage as special too (circumcision not included).] What was remarkable to me was this glimpse into our CEO's non-work life, his family values, the legacy he wishes to leave his son and those enduring "teachable moments" imparted to his young man.

You can learn alot from what pictures people take. Bill's photos were of faces -- the faces of natural beauty, magnificent animals, beautiful young and old Maasai, smiling guides, blinding sand storms and exhausted father and son. The cameradie among those making the journey with Bill and son was also striking.

The colorful slide show was more than another workday powerpoint presentation. Our AP CEO shared glimpses of his inner life and added a new dimension to who he was beyond a smart, hard-working, hard-charging committed CEO. He no longer stood there as chief executive but as a father, journeyman, guide, servant, pupil, friend and adventurer.

I tried to think about other CEOs who might have communicated to employees this way. Not many. But Bill reminded us all of our humanity, collectiveness and ability to touch one another in ways that are not "billable."

An impactful lesson worth repeating.


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