Most leaders know there are times in their work lives when they have to show up in person.
There may be an important meeting or a key event that requires your presence. This isn’t because others can’t handle the situation; rather, your presence tells people that this is important. This is something you care about.
On the flip side, your absence can also send an important signal. If you are missing at an event when you must be seen, this can erode your credibility.
Last week, we saw this play out at IBM. Many tech industry analysts are still debating the decision by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty to skip an important earnings report delivered on January 20th. The report contained mixed news, to be sure.
Earnings were up at the blue chip technology company, but revenues declined again. This was the 11th straight quarter in which IBM earned less than it had the previous quarter.
Rometty did issue a statement, in which she said despite the revenue trend, IBM is “positioning ourselves for the longer term.” However, she was not present when the report was released to the media and investors, nor was she available to ask questions.
Rometty’s decision reminded me of how important is it for leaders to show up, especially when they may need to face the music.
In this instance, it’s hard to understand why Rometty was not front and center at this earnings report. She must have had her reasons. However, this is a critical time in the history of one of the world’s most iconic companies. Surely seeing and hearing the CEO of that company is a key to maintaining shareholder confidence and media support.
I have witnessed other leaders take a different approach and use their very presence to steady their organizations in the midst of scandal or controversy.
Consider the performance last year from GM CEO Marry Barra. She was named CEO of GM in December of 2013 and by March 2014, was in the middle of a storm. Faced with increasing scrutiny and condemnation for a series of problems with ignition switches on thousands of GM vehicles – some of which were tied directly to driver deaths – Barra was front and center at every public event, every news conference and media interview. Literally, she was the face of GM in a crisis.
Although Barra and GM still have a way to go to regain the trust of their customers, many observers are already lauding her for facing the controversy head on. Fortune magazine, for example, even named her “Crisis Manager of the Year” for her stoic performance.
“Somehow, though, even as GM has seen its reputation raked over the coals, Barra has come out more admired and more likely to be emulated than ever,” wrote Fortune columnist Ben Geier.
This week’s Gut Check asks: do you show up when it really matters?