The Executive Edge (“Must have” skills to get to the corner office)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Throughout this series, we have explored a wide range of skills that are integral to performing well at the executive level.  Think of these as positive lessons.  There is much to be learned, however, by watching weak (to downright awful) executives at work.  Think of these as the executive you never want to be.  Look around; they’re out there.

Although it might be surprising, negative lessons have a way of resonating and reminding over the long term, perhaps serving as a guide to keep high potential executive candidates from wandering too far off the path.  Since careers are long and the executive journey often includes many challenges, regular reminders and “check ins” are a good thing.  Think of it as taking the time to gauge we’re you’re at and adjusting, as required.

One of the benefits of not being at the top of an organization is having a ringside seat to watch those who are.  Make this time worth your effort, by learning from both good and bad leaders.  Here’s a rundown of what you can learn from the “anti-bench strength” bunch.

Where it Goes Wrong (and Wrong, and Wrong)

Although there are lots of negative “leadership” examples, there are some fundamental types that you never want to emulate. See how many you can recognize from your career travels thus far.

  • Not sharing the wealth: From taking credit for the ideas of others to making sure that team members never see the limelight for a job well done, these people seem to hold the view that anything (and everything) good that happens in an organization is because of them. Team members might let this behavior go by a time or two, but after that, it too often becomes apparent t hat this type of person is no better than a thief!
  • Not having your back: This person gives the reassured impression that they’re “right behind you” and “on your side”, only to mysteriously evaporate at the first sign of trouble. Loyal to no one but themselves and always looking for opportunities, they’re like that person at a cocktail party who’s scanning the room while they’re supposed to be talking to you! Bottom line, this person can turn on a dime and cannot be counted on for support.
  • Not minding their own business: Simply put, this person meddles in the work of others to no end.  Instead of providing executive support, guidance, and direction when needed, they barge in where they aren’t needed; a disruptive force that, in time, runs the very real risk of creating a dependency between the organization and themselves, making the decision making ability of anyone else obsolete.
  • Not resolving problems: When difficulties arise in an organization, the staff group counts on management to resolve the issue; good leaders understand this.  Executives who kick the can down the road or listen to valid staff member concerns, but fail to take action can quickly lose the confidence of others.  Staff members eventually come to recognize that the leader “won’t do anything about it”, resulting in disappointment, a lack of respect, and, often, departure.
  • Not the learning type: If smart executives understand that knowledge is power and continuous learning at all levels is an investment, weak executives live with their head in the sand.  Put off by smart and keen staff members, this person would rather limit their knowledge, claiming that they “know enough” or that their business “isn’t that complicated”.  Organizations led by this type of person tend to become isolated, antiquated, and stuck in routines.  Over time, they often lose their market position, due to leadership that resists what’s needed in order to keep up with those who know better.
  • Not a nice person: Although it’s true that people can work together without really liking each other, on some level, the most basic of respect and decency are required to develop a relationship that can generate success.  Leaders who are rude, insensitive, or just plain unpleasant to be around are ultimately unable to generate loyalty, no matter how well they do their job in technical terms (and competency is no excuse for bad behavior).  Over time, staff members move on and word gets around that this is a person best left on their own, as it should be!

Although many executives who exhibit these behaviors thankfully don’t last long, enough time often passes for damage to be done; to companies, people, and sometimes, even more.  Using interactions with weak leaders to your benefit is extremely worthwhile, as each lesson is a valuable one.

Get the Executive Edge

You have the opportunity to chart the career path you’d like to travel.  Take the time to think about the type of leader you truly want to be, in terms of how you approach and conduct your role.  Technical ability aside (knowing how to do the job is a given), when you think of a leader, who do you see?

The reality is, successful executives know that they are always on the path of their journey and never quite at their destination.  There is much to learn, practice, and do, so take each step out to the very edge of your ability.

The Executive Edge (Respect)

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Published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

Being a leader means many things: having the necessary expertise to perform your role, overseeing the efforts of others, with a balance of support and direction; and fostering an environment that allows people and the organization to perform at their very best.  This is a tall order for any executive, and at the end of the day, real success is only generated in situations where a leader is able to provide compelling reasons for others to follow, as well as fulfill their role.

An integral part of this process is generating respect, not just in how an executive performs in their role, but also in terms of how they treat others.  This doesn’t mean behaving in a manner designed to win a popularity contest (being an executive often involves making decisions that might not be particularly popular); but rather, approaching a leadership role in a fair and balanced way and with respect.  Although executive workdays are often characterized by too much to do and too many requests to do even more, successful executives recognize that they are always “on” and how they approach their role and interact with others is in full display at all times.  Yes, living in the executive fishbowl can be a lot to handle.

In this series, we have already considered the importance of a number of Executive Edge skills, including collaboration, risk management, and professional development.  Here’s more about the importance of developing and maintaining respect at the executive level.

Where it Goes Wrong

Although there are leaders out there who can generate results by using less than desirable tactics (think fear, intimidation, and other forms of pressure), this approach is far from acceptable and is not sustainable in the long run.  After all, who wants to work for these people?  The reality is that everyone in an organization has an important job to do, and companies need people at all levels; this means that all roles are deserving of respect, provided that they are conducted in a respectful manner.

Executive roles, by their very nature, typically impact a wide range of people, both inside and outside of a company.  Those who don’t take the time and effort (or don’t have the skills) to treat others in a consistently respectful manner ultimately take more from an organization than they provide.  It doesn’t mean that the parties have to like each other; but staff members, as an example, need to know that a leader will view business situations in a fair manner, be humane, and not bring personal bias into the mix.  Having said that, those pursuing the Executive Edge have the opportunity to bring so much more to a leadership role.

Get the Executive Edge

Generating respect from others is something that won’t happen overnight, which is one of the reasons why it is so important to adopt the right mindset now to ensure great preparation in advance of stepping into an executive role.  Here’s how to get started:

  • Keep a long memory. You should be able to relate to many of the people in your workplace by virtue of having held less senior roles earlier in your career.  By never forgetting the issues relating to those roles and what was important at that moment in time, you will be in a better position to relate to those who are currently in the job.
  • Practice empathy. Remember the human aspect of any organization. Simply put, people are people; they have the same kinds of hopes, dreams, and feelings deep down that many of us do.  A big part of respect is treating people humanely, regardless of the situation at hand.  Even in bad times, people will remember those who treated them with grace and respect.
  • Put things in context. Not everything in business life is critical, but many things are important.  Let recognizing situations for what they are and not overreacting be your norm.  Taking the time to fully consider the situation and reacting in a professional and pragmatic manner can help to generate respect.
  • Do your job well. Competence is important in generating respect, as it’s difficult to look up to someone if they aren’t very good at what they do. Respect isn’t about high-fives and fist-bumps around the office; it has many layers and is far more complex than that.  Be the person who can always be counted on to get the job done.
  • Pay careful attention to role models. Observing experienced executives in terms of how they handle all types of situations and the human element throughout is a great way to learn; both in terms of the leader you want to be and behaviors you never want to repeat. Well respected executives are easy to spot.

Remember that respect is a two way street; you have to give it to earn it, and around it goes.  At the end of a difficult day, you will be glad that you have this important skill in your corner.