A CEO’s Unintended Consequence of Joining LinkedIn

A CEO's Unintended Consequence of Joining LinkedInDuring a recent conversation with one of my CEO clients at CEO Connection, the topic moved to our private LinkedIn group and how he could use it to discuss some of his challenges with fellow members. And then he shared with me something I hadn’t anticipated.

He said, “Lisa, you wouldn’t believe what happened to me when I joined LinkedIn. I joined it for exactly the purpose you mention, to participate in a few private groups that may be of help to me and where I might be able to add some value. But then I had breakfast one morning with a few employees and I discovered an unintended consequence.

They mentioned to me that they’d noticed I’d joined LinkedIn, and they asked why. When I told them, they seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. And then they said,” Mr. (CEO), we were all convinced you were looking for a new job.”

Everything communicates, particularly when you’re the CEO.

This gentleman told me he worked with his communications team to put together a blog post that explained to employees that just as they all had areas of development they were working on, he too looked for ways to continually improve in his role. For him, using LinkedIn to connect with his peers who had similar challenges was one of the ways he was accessing experienced advice and insights.

It put to rest the rumors he was looking for a new job, which had already begun to impact morale.

This story is an important reminder that as executives, how we use social media and what we say in public is being viewed in ways we may never have intended. As leaders, it is our responsibility to consider the impact of our communications on employees, partners and stakeholders.

What has your experience been?


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  1. Yet another reminder of the importance of clear communication. Assumptions and misinformation can crush morale. Rumors can create a negative ripple while no one can find their origin. Whether you are a local manager, a director of a team of 5 people or a CEO of large enterprise, akin to real estate there are three things that are critical to doing your job – communication, communication and communication.

    • Thank you, Kneale, and I love your point about the ripple. We sometimes consider the direct impact, but the ripple effect can be so much more significant! And you’re so right – the critical nature of communication cannot be overstated. Thank you, as always, for being here.

  2. Ms Petrilli, you make a good and very valid point, save to point out that perhaps the example used to illustrate the point [it is our responsibility to consider the impact of our communications on employees, partners and stakeholders.] isn’t quite a useful one.

    Let’s quickly look at the situation again; the CEO joins a social network – in this case LinkedIn – for whatever reason. Firstly, it is clear from his story that he had a particular view of the specific social network platform but which as the story unfolds, is clearly different to that of his subordinates.

    You seem to be suggesting he should have known before hand that this would be the case? How could he, when LinkedIn is structured in a such a manner that people at different levels of occupation would find value of different kinds based on the varied services offered relevant to their different needs?

    Alternatively, in the absence of the CEO’s understanding of how others in his organisation – especially subordinates – viewed LinkedIn relative to their own needs and aspirations, would you be suggesting that he should have sought to explain himself to his staff beforehand?

    Finally, as indicated earlier I am in full agreement with the core of the message and as a keen participant in social media platforms, I am always wary of the issue you are raising and to the extent possible, I try and stick to discussions and related engagements where I can offer value – be it business, professional or social.

    • Hi Sicelo,

      I honestly never intended to imply that this CEO should have anticipated this reaction. I agree with you, people use LinkedIn for different reasons and I was very surprised when he shared this story and the employees’ reactions with me. And no, I would not have recommended that he explain his actions beforehand. The point was simply to show that everything we do, including via social media, will communicate and it’s important as leaders for us to understand the impact of our communications. Thank you for taking the time to comment and ensuring that I clarify the story. I sincerely apologize for causing any confusion! All the very best to you.

  3. I like this story. It reminds me of an interview I did with a CEO who cited a more general issue. “As CEO,” he told me, “in many ways your life is not your own.” He was referring to being quoted, and the need to represent the company publicly 24/7 to investors. He decided that he did not wish to return to that role at a public company to retain more control over his life.

    In this case, Mr. CEO is looking for human connection, and I find it a bit poignant that he needed to engage his communications team to manage the unintended consequences.

  4. Wow, people are paranoid. Especially in this economic climate. Very interesting though that the group seemed to view LI as simply a place for job seekers. While it does involve so much more, on a macro level I don’t think people know about other features or don’t care to participate.
    Steve Hughes´s last blog post ..This is arguably More Important than Content…

    • Steve,

      Without knowing more we can’t fully assume that they only view LinkedIn as a place for job seekers, but they certainly were not thinking about the value of connections for someone at that level of an organization. I appreciate your perspective, thanks for sharing!

  5. Love this post. I’m on LinkedIn in a small way. The profile pic I used is from a costume party – I’m wearing an Afro wig, a Fu Maanchu moustache and a tacky polyester white jacket. Consequently, I haven’t been approached with an “employment opportunity”. Mission accomplished.

    • John, that’s certainly one approach. :) But it probably will also make networking and business development more difficult, so I’m curious as to why you’re on LinkedIn? Are there other benefits you derive? Thanks in advance for the insights and for sharing the photo on Twitter. :)

  6. Social signals. Love it. Interestingly, I’m studying the opposite effect right now: What do decision makers get out of opening themselves up via social?

    Thanks for getting me thinking about the other side of it.

  7. Brandon Jones says:


    The story you shared is very interesting. As you pointed out, people are always watching you when you are online. I have seen a mixed set of responses when people are active online. I have seen some people that immediately think you are trying to get out of your current position. I have also seen people who commend you for going above and beyond to make a name for yourself. There is a third group that has no idea that you are even online because they are not. As you navigate through social media, you always have to have the three audiences in mind so you hit the mark with your content. Thanks again for another great post.

    • Brandon, you’re welcome and thank you for the great reminder that our colleagues each will have a different perspective based on their own experiences, which is not a reflection on us personally. I appreciate the kind words and you taking the time to comment!

  8. A clear and transparent communication with employees is the best way to ensure a cohesive team and with the same goal.

    I’ve always been very clear with my soldiers and never had problems with them when I decided change the company. Most often take all the team with me. Work to always trust me.

    At the last company I worked when I upgraded my linkedin it was like a sign to many that he was seeking a new path as well as also was a good signal to the market that was seeking an new challenge.

    Many people forget that in today’s globalized world, everything you write on social networks, is or someday will be read by someone very near to you.

  9. Thankfully, not everyone is paranoid as your CEO’s employees, since anyone who’s anyone is on LinkedIn on the moment. If Intel, Microsoft, and the likes will start searching LinkedIn for potential “defects”, there wouldn’t be anyone working in these companies anymore
    PM Hut´s last blog post ..Low Bid Project Award: Friend or Foe?

  10. Hi Lisa,

    That is so interesting! I’d never thought of LinkedIn as only a place to find employment opportunities. On the flip side, if the company employees thought the CEO was on LinkedIn to find another job, what were their reasons for being there? Were they also looking for new jobs? The situation seems to imply that once you’ve achieved a certain level of success, methods for connection and expansion shouldn’t apply. Once you’ve “made it” you don’t need anyone else.

    Very interesting look into human psychology.

    Thanks for this.

    Amber James

    • Amber, thanks for sharing your own perspective on it. It further proves that when we act a certain way, 50 people may perceive those actions differently. As a leader, this just reinforces the need for clear and open communication. All the best and thank you for taking the time to comment!


  1. […] when I read Lisa Petrilli’s excellent Visionary Leadership blog this week entitled “A CEO’s Unintended Consequence of Joining LinkedIn,” I couldn’t help but smile. The blog post speaks to the effect on a CEO’s staff of his […]