Leadership, Not Celebrity | Brunswick Group

Leadership, Not Celebrity

It’s easy to equate social media with frivolity, selfies, and viral videos. But for executives, social media is about “we,” not “me.”

Digital has become the default mode of communication for accessible, engaged, and connected leadership—yet our research and our day-to-day experience at Brunswick has shown that many CEOs remain uncomfortable using social media.

I often hear from executives and their teams that they want to keep their personal lives private, have little interest in becoming the next social media darling, and have no need to bask in the spotlight. And while these are valid concerns, there’s good news for the digitally-reticent executive: your social media posts don’t have to be about you. All the better, perhaps, if they aren’t.

Great leadership platforms elevate we over me. The right mental model isn’t a leader on a stage under a spotlight. Instead, think of a leader’s social media platform as the spotlight itself. Show stakeholders the world as you see it. What issues in your sector deserve discussion? What customer challenges are unmet? Who inside your organization inspires their colleagues, and you? What elements of the strategy should be clarified for investors? Where you shine the spotlight indicates your leadership priorities.

Successful Connected Leaders share the stage and pass the mic. They use their platforms to uplift employees, highlight the company’s culture, share exciting business updates, and post content related to the company’s mission. They use their platform to lead and forge an external reputation that represents and lifts the entire brand.

Dan Schulman, President and CEO of PayPal, uses his platform to advance important business priorities. From short posts amplifying product news to consumers to photos highlighting financial milestones for investors, Dan has established a credible and authentic platform for leadership. It’s one he now uses to share articles on a range of crucial leadership issues: PayPal’s employee value proposition, ESG progress, and DE&I commitments, to name a few.

As your reach on social media grows, stretch your creative ambitions. Consider how Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, lent his Twitter platform to a teenage activist for an Earth Day “takeover.” This is authentic amplification. Shayne Elliott at ANZ routinely shares customer calls, giving his audience a perspective on the challenges small businesses face and subtly reinforcing the value of active listening to his own employees.

While the best Connected Leadership is outward focused, the leader isn’t invisible. People won’t follow someone they don’t trust, and they can’t trust someone they don’t know. Leaders don’t have to share their personal lives like a celebrity, but their online personas must be human and authentic.

It’s important to distinguish between privacy and personality. A platform can succeed without private details about a leader’s family or holiday plans. But it can’t succeed without personality. That shines through in the tone and cadence of text, nonverbal signals in video, how you engage with comments, and the details of great storytelling and anecdotes. Without personality, a leader’s social media platform is just another corporate channel.

Leaders can invest as little as five minutes a day to start building this platform. By doing so, they create opportunities—praising a coworker, engaging with stakeholders—that would have otherwise been missed. Forget the dated stereotypes. Building a platform on social media is a commitment to being more transparent, accessible, engaging—being a leader, in other words. 


Craig Mullaney is a Brunswick Partner, based in Washington, DC. Mr. Mullaney is an experienced advisor and a New York Times best-selling author. His Connected Leadership column spotlights how modern executives use digital and social media to communicate and lead organizations.