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Let’s go back in time to help a CEO in need

A few weeks ago, MillerKnoll CEO Andi Owen got herself in trouble for having an out-of-context (or maybe in-context) comments on a company Zoom call go viral.

I’m not one to cast the first stone, but I like to help when I can. And the best/only way to help Ms. Owen is to travel back in time and give her some advice. Maybe I could help her avoid stepping in it the way she did.

So let’s fire up our time-traveling DeLoreans, Hot Tubs, orPhone Booths and see if we can help a CEO in need.

Before We Leave

Ms. Owen has been on the receiving end of a lot of nastycomments since her video went viral. Maybe she deserves it, maybe not.

She has issued an apology and stated she she didn't mean tocome off as being insensitive, but she wanted to energize the team. Let’s take her at her word and assume she’s a good person and a conscientious leader.

With that in mind, let’s start our time travel trip. We havethree destinations.

First Destination: At least 1 year before the meeting
The Advice: Be human on LinkedIn

For our first destination, we’re going back at least a year, preferably more.

Everyone makes mistakes. Even CEOs. When you do, it’s goodto have a body of work and a track record of showing your humanity, and LinkedIn is an ideal place to do that.

If she regularly posted on LinkedIn – say, 2-3 times per week – with simple, unvarnished posts that showed she was a real, caring person, it would have been easier to forgive her misstep. Simple posts with stories that celebrated her employees, shared her own journey (troubles and all), and that endeavored to help people would have made a huge difference.

Instead, her LinkedIn feed has infrequent posts that wereclearly written by the PR department. They’re very corporate and strategic, and do little to inspire the loyalty of her employees.

The good news is this the easiest and cheapest approach. For the 5 Social Media Rules for CEOs, Executives, and Leaders, sign up for my email list and get this week’s newsletter.

Second Destination: Three months before the meeting
Advice: Ditch the Zoom meeting

If our DeLorean/Hot Tub/Phone Booth time machine is on theblink and can’t take us back a year or two, then we’ll have to settle for January 2023. This is likely the time when planning for the meeting began. Or at least it should have been.

My advice at this time would be to put the kibosh on theidea of holding the meeting on Zoom, instead holding it in person in a series of town hall meetings.


Zoom is just not a good platform for nuanced messages. Thesentiment she was trying to communicate were lost because her employees couldn’t see her expressions or grasp her nonverbal cues. Likewise, she couldn’t see her audience or “read the room.”

She also would have (likely) been more empathetic if shewere in the room with her. Sure, a Zoom call was much easier, faster and cheaper. But some messages are too important to take the easy route.

Third Destination: One hour before the meeting
Advice: Understand your audience

Well, for whatever reason, our time machine can only take usback a week. All is not lost!

We can’t establish a track record of empathetic content, orpull the plug on the Zoom call. But we can still save our CEO.

The advice here is simple: understand your audience andwhere they’re coming from.

Judging by her remarks, it’s clear that Ms. Owen didn’t haveher employees’ needs and concerns at heart. She was probably thinking about the pressure she was facing herself.

But if she would have spent just a little time puttingherself in her employees’ shoes, she might not have been so snippy in her remarks.

Also, it would have been a good idea to not take a $3million bonus when the company was under-performing.