How to Shift CEO Brand from Intimidating to Approachable


A CEO had been with the company for two years, having taken over from a very caring, compassionate leader who was loved by all his employees and was now chairman of the board.

On the chairman’s advice, the CEO participated in a 360-degree feedback evaluation and discovered that, although his employees admired his ability to deliver results, they found him intimidating and didn’t trust him to lead them into the future.

In fact, the abrupt change in leadership style and resulting lack of trust was beginning to have an undesirable impact on the organization.



Since joining the organization, the CEO had spent most of his time focused on customers and other external stakeholders, spending very little time with his direct reports.

He always wore a suit and tie, though the dress code for the company was business casual.

He was also a very private person. At work, it was office talk at all times. He never revealed anything about himself, rarely smiled and did not take the time to stop and interact with employees.

After the 360 analysis, the CEO had to admit to himself that his personal “brand” was intimidating. To his significant credit, he made what must have been a very difficult personal admission. He knew that what he really needed, and wanted, was to be more approachable and to build trust with employees.



Whether you realize it or not, we all have a personal brand. Call it what you will – image, identity or reputation – it’s pretty easy to describe what someone else is known for or what he or she is like. That’s your brand.

And at the leadership level, that brand can have far-reaching implications for corporate culture and results.

Leadership studies reveal that 70% of CEO success is about strategy, execution and talent management. The other 30% is your brand: the physical (dress, grooming), physiological (body language, voice, words), emotional intelligence (people skills) and time mastery (where, how and with whom you spend your time) characteristics that you exhibit daily.

This particular CEO needed to focus on that 30% to improve his brand and, ultimately, his and the company’s success.

To shift his brand from intimidating to approachable, the CEO committed to four changes:

He began to follow the business-casual dress code, ditching the suits and ties.

He spent more time with his team and employees. One-third of his time was dedicated to weekly meetings with direct reports, monthly meetings with senior leaders, weekly email updates to employees and 15-minute daily walkabouts.

He “caught people doing things right” at least five times a day with praise and recognition, either in person, by phone, by email or personal cards.

He made eye contact and smiled at employees as he walked about the office each day.

The outcome of his efforts were rewarded through a followup 360 analysis, which revealed his brand had indeed shifted and he was now seen as a more approachable leader. •

Nancy MacKay is the president of MacKay & Associates ( and the CEO coach and facilitator of 15 CEO and executive forums across Canada with more than 150 members.


This article from Business in Vancouver March 6-12, 2012; issue 1167
Business in Vancouver ( has been publishing in-depth local business news, analysis and commentary since 1989. The newspaper also produces a weekly ranked list of the biggest companies and players in a wide range of B.C. industries and commercial sectors, monthly features and industry-focused sections that arm its subscribers with a complete package of local business intelligence each week.