PRacconteur Fraser Seitel used to get an automatic laugh in his seminars by casually referring to CEOs as "knuckleheads." I'm sure he still does.
That's because when communication people get together, we find comfort in an agreement that we are more intelligent than the executives we work for—or at least far more evolved in the most important aspect of life, human affairs.
One way I water down my own communicator's conceit is to read the "Corner Office" column in the business section of the Sunday New York Times. Here, CEOs are interviewed, usually on human matters, and while they often say the expected stuff—they invariably say that they love to hire people better than they are, for instance—they often show they know a thing or two about "our" end of the business, the human end.
"I was the first female president of the General Dynamics Corporation, and I went out and bought my new fancy suits," said BAE Systems president Linda Hudson in a recent Corner Office interview.
A lady at Nordstrom had show me how to tie a scarf in a very unusual kind of way for my new suit. I have my first day at work, and then I come back ot work the next day, and I run into no fewer than a dozen women who have on scarves tied exactly like mine.
That's when I realized that life was never going to be the way it had been before, that people were watching everything I did. And it wasn't just going to be how I dressed. It was about my behavior, the example I set, the tone I set, the way I carried myself, how confident I was—all those kinds of things. …
To this day, not only the awareness of that, but the responsibility that goes with it, is something I think about virtually every day.
And in yesterday's Corner Office, Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo, told a story that explains why she's a CEO:
My mom died when I was 8, so my grandmother raised my brother and me. She had a great sense of humor, and she never really let things get to her.
When we were on a farm in Wisconsin, and I was probably 13, there was a snake up in the rafter of the machine shed. And we ran and said, "Grandma, there's a snake."
And she came out and she knocked it down with a shovel, chopped its head off and said, "You could have done that." And, you know, that's the tone she set. Just get it done. Pick yourself up. Move on. Laugh.
These women are pretty smart, for CEOs.