The culmination of a career-long pursuit, a promotion to the C-Suite is often a bigger transition than anticipated. What served you as you climbed the ranks can now harm you in your new role. What was once beyond your scope now sits firmly within it. Adapting accordingly is essential to avoiding a fall from your new heights.
Malcolm had 19 years of experience but this was his first time at the C-table as CTO of a mid-sized, rapidly growing, technology company. Malcolm was surprised to find a brand-new set of expectations awaiting him. He had anticipated higher-level responsibilities, but he was unprepared for the fundamental mindset shifts they would require. Unsettled by the unexpected, Malcolm at first fumbled and lost his footing. He started to question his ability to perform at the C-level. We worked together to create strategies that strengthened Malcolm’s foothold on this rung of his career ladder.
As Malcolm learned, to avoid being caught off guard once you are finally promoted to the C-suite, there are three things to stop doing and three things to start doing right away.
Start donning the company hat.
As an executive, you are not just the supervisor of your function, but a steward for the corporation. When Malcolm needed headcount, he began by investigating his peers’ needs to prioritize open positions across the company. When we take the full-company view, we invest in collective success and increase our colleagues’ trust in us.
Start adopting a first team mindset.
Author Patrick Lencioni describes your first team as the team you are most loyal to. As a direct report to the CEO, your first team is the C-team. For Malcolm this meant prioritizing offsites and staff meetings with his boss and peers and delegating other responsibilities. By explicitly naming fealty to our first teams, we set expectations about our obligations and reduce confusion for our direct reports.
Start succession planning.
Even though you’ve just been promoted, begin to identify a bench of successors for your new role right away. Consider who could take over in an emergency, even if temporarily. Who can be ready in one to three years, and who in three to five years? By identifying a string of successors for jobs that have a heavy burden, we ease our minds when on vacation, motivate our directs by investing in their development, and build capacity in the organization to carry forward our legacy.
Stop blaming up.
Amid change, uncertainty, and lack of information, it is natural to want clarity from management and blame them for a lack of it. Once you’re with your new first team though, you are the management. Take accountability for employee concerns even if you are not the responsible party. Listen to the complaint and follow up. By taking full ownership of issues, we not only stand in solidarity with our first team, we become role models for a culture of honesty and accountability.
Stop swooping down.
When feeling intimidated by joining the C-suite, we might seek comfort in doing our old jobs where we felt confident and successful. Hiding in the weeds of your previous responsibilities will only create more confusion and work for your junior employees and will prevent you from operating strategically at the C-level.
Stop ignoring sideways.
We often ignore many of our peers from other departments because we prioritize the people directly above and below us in the reporting chain, or those peers with whom we need to co-deliver a project. For Malcom, this led to a harsh realization that he was out of the loop on vital updates because his peers were connecting across departments, while he was not. They took the time to meet regularly, both in the office and socially, but he had marginalized himself by not making the effort to do the same. When I work with executive teams, the CEO’s single biggest complaint is almost always that their directs are operating in siloes, missing out on opportunities to collaborate, innovate, and streamline their processes to improve efficiency. Building relationships across departments deepens our knowledge of the company and allows us to better leverage the efforts of others.
The C-suite affords a new vantage point from which to view our organizations. Taking advantage of this new vista, allows us to shape our actions from a stronger foundation – one that is forged not in me but in we.