Interview Segments on Topic: Counselor/Counseling Advisor
Angela Buonocore is senior vice president and chief communications officer for Xylem, a spinoff business from ITT Corporation. She is responsible for global brand and reputation management, public relations, employee communications, corporate advertising, community relations and corporate philanthropy.
INTERVIEWER: What do you see as the status of the chief communications officer in the corporate world today? Is it growing in importance? Diminishing? How do you see that?
BUONOCORE: So, I see it as growing in importance. I think the role of the chief communications officer for enlightened companies and companies that really have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on, they understand that the chief communications officer belongs in the c-suite. Belongs sitting alongside of the CEO along with everyone else that sits in the c-suite; the CFO, the chief human resources officer, because you really have to work together as a team to create the right results and drive the right results for the company and if you have the right person in the chair, I think there’s no CEO that would tell you they don’t want to have the person that works with the team, that’s responsible for building the image, reputation of the company and frankly working on performance and morale, within earshot. I think the most progressive CEOs are the ones that are working hand in glove with their chief communications officers, so I would say the role is growing significantly in importance. And the role is also what you make of it because if you’re driving results that people can see are really having a positive impact on the business, I think that also helps to elevate the role.
INTERVIEWER: The aim of the Arthur W. Page Center at Penn State and of the Arthur W. Page Society is to help individuals become counselors to leadership. How can individuals best prepare themselves for that role?
BUONOCORE: I think to best prepare yourself for the role where you’re going to become a counselor, is to do a few things. First and foremost, you’ve got to have very, very strong skills in your discipline. That probably goes without saying, but I would tell you, it’s very surprising to me because I see a lot of resumes and I meet a lot of people that are studying communications—the number of communicators that don’t demonstrate the basic writing and frankly, speaking skills that are necessary to have command of your area of expertise. Beyond your own area of expertise, you have to be an expert in the business. And that comes with time -- you have to study, just like you do in school, and any time I’ve joined a new company—it’s part of just really getting yourself immersed. Not only in the nuts and bolts and how the company makes money—which you really do need to understand—but also to really travel around the company and really get to talk to people and listen to people and to be a very good student of reading between the lines - to really be able to connect dots and put things together and bring a different perspective. I think that’s the most valuable skill that you can bring and I think that’s not a skill that’s confined to communications, because thereare many people in many disciplines that can bring that sort of “connecting the dots” skill. But I think as a communicator, you’re exposed to so much more in the organization that you should be able to connect the dots frankly, practically better than anyone else. And if you demonstrate that you can do that, that’s when you earn a seat at the table. You earn a seat at the table by driving yourselves and showing what those results are. And so, part of it is you have to have courage. You cannot be afraid to say what you think. You cannot be a yes person, because if you are, then you really won’t be the best advisor to your CEO, and that is not always the easiest thing. I think some of that comes, that street cred[ibility], comes with doing it and gaining some experience but, you really have to be able to tell the emperor when he or she has no clothes. You have to be able to, obviously using your diplomatic skills as well, be able to bring to the table, a new way of looking at things. And sometimes the best way of doing that is to employ the Socratic approach and to ask a series of questions that might lead a person to draw a conclusion that you want them to draw without just telling them something. So, there are different methods that you can use and you learn to flex your style and try to be able to use what works best with whomever you are partnering with. But I think to really earn a seat as a counselor, you’ve got to be able to show them that you bring appropriate skills and that you understand the business and you understand where the CEO is trying to take the business and you are able to help him or her do that.