Blogging CEO's - Soft CEOs.
By harpreet on Aug 03, 2006
The recent issue of McKinsey Quarterly talks about "Soft" Leadership in business. It makes a case about the need for CEO's to blog as a mean to exercise soft power. Soft power is the currency to mandate social change and nourish business.
Soft power is usually used in the geopolitical context. Joseph Nye (Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government) says "Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished."
McKinsey says that we could extend this soft power definition and apply it to the business world. In the business world, it usually means addressing controversial issues, attracting people to shared objectives or a vision and nurturing relationships.
Since Jonathan is the only CEO who blogs : I decided to look at Jonathan's blogs, from the view point of soft power and see how his blogs stack up on "soft power" skills mentioned in the quarterly. (He comes up with flying colors).
Addressing social and controversial issues
Businesses now hold a bigger say in social changes, than ever before. CEO's need to address controversial issues and not shy away from them. Usually when social issues coincide with strategic issues ; CEO's become reticent. But these controversial issues are the ones that usually let people understand where you stand and build your credibility
Jonathan has not been shy about talking about issues that have social impact and have coincided with Sun strategy: addressing digital divides (a consistent Sun theme), addressing power issues (electrical power and not soft power) ; mostly in context of datacenters, addressing the need to view IT as an electrical utility. We can see that the blogs have brought forth discussions on these myriad of topics : some of them controversial, some visionary.
Dealing with Stakeholders - fostering and nurturing relationships
CEO's have to deal with stakeholders. Soft power requires diplomacy, requires fostering and nurturing relations with stakeholders.
If we look at the comments in the blogs, we notice that there are consumers who complain about problems with Sun (usually with getting new machines or so) ; but if we look couple of comments down, there is usually a Sun rep who will respond and fix the problem rightaway. Sort of super-ultra-fast service by the virtue of the blog being open (and a Sun reps worry that maybe Jonathan reads the comments too ). This provides an environment to nurture relations with the consumers.
Jonathan often makes comments about strategy, projects and products - this is way better than the usual conference call that CEO's give their shareholders.
Attracting others to shared objectives and vision
Rating : Excellent
Soft power is difficult to control and exert. It will not work if tools like blogging are used for propaganda or you are perceived as a spin-master. It requires credibility. Jonathan has been blogging for about 2(?) years now. He has built his credibility (as a blogger) before becoming the CEO. The fact that Forbes writes about his blogging and asks for other CEO's to do the same reflects positively on his credibility as a blogger.
Rating : Excellent
It's been less than 6 months after Jonathan has become the CEO. The jury is out whether people will vote with their wallets (it appears that they are). It is clear that Jonathan has a deep understanding of the soft power he exudes via his blogs and knows how to use this well. Let's hope that CEO's in competing companies do not!!
And yes, a Soft CEO is a good CEO