7 Tribal Laws for Building Trust through CEO and Executive Messages

7 Tribal Laws

More than ever, business leaders must connect honestly to their tribes to energize, persuade, inspire, teach, provoke, stimulate, motivate and mobilize. After years of working with the world’s largest companies and their executive leaders, we’ve synthesized these ‘7 Tribal Laws for Building Trust’ to help you tell your story with the sincerity and passion it takes to establish trust. We know these laws will help you establish the foundation of a successful, candid and effective executive communications program.

People do business with people. This was true in the days of local merchants and it’s just as true now. While technology and social media have increased our physical separation, the connections we make with one another are still very personal. So let your personal stories strike emotional chords in your audience. Another way is to show how you interact with employees and co-workers; integrating the real words and feelings of people who represent the best of your company and its values is a great way to convey sincerity and honest feelings. One of the richest men in the world is IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. His personal struggles with dyslexia inspired him to create IKEA’s famously simple graphic-driven approach to showing consumers how to assemble their products, building an international business that thrives on customer satisfaction in the process. He continues to inspire both his employees and other entrepreneurs by his choice to live frugally, drive an old Volvo and shop locally.

There’s an old saying: “When in doubt, tell the truth.” Authenticity comes from the combination of truth and accomplishments, so use facts, avoid hyperbole and be original. Watch out for hollow platitudes or corporate jargon. Not only do they obscure meaning, they can be interpreted as having something to hide. We believe one part of being an authentic leader comes from letting our guard down to reveal some vulnerability. This often takes a measure of courage, especially in front of a camera. Admitting we’re not perfect underscores our values and draws our audience closer. Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz says, “When a leader shows vulnerability and sensibility and brings people together, the team wins.”

There’s no substitute for hard work and preparation before you appear on camera to speak about important topics or issues. Be sure to reference what’s happening now; being topical and acknowledging current trends, headlines, controversies and debates will help make your message resonate. At the same time, you need to couch this message in terms of shared experiences. Find the human insight, show your empathy and connect what’s happening in the world now to your company or institution.

What’s interesting to you is not necessarily interesting to others, so highlight the elements of your message that matter to your audience and be as specific as possible. Focus on how you want people to think or feel, rather than just what you want to say. It sounds simple, but it’s surprising how often people forget this. So don’t just rattle off facts and figures, or show graphs and charts; tell a story that provides meaning and context for your audience, and make sure it’s tailored to the specific groups you’re speaking with. Take the time to recount actual scenarios where what you have to say will have impact and meaning in their lives.

As Mark Twain once said, “Climb out on a limb; that’s where the best fruit is.” Engaging your audience means not playing it safe, and that takes a measure of risk. What you don’t want to do is bore your audience, as it shows a lack of respect for their time and attention. In this era of instant feedback, all they’ll remember about you is how you put them to sleep. In his TED Talk, “The Clues to a Great Story,” Andrew Stanton, the writer and director of “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story” and “WALL-E,” reminds us that all good stories need to build, from first sentence to last, to a singular goal. He discussed how audiences need to be vested in a story, first and foremost, by caring about the characters. Keep this in mind: Building stories that invite empathy are keys to sustaining interest.

Leaders are able to recognize talent and surround themselves with those they trust to help lead their organizations forward. As Richard Branson puts it, “What is the point of hiring talented team members if you don’t give them the freedom to make the most of the chance you have given them? All good leaders listen to their people and empower them to go away and turn any innovative ideas they have into a reality.” Make sure you engage with others in your organization and empower them to bring their best thinking to the challenge. Then utilize an integrated approach to sharing your message. Whether it’s a robust mix of advertising and P.R. or a combination of sales calls, webinars and road shows, you’ll benefit greatly from tapping a smart distribution strategy designed to deliver your content to the right audiences.

We live in a media-savvy world, where there are no secrets anymore about how movies and TV shows are made. Audiences expect, if not demand, a certain level of sophistication and polish to the content they see on screen. That’s why it’s important to pay attention to the delivery and packaging of your video content. There are some generally accepted guidelines that good content creators adhere to. Tapping innovative digital audio and video recording techniques can help make messages more personal, more accessible and more immediate. That’s why it’s smart to work with a team of professionals experienced with putting leaders on camera.

Arthur Page, the former VP of Public Relations for the old American Telephone & Telegraph Company, widely considered the dean of corporate communications, established a list of concepts he called The Page Principles. Created years ago, they revolve around issues of honesty, integrity, candor and conscious and still ring true today. One is particularly relevant to building trust through a CEO’s message: “Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people.” That’s doubly true when the person who’s expressing it is the company’s leader.

Marketplace turbulences tinged with uncertainty will always be a factor in business that forces the hand of corporate change. This is an opportunity for new leaders to lead, for companies to take a larger role in shaping the dialogue about key issues they face and, in the process, creating new and stronger relationships with investors, partners, employees and customers.

The best companies will do so in the new currency of commerce, which is authenticity. The author and consultant Warren Bennis, who helped shape the field of modern leadership studies, wrote “the process of becoming a leader is similar, if not identical, to becoming a fully integrated human being.” As our 7 Tribal Laws reveal, this quest for authenticity, honesty, integrity and relevance are the foundation of building trust through a leader’s message.

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