Five most typical points of failure for aspiring C-level leaders

The entranceway to the C-Suite is littered with the carcasses of senior leaders who failed to adapt to new conditions and requirements. It’s one of the toughest if not the toughest of all career transitions.

Here are the five most typical points of failure for aspiring C-level leaders:

“I’m the CTO (or whatever). My job is to be the voice of technology on the Exec Team.”

Ahem. You may be the CTO but you must be focused on and contribute to strategy for the entire enterprise. Your specialty certainly needs a voice. But you are first and foremost a member of the Executive Team. And you are the voice of the Executive Team and enterprise strategy to the company’s technology function.

“My #1 priority is to take care of my CEO.”

You may be grateful and loyal to the CEO for your incredible promotion to the C-suite. But myopically pleasing the boss at the C-level reduces an executive’s performance and potential. Furthermore, the most common bottleneck in organizations is the CEO. Too many CEOs unwittingly create their own hub-and-spoke structure around their leadership, and this causes manifold dysfunction throughout the organization. Senior executives need to pay attention to the goals and strategies that lead to long term organizational value. They need to form powerful pragmatic alliances with other C-suite executives to achieve these goals. Oh yes, and your CEO may be taken out by the board tomorrow. Be loyal to your CEO and follow her lead. But take into account the whole C-suite and your responsibility to foster effective executive teamwork.

“The CFO is a pain. I avoid him at all costs.”

“The board is a threat. We need to close ranks and not let them see us sweat.”

The emperor has no clothes. That’s the lesson these executives soon will learn. The power dynamic between the executive management team and board of directors is often very tricky (particularly when you have aggressive, dominant investors). New executives can be intimidated and feel insecure and not want to show vulnerability to powerful board members.

“We executives are all peers. Let’s just get along and play fair with each other.”

Wrong. The C-Suite is filled with sharp elbows. Chances are that your fellow C-level executives are fiercely competitive (after all, that’s how they got to the top) and are competing with you for company resources, attention from the CEO and board and will likely have an entirely different way of engaging (i.e winning) in conflict. The irony of course is that these are the people with whom you have to team and collaborate effectively with

Craig Martin

Craig Martin

Founder & President at Martin Global Leaders
Craig Martin has over 20 years of experience working with executives and management teams ranging from global Fortune 500 corporations to private companies. His clients include PayPal, Ernst & Young, Informatica, General Mills, Raymond Corporation (div. of Toyota) and Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. He is founder and President of Martin Global Leaders, a premier global leadership development firm that partners with select executives and leadership teams as they manage complexity and diversity and develop strategies for enterprise-wide innovation in today’s global marketplace. Drawing upon the best leadership thinking and resources from around the world, Martin supports top-performing professionals that are constantly stretching themselves and seeking to do their “most important work.”
Craig Martin
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