The meeting that moved a profession

Our world "shook a little bit this week," said a Founding Member of the Executive Communication Council. Here's what went down.

I expected the Founders Meeting of the Executive Communication Council, which took place two weeks ago at the Hermosa Inn, in Phoenix, Ariz., to be a momentous gathering.

I didn’t expect it to be as emotional as it was, for me. Though maybe I should have.

I’ve donated much of my heart’s blood over the years to the rather esoteric field of leadership communication. I and my team have spent the last year trying to identify the organizations and practitioners who do exec comms best and care about it most. And now those people had finally gathered for three days of candid, tough-minded, good-humored and high-reaching talking and deep listening.

At least, that’s what we hoped would happen.

Phones off, brains on, in a cozy room with a fire in the fireplace, exec comms chiefs from member organizations Verizon, UPS, United Technologies Corporation, Target, Splunk, Marathon Petroleum, Cox Automotive, AARP—as well as a special guest from Williams College—shared everything: Their personal journeys to the top of this field, the things they do that set them apart, the problems they have that hold them back, and the biggest dreams they have for their organizations and themselves.

The meeting was strictly off-the-record, so I can’t tell you what was said at this table.


I think I can say:

The Executive Communication Council is an intense group. A keynote presentation by Laura Rittenhouse, who analyzes executive communications and correlates CEO candor to shareholder value, didn’t make the first minute before the questions started coming. A video conference call on the new Purpose of a Corporation with The Business Roundtable’s comms chief Rayna Farrell had a similar result. You don’t present to the Executive Communication Council—you converse with them.

These are ambitious people. As our charter will reveal when we release it later this year, some of the ECC’s goals are humble: to help serious exec comms pros help one another get better, to study trends in exec comms, and to make an amorphous and sometimes career-limiting field into a defined and respected discipline. But as a meeting-ending planning session showed us, these elite executive communication practitioners want to do far more than swap best practices and build their networks: They want to use their work to make their organizations more human—and thus more responsible to the needs of humanity. And they want to use the platform and activities of the ECC to inspire all organizations to move in this direction.

It’s a warm and friendly group. There was a lot of laughing—belly laughing, the kind you can only do with people who know exactly what you’re talking about. There were open expressions of admiration and appreciation for the exceptional work these organizations are already doing. There was deep listening and real concentration on helping one another solve some of the most nettlesome problems in this problematic business. And there were generous offers of hours and resources from members, who realize this is not our group, but theirs.

“I’ve just had a really good couple of days,” said one Founding Member at the end, “and I like you all very much.”

Perhaps it was those plain words that brought some tears to my eyes—and made me know for sure that this group (along with ECC member McDonald’s, which was not represented at the meeting but remains committed to the group) would certainly meet again, likely with a few more member organizations.

And again and again and again, to make the work of leadership communication more meaningful for the people who practice it, more strategic for the clients who pay for it and more responsible to the stakeholders and society who receive it.

“The world of executive communication,” said one Founding Member as we gathered our notes to adjourn, “shook a little bit this week.” —DM

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