Position Your Leadership for Impact

Questions to consider when launching your visibility campaign


Executive visibility is hardly a new and revolutionary concept. With the growth of the internet and the rise of the celebrity CEO, executive visibility has become expected of almost all large, influential organizations. Executive visibility is so prevalent that it is a core offering at nearly every professional services company, and some patterns and insights have emerged.

Executive visibility transcends mission, scope or industry. It’s not just the Howard Schultz, Bill Gates, Marissa Mayer or Darren Walker types who use visibility to promote their organization. Plenty of nonprofits, socially responsible companies and foundations position their leadership, but there is much more opportunity for leadership to embody an organization’s mission and vision.

Perhaps no two executives show how visibility can be used to promote an organization’s intellectual and social capital better than Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation and Teresa Younger of the Ms. Foundation. One manages an organization with net assets in the tens of billions; the other manages an organization with net assets in the tens of millions, yet both routinely speak, and both routinely speak with impact.

Darren Walker has shown that an innovative strategy can reinvigorate an organization. His decision to focus Ford on five defined “underlying drivers’ of inequality” has informed his numerous speaking engagements. His transparency in guiding Ford through change has given him accountability and has been consistently well received. His opinions often elicit reactions — both positive and negative — and result in calls to action. Importantly, he promotes ideas, not Ford, which then benefits indirectly.

Despite a much smaller budget and footprint, Teresa Younger has positioned herself as one of the leading champions of women’s issues. She has appeared in women’s magazines including Cosmopolitan and writes regularly for The Huffington Post. She consistently speaks at industry conferences. She is exceptionally active on LinkedIn and Twitter, and routinely gives her followers a look in to her professional and personal life, often blending the two.

Whether you’re in front of the camera and regularly speaking at conferences or considering visibility for the first time, every organization must weigh the pros and cons of an executive visibility program. Before planning, consider these five things:

  1. The most powerful executive visibility programs tend to coalesce an executive’s personal story with his/her professional story. How can you weave examples together from both to walk people through the desired action?
  2. While larger organizations often have greater visibility, smaller organizations with a focused scope and story can flank them.
  3. Smaller organizations can acquire more credibility, goodwill and intellectual capital by weighing in on issues related to their core offering.
  4. Social media platforms shouldn’t be used to magnify the accomplishments of the organization or the brand; they’re a space to amplify the voices of people who actively contribute work to the field.
  5. The internet has made executives more visible than ever. How can you balance your human tone with your organization’s brand guidelines and simultaneously advance both?