I was talking with Michael Goodman, Ph.D., who runs the Corporate Communications Institute at Fairleigh Dickinson University, when the conversation turned to leaders in the PR industry. With a few notable exceptions, we agreed that most are incredibly gracious, laidback and relatively ego free.
Gene Colter, who joined our firm after 16 years with The Wall Street Journal, said much the same thing about CEOs in general. Most ‘powerful’ individuals are very engaging, down-to-earth, warm and honest, says Colter.
But, then there are those who seem to think the rules of business and social propriety simply don’t apply to them: Barry Bonds, Donald Trump, NFL/NBA players and your average rapper comes to mind.
So, too, does, Steve Jobs. Why else would he deliberately take on Cisco with his new iPhone? As was the case when he originally named his company and knowingly ‘took on’ the Beatles from a legal standpoint, Jobs knew Cisco had a product by the very same name. So, what goes through the mind of an uber-successful, uber-rich executive, sports star or entertainer when confronted by the rules of society and propriety? Did Jobs simply not care about the obvious lawsuit he’d trigger with his product naming? Did he think the negative publicity would build additional buzz? Or, did he see himself as simply being above the rules that govern mere mortals?
I see this sort of hubris at a much lower scale in everyday business, especially in terms of client-agency relationships. Ted "Ludicris" Birkhahn told me about one "mega client" who, upon being informed the agency would be closed on MLK, Jr., Day responded by saying, "Oh, no you’re not." And a group of us just met with a "powerful" new business prospect who ignored us for the first 20 minutes as she sent and received Blackberry messages.
Boorish behavior reflects poorly on the individual and the institution. I can’t speak for others, but I wouldn’t want to work for, or with, someone who thinks he’s too high and mighty to play by the rules. As Ed Moed likes to say, "Life is too short."
Thanks to Gene Colter and Deb Brown for their insights.