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Lead with Integrity: 5 Tips for C-Suite Executives

Michael Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, voiced some very strong opinions in a 2006 interview on the companiestarget audience. Recently Jeffries’ comments were brought back into the public eye and ruffled some serious feathers. The Internet was filled with angry customers who took to social media to voice their feelings over Jeffries’ comments. I imagine their customer service phone numbers were busy, too!

As a c-suite executive, it’s important to be honest and transparent, but equally important to lead with integrity. When I work with c-suite executives, I offer these 5 tips:

  1. You are always representing your brand. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a board meeting or at the grocery store to pick up juice, people recognize you. C-Suite executives are always in the public eye. You can bet Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, doesn’t waltz into Caribou Coffee every morning or that the CEO of McDonald’s doesn’t pick up a burger and fries from Burger King.
  2. The customer is always in charge. And if you publicly alienate half of your customer base, what happens to your brand loyalty and sales? C-suite executives might not always be on the floor selling directly to consumers, but they realize the importance of customer service. Treat your customers well and they treat you well. (This is important to remember because the voice of the customer is amplified on social media).
  3. Be prepared to attack, respond, and not respond. It’s one of the titles in my bestseller Running the Gauntlet, and it’s true for everything. If you’re in the c-suite, know when to attack, respond, and not respond – whether it’s to the media, customers, or other c-level executives in your company. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the next A&F board meeting!
  4. Prepare to live your brand promise in bad times and good. It’s easy to jump off when times are tough, and easy to jump on when good. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, put a stop to telecommuting because it was good for her business. Was it a popular decision? No! But she stuck by her guns and did what was best for the business. A week later, Best Buy did the same.
  5. Instead of putting your money where your mouth is, save your money and shut your mouth. Personal opinions are just that – personal. Refer to Tip #1 and remember sometimes your personal opinion may not always align with your professional opinion. You represent your brand.


Jeffrey Hayzlett is a global business celebrity and speaker, bestselling author, Contributing Editor for Bloomberg Television, and former Fortune 100 c-suite executive. He is the CEO of The Hayzlett Group, an international strategic business consulting company focused on leading change and developing high growth companies. Contact us for more information.

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