November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Diversions

When Jill Griffiths, VP of Corporate Communications at Aetna, talks fondly of her boss, it’s also with unnerving excitement. Will CEO Mark Bertolini say or do something to spark a forest fire of damage, or will his actions swing the other way and inspire a new possibility?

A veteran in health care communications, Griffiths reminded professionals at a recent event for the Connecticut chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), that her industry is an easy target. From the days of outing cigarette manufacturers to the Clinton era of health care reform, and now the impending reinvention of the entire health care industry, any topic for an insurance company can be an emotional, social or political land mine.

Griffiths has mentored every variety of CEO. She knows how to play maestro with the rogue and impetuous actions of a corporate chief and apply what’s needed –  either smooth damage control or more PR when it goes right. Beyond the daily work of cleanup and keeping a CEO on message, there is brilliance happening when the outward vision of the CEO elevates the company’s brand and vision. As Griffiths suggests, how can a leadership’s platform be used as a pivot point for organizational change?

Light bulb!

I’ve always known the importance of C-level visibility and what it can do for an organization. Developing a personal brand strategy for the most public-facing members of your team is a strategy we are actively developing. What I’ve been missing this whole time is how one person’s public-facing “way” — their perspectives, conversations, ideals, screw ups, provocations — can not only reflect an organization, but transform it from the outside in.

Think about what’s possible when the idea of control and management succumbs to what Brené Brown calls “the power of vulnerability.” Fearless vulnerability is found in people who open up to the world and are “out there,” really out there. Their openness allows for a stronger connection to others, and a stronger connection to themselves. In that connection, the sky is the limit to what can emerge: new perspectives, ideas, relationships, values, ways of being and, ultimately, change.

Bertolini, according to Griffiths, is a “bring it on CEO.” He’s the first CEO for Aetna to be active on Twitter. He rides a Harley, survived a near fatal skiing accident, helped his son survive a rare form of cancer, is a huge hockey fan, a Detroit loyal and proud of his Italian heritage. Getting to know Bertolini is easy from his Tweets:

A snapshot of Tweets from Bertolini. Follow him: @mtbert

Namaste? Did I just hear a CEO say namaste?

Bertolini’s transparent and no apologies approach is comforting and energizing. Griffiths worries about her boss being overly accessible. I can see why. How do you block and tackle someone who blurs the lines between who he is as a person and how he leads 35,000 people in a Fortune 100 company?

I think the answer can be found in changing the question. Instead of blocking and tackling, what’s possible when someone like Bertolini is free to be a gateway to real change? Leaders who inspire are more than fancy talkers. They’re mindful and accessible listeners.

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Posted by: Suzi Craig
Email the author: suzi@fathom.net