Who should play the role of consigliere to the CEO?

In a recent article in HR Magazine, Richard Hytner suggests that the HR Director is the most obvious person to play the role of consigliere to the CEO. He has just published a book called ‘Consigliere: Leading from the Shadows.

There is no doubt CEOs have a lonely job and most would admit to appreciating having someone close to them who can give them objective and impartial advice and who they can use as a sounding board. Not only do they have to deal with the complexities and tensions of running a company and handling an executive team, they have to get used to often intense and personal scrutiny and criticism by the media and other stakeholders. They recognise that the consequences of falling foul of increasingly ‘activist’ and inter-connected stakeholder communities are getting worse, not just for the company, but for them personally.

But is this not, or should it not be, the role of the corporate communications/affairs director? Sources of this counsel have traditionally included the Chief of Staff and the Chairman but in our recent research study, Staying on the front foot, we observed that many corporate communications/affairs directors are stepping into this role.

Their exposure to, and knowledge of, the mood and expectations of a wide array of external and internal stakeholders gives them a more rounded view of the organisation and this 360° perspective is incredibly valuable to the CEO. Their expertise in communications and engagement means that they can act as a barometer of the subtle changes in the organisation’s mood and preoccupations as well as that of the external environment.

It is for this reason that we are also seeing a small but growing number of communications directors being asked to take on the role of Chief of Staff.

Is this trend likely to continue? What about HRDs? Can they bring something to the table that the communications director can’t? I would be interesting in hearing the perspective of others.

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