This fall, we set out to use our communication analytics platform to identify the most authentic CEOs from our nation’s largest companies.
Authentic communication is measured by a number of components of a speaker’s content and delivery style (read more about it here), but when you get down to it, we were looking for CEOs who, rather than putting on public personas, address every audience—from investors to customers to employees—in the same way.
Our analysis found Jamie Dimon—the J.P. Morgan Chase CEO credited for leading the bank through one of the most disruptive and tumultuous periods in recent time—to be the most authentic CEO in the Fortune 100.
In an atmosphere of distrust, Dimon’s authenticity in his communication to the public, government oversight committees, and employees has helped shore up both the bank’s reputation and the loyalty of its employees.
“Love him or hate him, Dimon comes across consistently,” said Noah Zandan, CEO of Quantified Communications. “Authentic communication is a key skill for all CEOs, but it is especially valuable in times of stress or crisis.”
J.P. Morgan is #21 on the 2017 Fortune 100 list, and it also ranks at #22 on Fortune’s list of the world’s most admired companies.
How Does Dimon Do It?
Dimon’s authenticity manifests in several ways, from the way he approaches hot-button fiscal and political issues to the way he presents J.P. Morgan’s initiatives and results to investors and the community.
All of this, of course, is grounded in his communication—the words he says and the way he says them.
The Same Message for Every Audience
Dimon is known for the unhesitating way he expresses unpopular or controversial opinions. From disagreements with the president’s financial, ideological, and leadership policies to his harsh criticism of bitcoin (which J.P. Morgan still trades), Dimon is unafraid to speak his mind, even when his position differs from what might be expected on Wall Street.
In other words, he’s not afraid to respond authentically to tough questions, and our analysis reflected that characteristic.
Based on language alone, Dimon is 40.7 percent more authentic than the average Fortune 100 CEO.
The linguistic hallmark of authenticity is that, when you listen to speakers address a large audience, you get the impression that they’d speak the same way over coffee.
Consider this excerpt from his now-infamous “rant” during J.P. Morgan’s July earnings call:
Since the Great Recession, which is now 8 years old, we’ve been growing at 1.5 to 2 percent in spite of stupidity and political gridlock. Because the American business sector is powerful and strong, and is going to grow regardless of—people wake up in the morning, they want to feed their kids, they want to buy a home, they want to do things, the same with American businesses—what I’m saying is it would be much stronger growth had we made intelligent decisions and were there not gridlock.
And thank you for pointing it out because I’m going to be a broken record until this gets done. We are unable to build bridges, we’re unable to build airports, and our inner-city school kids are not graduating.
Not only is he wearing his personal beliefs on his sleeve rather than spinning or tailoring them for the Wall Street audience, but he’s expressing them in a manner you might expect from a one-on-one conversation.
A Conversation in Every Setting
But there’s more to authenticity than the language a speaker uses—delivery plays a critical role as well.
We recognize many inauthentic speakers by the personas they put on onstage. Of course, speakers do have to project a little more and move a little differently to ensure their message comes across when they’re speaking in public, but the trick is not to appear as though they’re performing in any way.
And this natural delivery is especially important for someone who runs a huge financial institution in an era of love-hate relationships with banks. If audiences feel you’re acting on stage, how can they trust the “real” you?
Dimon, however, doesn’t have these problems, as executive communication expert Briar Goldberg explains:
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.
As you can see in his 2016 interview with David Rubenstein at The Economic Club of Washington (which Warren Buffett called “one of the best I’ve ever heard”), Dimon has a knack for turning these situations into conversations between himself and the audience. He’s skilled at creating an atmosphere where the audience feels he’s talking with them, not at them.
But let’s take a closer look at some of the delivery qualities that make Dimon so authentic.
Dimon’s use of gesture is 56 percent more effective than the average Fortune 100 CEO.
Inauthentic speakers’ gestures range from stiff and robotic to grandiose, but an authentic speaker like Jamie Dimon knows how to gesture freely and organically to underscore his message. As an audience member, you don’t get the sense that he’s choreographed or rehearsed his movements.
Watch his 2014 remarks on J.P. Morgan’s commitment to help revitalize Detroit to see the way his natural gestures correspond with his words, emphasizing key points and helping the audience track his message.
Dimon’s vocal tone is 75 percent more effective than the average Fortune 100 CEO.
The way a speaker uses his or her voice contributes to perceived authenticity, as well. Inauthentic speakers tend to use measured tones that come off as overly polished or overly rehearsed, rather than letting their vocal quality reflect how they really feel about the messages they’re delivering.
You can hear that quality in the audio excerpt from J.P. Morgan’s July earnings call, and in his interview with George Barrett at the company’s 2015 annual meeting.
Jamie Dimon’s world-class authenticity comes from years of experience addressing both friendly and hostile audiences—he’s clearly learned how to be comfortable in his own skin on stage. But it also comes from his ability to convince audiences that “Jamie Dimon CEO” and “Jamie Dimon human being” are the same person, with the same beliefs and values.
Inauthentic leaders struggle to engender trust and motivate employees, investors, or customers. But as we’ve seen with Dimon’s success leading J.P. Morgan through years of turmoil, leaders who communicate authentically can inspire audiences to make extraordinary efforts on behalf of their organizations.