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Gut Check: Do You Know How Others See You?

15-05-11 2 McDonalds CEO

As leaders, we rarely see ourselves as others see us. And that’s too bad, because the impression we create with others matters. Leaders are judged constantly and if we can’t communicate effectively or project a strong presence, our leadership is undermined.

This is why in many of our leadership development programs, we include an activity that always challenges participants to project an effective leadership presence.

Early in the session, we take participants one by one and do an off-the-cuff video of them sharing their personal perspectives on leadership. They are given no time to prepare and must respond to the questions on the spot. It’s a real challenge that evokes lots of anxiety and a lot of awkward responses.

This exercise is a reminder that no matter how accomplished a leader may be, many of us struggle to articulate our ideas in a clear and concise manner.

The learning really happens when participants review their own videos.

Most of the participants are alarmed at what they see: poor use of speech, ticks and mannerisms that detract from their personal presence and leave a bad impression.

At the end of the program, we shoot another video and what we find is a dramatic improvement in how the leaders show up. Their clarity is stronger. Their messages are delivered with greater conviction.

All of us as leaders need to be aware of how we show up to others. It’s with this backdrop, that I find the recent video of McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s to be a fascinating lesson in leadership. [Tweet “McDonald’s CEO video fail: A facinating lesson in Leadership #communication #impression”]

As a company, McDonald’s has become a slumping burger empire. Faced with declining profits and increased skepticism about its hiring practices, Easterbrook was charged with devising a plan to breathe life back into the iconic fast-food. He presented that plan on May 4 in a 23-minute video address.

The goal was to explain how McDonald’s was adopting a new culture that embraced risk and sought to create “brand excitement.”

The only problem was that the video was exceedingly staid and boring. In fact, some observers remarked that Easterbrook’s State of the Golden Arches address was the exact opposite of what he was trying to preach. “It’s practical, but for a company that had been preaching in its last earnings update about taking more risk, it certainly seems to be lacking that,” R.J. Hottovy, a senior analyst with Morningstar, told Mashable. “It doesn’t seem like it’s taking a leadership position, just catching up.”

According to multiple reports, Easterbrook barely changed expression over the entire 23 minutes. His tone was, well, monotone. Even as he said he would do anything to turn around the giant burger empire, he seemed to lack the conviction and passion that he promised to bring back to the company.

The speech was watched closely by industry experts and investors, and the reviews were not good. McDonald’s stock dropped one per cent in trading immediately following release of the video.

Just take a moment to consider this: a CEO’s video is seen as underwhelming and the company stock immediately drops as a result of it. It’s a true testament to the scrutiny and realities that leaders face in today’s world.

By any measurement, Easterbrook failed miserably. Despite billing himself as an “internal activist” and a “constructive agitator,” how he showed up in the video as a passionless, and his tone and style simply didn’t align with his core message.

In order to re-establish the dominance of McDonalds in the fast food industry, the company will need new and exciting products along with a renewed sense of commitment to delivering a quality product combined with great customer service. This is no small feat and will require significant effort.

Unfortunately for Easterbrook, the impression he left with his video has already made his task harder. Instead of everyone talking about what needs to be done, everyone is talking about his video. He has created a distraction at a time when his company needs to have a laser focus on the turnaround.

I’m sure that wasn’t part of his plan, but now for the sake of the company and its employees and shareholders, one can only hope that he manages the comeback plan better than he described it.

This week’s Gut Check asks: Do you know how others see you?


Follow me @VinceMolinaro

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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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