The Enlightened CEO


“So, what do you think is the hallmark of an enlightened CEO?”



“It’s really not a difficult question”

“I’ll ask my PR team to come back you within a few hours”.


There are of course some CEOs who feel comfortable answering this question directly and without hesitation. Unfortunately, they remain in a lonely minority. It speaks volumes about the state of business today that so many business leaders feel the need to hide behind their PR teams to provide answers that should otherwise be instinctive and immediate.


On Monday 7 April, I have been asked to speak on the CEO & Society - a subject that runs to the very heart of my latest book. I will open by looking at what makes for an enlightened CEO - one who is truly transformative of both the organisation they lead and the society they serve. I will then host a panel discussion with Paul Westbury, CEO of Buro Happold; Douglas Lamont, CEO of Innocent Drinks; and Dragon entrepreneur, Deborah Meaden.

I plan to draw heavily on some of the thinking in "Trust Me, PR Is Dead". The idea of the Enlightened CEO opens Part Two of the book - the rise of Public Leadership. It includes the story of Richard Branson - and the fact that he dresses and behaves like a buccaneering hippy simply because he isn't one. I do not believe Branson is an enlightened leader. I think he is just a careful PR construct.

For those who have seen the introductory film, you will know that I take issue with leaders who hide behind their PR teams to frequently speak trust but rarely do anything to earn it: those who abuse trust as a message and do not see it as an outcome of better behaviour.  Banks and the energy companies have notoriously been the worse recent offenders, but they are not alone.

For me, the enlightened CEO is:
* Activist
* Co-Produced
* Citizen-Centric
* Society-First

(S)he is transformative; someone who thinks and behaves like a social activist and recognises and embraces the shift from the traditional economy of the past to the creative economy of the future. Radical honesty and radical transparency lie at the heart of their business philosophy and operational delivery. They are happy to challenge the misplaced (and unproven) orthodoxy of profit maximisation. Ultimately, they are prepared to dismantle the power structures that helped them to the top in the first place.

Andy Wood, CEO of Suffolk brewer Adnams, told me recently that the enlightened CEO is someone with "the ability to get ordinary people to do extraordinary things". In my vocabulary, I would substitute "ordinary" for "regular". Regular people are also known as citizens. And they already accomplish extraordinary things, often in spite of the traditional hierarchies and power silos that seek to imprison them. The future belongs to them, not "us". "We" are no longer in control.

The enlightened CEO, as a recent Forbes magazine article highlighted, is more interested in "profitably delighting customers" than in maximising shareholder value; is ready to relinquish hierarchical control in favour of networked collaboration; pierces pointless bureaucracy and instead supports agile and inter-connected eco-systems; believes passionately in a sustainable future; rejects traditional command-and-control communications (and therefore does not hide behind tired & redundant PR-men); and above all, loves, respects and embraces the wise crowd.


For those who want to read the full extract on “Richard – The Enlightened Leader”, I am asking them to help support and fund the book. It is currently available in my writer’s shed on the Unbound website, for existing supporters and funders only.

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