authenticity sign

3 Questions (and Answers) On CEO Authenticity

November 7, 2017

By Bill Coletti, CEO, Kith

An interesting question: who’s the most authentic CEO in the world?

Yes, authentic. Authentic as defined by the dictionary is

Representing one’s true nature or beliefs; true to oneself or to the person identified.”

Or more simply put: REAL.

We’re used to ranking CEOs by innovation (i.e. Jeff Bezos) or market share (i.e. Tim Cook) as opposed to this idea of authenticity.

Admittedly, authenticity can be hard to rank — it’s not the most quantifiable element ever — but our friends at Quantified Communications just tried to do it. The Quantified Communications Index sought to recognize the 20 Most Authentic CEOs in the Fortune 100.

The top 10 Most Authentic were:


2017 CEO Authinticity Rankings list


The methodology, explained here, largely used proprietary algorithms based on linguistic, vocal, and nonverbal patterns that have been proven through academic research and audience testing to rank CEOs. The work is based on publicly available communication samples.

Jamie Dimon is perhaps an odd choice as No. 1 — financial services firms aren’t usually associated with authenticity — but the reasoning is sound, including this:

From the way Dimon presents himself on stage, whether he’s in front of investors, Congress, or J.P. Morgan employees, nobody is going to question whether that’s the same person they would meet for a beer, for a meeting, or in the elevator. He doesn’t take on any sort of persona—the audience feels like he’s the same Jamie Dimon everywhere he goes.

Does CEO authenticity matter?

Yes, it does. Digital noise is fairly high these days, with about 293,000 statuses posted to Facebook every minute. There’s a lot to consume and, moreover, a lot of people pushing, peddling, or otherwise selling themselves. Most would also logically refer to social media/digital comms as often “curated.”

But what about authenticity and real transparency? That has to be a way to cut through the noise out there, right?

Maybe that’s why consumers are responding more to it, and organizations are now taking the time to study and rank the authenticity of CEOs, whereas previously we’d just evaluate them by their numbers.

We at Kith have long believed that it’s the less obvious attributes, like a CEO’s authenticity, that make up a company’s reputation. We call these attributes The 7 Levers of Reputation.



There are seven levers that companies must “pull” in order to have a positive reputation. These seven levers are areas where companies must focus if they wish to grow their reputation. Based on findings in an article by Charles J. Fombrun, Naomi A. Gardberg, and Joy M. Sever called “The Reputation Quotient: A multi-stakeholder measure of corporate reputation,” Kith’s 7 Levers of Reputation are clearly defined areas where companies can focus their activities and messaging in order to grow their reputation. firm. Just as you can pull certain levers in marketing (like adjusting the price or dramatically increasing advertising spending) to get people’s attention for your products, you can use these seven levers to bring about change in your company’s reputation over time. You can learn more about the 7 Levers here.

CEO authenticity directly impacts the Leadership Privilege lever. Leadership Privilege is a CEO’s ability to demonstrate humility, generosity and, you guessed it, authenticity in their role as a leader. A humble, authentic leader serves organizations well and is simply real and relatable.

Most of the companies named in the Top 10 above, including JPMorgan Chase, are growing at an above-average rate. That’s obviously not necessarily causal, but we’ve also recently seen rankings of empathetic companies and also seen positive financial returns therein (market cap grows 23.3% compared to a weighted average of 5.2% from other companies in the sample).

Additionally, a slew of recent studies have actually tied “being more authentic” to the bottom line, with one even showing that 88% of consumers will reward a brand more for its authenticity.

You could argue that all seven of the levers are tied to authenticity. It’s a huge part of your overall reputation. Less-authentic brands and companies have a legitimate chance to lose customers and market share, as they will eventually deflect to organizations they find more authentic. This is apparently increasingly true of millennials, who want brands to present as more authentic

How can I pull the Leadership Privilege lever?

There are three things you can start doing now to be a more humble, authentic leader:

  1. Ask for (and embrace) feedback: Create a culture where everyone, including the CEO, can ask for and receive honest feedback. That’s the easy part. The hard part is embracing the feedback when it’s not something you want to hear. It’s not easy to be told of your weaknesses, however, you’ll gain a great deal of insight from these conversations and show your openness to employees’ input.
  2. Look out for others: Coauthor of Leading with Humility Rob Nielsen says team performance is typically much higher when team members believe their leaders are truly looking out for their best interests. I’m not asking you to hold hands, but what am I asking you to do is ensure your team has a working environment where they get what they need to do a good job.
  3. Admit fault: You’re probably going to upset your legal counsel with this one when you do it with media/customers, but admitting when you are wrong goes a long way in demonstrating humility and authenticity. A leader is more approachable when he or she admits to mistakes. But what’s critical is that this transparency involves improvement– you (and the organization) must learn from the mistake. If you, the CEO, make this transparency a priority, the whole company will be better equipped learning from failure.

Leadership Privilege is a powerful lever for reputational success. Studies like Quantified Communications’ and lists like Inc.’s Most Admired CEOs wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t. The greatest organizations have dynamic, visionary leaders who also see themselves as servants– they serve their customers and their team. This quality describes not just leaders’ visibility and ideas, but their attitudes, character, and the way they carry themselves in the world. Will you help your organization be great?

Filed under: Blog


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.