My inspiration for today’s blog comes from an article by Anna Redmond for Forbes magazine on Tesla and SpaceX billionaire, Elon Musk. I started reading her article mostly because I’m a little bit fascinated by the eccentric, but ended up agreeing with Redmond’s points about what a CEO and business leader of today needs to – she calls it a boardroom warrior, fearless and open to share their opinions with the world. I’ve always called it a thought leader.
According to Redmond, Musk did something recently that would make the c-suite execs of decades past roll over in their graves – he tweeted about politics.
Politics and religion.
Two topics to avoid at a dinner party and also, until recently in the boardroom. Redmond argues that back in the day it was good business sense to keep political views private. Play it safe so you don’t rock the commercial boat.
The tide has changed. Now leaders who share their views and what they believe is right respectfully, score high influencer points.
Redmond uses a great example of Uber v Lyft in the wake of Trump’s immigration ban. Uber kept its cars running through the taxi strike at JFK airport, which for many was perceived to show support for the ban. Something they later denied fervently. Lyft, however, joined the strike and spoke out openly and passionately about their opposition of the immigration restrictions.
Lyft came out the winner in this reputational battle by sticking their neck out and acting on their values and what they believed was the right thing to do.
Uber on the other hand looked disingenuous and no one really knew what their true stance was on the subject.
It may be easy to read this blog and think that Musk can afford to be outspoken. He’s a billionaire, 16 or more times over. But for Redmond, being a boardroom warrior really isn’t about size. Instead, it’s about ambition and not hesitating when it’s something you believe in.
She says: “Let’s travel back in time a few thousand years, to the Battle of Thermopylae. The stirring cry of “this is Sparta!” is a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a good reason: this battle was a quintessential example of the truism that you don’t have to be huge to have a huge impact. A group of about 300 Spartans and 6,000 soldiers from other Greek cities, led by the warrior-king Leonidas, faced down nearly 1,000,000 Persians at Thermopylae, a narrow coastal pass—the narrowness of which enabled the underdog Greeks to use their long spears. They may have won if a Greek traitor hadn’t informed the Persians of another pass; the Persians then blocked the Greek army on both sides and ultimately won, but not before the Spartans gained immortal fame through their incredible bravery. And thus began thousands of years of history, songs, stories, art, and action movies full of hunky men.”
I couldn’t agree more with Redmond’s point. Great leaders, regardless of the size of the business they are leading, have strong conviction and a voice.
We talk to our clients a lot about the importance of thought leadership and sharing their views with their respective markets.
Some leaders, even the most seemingly fearless of CEOs, can be a little hesitant of this. What if people disagree, what if I’m judged, what if I get negative attention, what if no-one wants to listen to my views?
Here’s the part where I say how important it is to take PR advice, but also that not every thought that enters your mind should be shared.
Genuine thought leadership is therefore not about branding, but instead having the courage to speak your mind about the things you believe in and that you value. Be a boardroom warrior.