The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

CEOs as public leaders

McKinsey came out last week with a survey of top executives regarding their interest and involvement with social causes titled “CEOs as public leaders.” It sheds some light on what motivates them and what they see as the incentives and barriers to public engagement.

There are studies that clearly show the advantages of corporate social engagement in areas such as employee morale, customer loyalty, and even stock performance. (See this report for details; free registration required). What’s surprising about the McKinsey survey is that most C-level executives report getting involved for personal, rather than professional, reasons. Other highlights from the survey:

  • Only 6% believe that most businesses play a leadership role in efforts to address social issues; 59% believe that companies play some role, but not a leadership role, and 35% believe that most companies play no role.
  • 44% believe that executives should play a leadership role, but only 14% state that they themselves play such a role. Only 6% state that executives should play no role, but 27% put themselves in this category.
  • Those who play no role or some role in addressing social issue believe that the primary motivation of those who do is business related (71%), and that they act as company representatives, not private citizens (65% to 35%). In contrast, those who do take leadership positions believe that the primary motivation of those who do is personal (65%), and that they do so as private citizens, not company representatives (61% to 39%).
  • Of those who do not take a leadership role, the three main barriers are time (50%), fear of negative publicity (44%), and company policy or culture that discourages employees from taking positions on public issues (34%).
  • Education is a key issue, albeit for personal issues and not for its impact on shareholder value. Education was #6 on the list of issues affecting shareholder value, but third on the list of issues of greatest importance personally.

This is an eye-opener – it’s too easy to look at community engagement as strictly a business strategy, and forget about the passion and compassion of the people leading the charge. Something to think about next time you see a company jumping into the fray.

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