Perceptions of Power

American Corporate Leadership at a Crossroads

In the wake of recession… a clear preference for steady, consistent leadership

April 28, 2014-NEW YORK–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Two-thirds of U.S. adults view senior corporate leaders the same today as they did five years ago, according to the second annual Global Street Fight™ Study conducted for Gibbs & Soell by Harris Poll. Americans are conflicted on whether CEOs should focus on successful risk management to ensure steady and consistent operations or bold, innovative leadership to drive business forward. In light of this, chief executives face the dilemma of choosing the best path to restore public confidence in their leadership abilities and strengthen their own reputations.

The bad news for CEOs is that one-quarter of Americans believe that senior leadership is weaker today than it was five years ago. Only eight percent believe leaders are stronger; and two-thirds say they are about the same.

Yet, Americans see improvement in the way corporate leaders balance short-term needs with future growth plans. More than half of Americans believe leaders have a more balanced focus on long- and short-term goals than they did five years ago. This represents a five percentage point improvement over 2013 when the focus on short-term goals was more prevalent.

Perceptions of leadership

Gibbs & Soell, a global business communications firm, and Harris Poll, a leading global provider of information and insights to aid business decisions, teamed up to explore public perceptions of corporate leadership in today’s environment, focusing on the areas of boldness, innovation and trust. The online poll was conducted between March 28 and April 1, 2014 among 2,048 U.S. adults age 18 and older.

“The private employment rate exceeded pre-recession levels for the first time last month, the stock market shows modest gains and the housing market continues its recovery, yet the majority of Americans do not appear to be giving corporate leaders credit for these positive signals,” said Steve Halsey, principal and managing director, business consulting, Gibbs & Soell. “The public has grown tired of the volatility and is clamoring for strategic thinkers who can navigate near-term hurdles and drive toward future growth with consistency, stability and poise.”

One of the critical findings is the impact of a subgroup called the Opinion Elites, who engage in both traditional and non-traditional forms of influential behavior such as attending public meetings, regularly following the news, making speeches, participating in online forums on key issues, or contributing to a blog or website. In North America, Opinion Elites tend to be older and fall within the middle income range.

“The Opinion Elites wield considerable power in the public spotlight,” said Robert Fronk, senior vice president, Nielsen Reputation Management and Public Affairs. “Business leaders and communicators must pay attention to this vocal group, which has the potential to skew the conversation since they are so active in both traditional and social media. Whether a company’s strategy is built on bold innovation or consistent risk management, communicators must ensure their leaders are clearly and credibly articulating the reasons for their chosen paths.”

Additional key findings include:

  • 53 percent of the public believe the main priority of the CEO is to be a risk manager while 47 percent believe it is to be bold and innovative, as compared to last year’s even 50-50 split between the two traits.
  • 25 percent of Americans say senior leadership at large companies is weaker today than it was five years ago, compared to only eight percent who think senior leadership is stronger today. In 2013, 30 percent of U.S. adults said leaders were weaker than they were five years previously, compared to 10 percent who thought they were stronger.
  • 52 percent of U.S. adults feel leadership has a balanced focus on short- and long-term goals, up from 47 percent in 2013. However, only 39 percent of the Opinion Elites share this view.
  • While the majority of Americans believe leaders are both innovative and bold today, the Opinion Elites believe leaders are less bold than the general population.
  • The majority (53 percent) of younger adults (age 18-44) feel a CEO’s main priority is to be bold and innovative.
  • Across all demographics and levels of social engagement, strategic thinker (74 percent), innovative (71 percent) and risk-taker (58 percent) are the most important attributes of a bold leader. Younger adults (age 18-34) are more likely than their older counterparts to consider dreamer, confrontational and stubborn as characteristics of a bold leader.
  • Older individuals (age 45+) are more likely than their younger counterparts to think leadership is weaker today than five years ago.
  • Retirees (63 percent) are the most likely to feel that a CEO’s main priority is to be a successful risk manager.
The private employment rate exceeded pre-recession levels for the first time last month, the stock market shows modest gains and the housing market continues its recovery, yet the majority of Americans do not appear to be giving corporate leaders credit for these positive signals

To obtain a summary of the Global Street Fight Study and view supplemental content, please visit the Gibbs & Soell website: The Global Street Fight™ Study

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of Gibbs & Soell from March 28-April 1, 2014 among 2,048 adults age 18 and older, 232 of whom qualified as Opinion Elites. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated. For complete survey methodology, including weighting variables and subgroup sample sizes, please contact Mary Buhay or Gina Borgman.




About Nielsen & The Harris Poll
On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit

About Gibbs & Soell, Inc.
Gibbs & Soell, Inc. is an independent business communications firm with headquarters in New York and offices in Chicago, Raleigh, N.C., and Basel, Switzerland. The firm’s global network extends across more than 50 countries through its PROI Worldwide partnership. Gibbs & Soell integrates business and communications strategies, using a full range of communications services, to build sustainable relationships for clients along the entire value chain. We inspire action that drives results. For more information, please visit