Generation X was sold the concept of the corporate ladder and career pathing. Unfortunately for these professionals, the idea of the corporate ladder has been replaced with the corporate pyramid, and except for very few employers, there is no clear path to the top.
For those who aspire to climb out of middle management, there is no clearly defined path. For most, the portfolio of skills developed as the result of a non-linear career path leads them to the top of the pyramid, and typically only for a short time within any one organization.
Though it is still possible for a large percentage of individual contributors and middle managers to enjoy a long career within a single company, the people at the top are mostly interchangeable based on the corporate need of the moment. Most Executives are hired under contract to do a specific task, within a particular amount of time, and then move on.
I have built my career on helping leaders and organizations bridge the gap between long-term strategy and near-term transformative execution. In assisting these leaders in the development of stable earnings and a compelling product offering, I have identified four skills that need to be mastered to be successful within the Vice President role and beyond.
FIND COMMON PURPOSE FOR DISPARATE TEAMS
In Manager and Director roles, clarity of purpose is typically straightforward. The team, or department, has a clear set of interconnected objectives that need to align to assure broader success. Developing esprit de corps in such an environment is simple due to the precise alignment.
But what does one do when he or she is accountable for several different departments who have no clear, aligned purpose? This is the hallmark of a strong Executive: building alignment among department heads who are in vicious competition for your job.
The key to success in such a competitive environment is leading with empathy, vulnerability, and clarity.
Think of the Teddy Roosevelt quote: “..speak softly, and carry a big stick..”
In other words, lead from the heart, lead as a servant to the team and enforce strict consequences for anyone who places individual glory over team success.
Alignment at the top provides clarity and confidence to the teams, and alignment makes it easier to deliver results, fast.
EXHIBIT THE COURAGE TO PRIORITIZE RELENTLESSLY
The slowest rate of change in business is today, and it will only speed up from here.
It does not matter what you know today, what you think you know about tomorrow, or how well you have prioritized your work for the year; you are already wrong.
Do you have the courage to admit that you were wrong?
Do you have the courage to go back to the Board and change your commitment?
Do you have the courage to acknowledge when someone else’s priority is higher than your own, even if it means you will miss commitments?
If you cannot authentically and without hesitation answer yes to each of these questions, you will not succeed in Senior Leadership. Similarly, if your C-Suite and Board do not insist on this level of prioritization behavior, it is likely that the organization will not last beyond the planning horizon.
In a business environment when the largest companies are forced to apply Lean Startup principles as a point of survival, a leader who slows progress due to an inability to prioritize, pivot, or make tradeoffs will find themselves on the fast-track to unemployment.
Consensus and collaboration will always be necessary, but the appetite for politicking has passed.
Think about that.
Throughout your career, how many decisions were made as a result of group compromise, as opposed to what was right for the business/ customer/solution?
How many times have we applied words that cause an action to get what we want (i.e.: “..the CEO said..”, “..compliance..”, “..regulatory..”) when the correlation between the work and the catalyst was weak at best?
In the age of disruption, this will not fly.
If your goal is to be a successful Senior Executive, you must develop the ability to objectively separate “..what must be done..” to satisfy mandates, versus “..what should be done..” to sustain business and drive market growth.
In short, a VP must insist on clear and objective points of evaluation when making all decisions. There is no room for emotion. We must do what is right, even if it means upsetting some people along the way.
BE A CULTURAL AND ETHICAL LEADER
Being a VP and Senior Executive is a hard job, and the decision-making associated with the role will not always be friendly.
Though, that is no excuse to not lead from a firm footing in the organizations’ cultural value, and should never mean sacrificing ethics.
As a Leader, one should relentlessly pursue the development of trusting relationships, clarity of purpose, and maximum transparency in every decision made.
The success of an organization depends on the vision of Executives and the trust that the team has in those same people. Though you may have worked hard to achieve the level of Vice President, the skills needed to be successful at this level are very different than the skills that were required to reach it.
How will you build relationships of trust, transcendent purpose, and mutual influence among your peers, superiors, and subordinates? Figure this out, and you will do great things!
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