Bigger Than the Boardroom: The Role CEOs Are Expected to Play Today


Report: Bigger Than The Boardroom

June 2020

Report summary

In early March, the COVID-19 pandemic forced CEOs to take on the role of Crisis Executive Officer as they led their companies, employees, and consumers through unprecedented times. More recently, they are being asked to authentically lead with purpose as the country reckons with racial inequality. To help organizations better understand the role their leaders should play, Morning Consult surveyed thousands of consumers, investors, and public opinion leaders on what they expect from CEOs today, and how that is evolving as new challenges emerge at a rapid pace. This research looks at both the most important brand drivers for CEOs when it comes to their reputation and job performance, as well as key insights into how COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement are changing those expectations.

Key Takeaways

  • A CEO’s role in the context of society Is rapidly expanding: CEOs are in the spotlight today more than ever, and recent events have only accelerated the evolution of a CEO’s remit. The most important attribute that contributes to a CEO’s reputation is that they are contributing positively to society.
  • Stakeholder capitalism is here to stay: Prioritizing customer and employee needs while also acting in the best interest of shareholders, suppliers and society is important to decisionmakers and also drives CEO reputation and performance. This trend has been strengthening since late 2019, when the importance of employees began gaining precedence while that of shareholders began waning.
  • The current challenge & evolving opportunity: Sixty-nine percent of adults say that how CEOs react and express themselves on topics such as Black Lives Matter will permanently affect their decision to buy from their company and 71% of consumers feel CEOs are responsible for helping during the pandemic. Companies that step up for consumers in this time will benefit in terms of favorability and loyalty.


Morning Consult surveyed over 11,000 consumers, financial decision-makers, high net worth individuals, politically-engaged audiences, and key opinion leaders in May and June 2020 to provide unparalleled insight on evolving expectations, performance evaluations and overall perceptions of top CEOs and business leaders.

Approach & Methodology

Morning Consult determined the drivers behind CEO reputation by asking respondents to assess 315 CEOs and business leaders, including CEOs of most Fortune 250 companies and nearly all of the CEOs of the 200 most advertised brands in the U.S. Respondents were asked a range of questions about a given CEO, including an evaluation of favorability, news buzz, and overall job performance. Respondents also rated CEOs on 48 attributes, evaluating their public persona, leadership style, vision, personal integrity, shareholder value, stakeholder engagement, societal impact, handling of COVID-19, and more.

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