You have the drive and ambition to take on greater responsibility, but there are ways you conduct yourself as a leader that are holding you back. On top of that, at the executive level, it’s unlikely that you’ll get the feedback necessary to hone in on the skills and behaviors needed to advance. But make no mistake, you are continually evaluated and assessed for both performance and potential.
In this article, we’ll take a look at five reasons you may be having trouble getting into the C-Suite, and the one area of focus that could be the catalyst for your future upward mobility.
Why You’re Being Held Back
Focusing on the tactical is your bread and butter.
Tactical is firm. It’s focused. It’s certain. You have specific objectives and you accomplish them.
Acting strategically is difficult because it requires making choices toward an ambiguous and cloudy future, with a mostly imperfect measure of success.
A strategic mindset operates comfortably in an uncertain future without necessarily having the right answer or answers.
And even if you meet the objective, how do you judge the relative quality of a path not taken?
Did the choices you made leave a “scorched earth” in your wake?
An inability to rise above the tactical and focus on the bigger picture is almost certainly killing your chances for promotion, even if you’re known for getting things done.
You’re the genius in the room.
The old saying goes, if you ever find yourself the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.
It’s important to surround yourself with talent. In fact, you should continually upgrade the talent around you, and on your management team, because it’s essential in today’s competitive market.
If you always have to be the genius in the room, it’s not going to leave you much time to focus on strategy, innovation, or collaboratively working with peers.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” comes out of your mouth a lot.
Quantum leap changes require game-changing innovations. If you’re only comfortable with continuous improvement changes that barely move the needle, you might not be seen as C-Suite material.
Think major pain points. Think significant positive impact in the 25% or greater range.
Those can be game-changers and will get you noticed.
If you’re an executive leader looking for a C-Suite promotion you’re probably competitive. It’s in your nature, and competition drives innovation and progress.
But to get to the next level, you need to demonstrate your ability to get things done across the enterprise, by working with and through people who don’t report up through your org structure.
It’s critical that you develop positive working relationships with your peers, so you can influence decisions and direction across organizational boundaries.
A tendency to exhibit a hyper-competitive nature leaves a wake of bodies behind you and becomes a limiting factor.
Quite simply, no one is giving you an opportunity.
The old leadership adage that states, “The most important decisions made about you occur when you’re not in the room.”
For decision-makers to be comfortable considering you for higher responsibilities, you must have demonstrated certain competencies.
You project self-confidence.
Others see you step up to handle difficult issues.
You’re comfortable navigating the grey areas of strategy and uncertainty.
You handle conflict appropriately, meaning you address it head on and with professionalism and tact.
Learning is applied to future, unpredictable situations.
What we’re talking about here is executive presence, and it can determine whether or not you gain access to the opportunity you’re looking for.
There are several things you can do to help develop your executive presence.
Craft your vision and be able to articulate it clearly.
Where do you see the organization going? What are the foundational principles necessary to get it there?
You can inspire confidence by having a compelling vision of what you’re working to accomplish.
Equally important is the ability to communicate your vision in a manner that inspires others to see the future state, and their role in it.
See yourself as others see you.
Perceptions can be false, but they are very real for the decision-makers who view you through the sum of your visibility, their experiences, and how they see the organization and what’s best for it.
As your span of control expands, your effectiveness is increasingly reliant on others.
Remember hyper-competitiveness? Are you seen as collaborative? Are you known as an enterprise-wide thinker?
Here it’s helpful to get an objective, third-party coach or mentor to help you understand how you handle yourself as an executive leader.
Listen. Listen again. Then listen some more.
Leaders with executive presence are great listeners. They are fully engaged and they ask great questions that enable them to get to the root of the issue quickly.
They help you explore important ideas to a depth that others just can’t reach.
They’re seen as excellent communicators.
Leaders with executive presence are confident enough to not have to dominate the conversation. They champion and celebrate what others bring to the conversation.
They remember they were given two ears and one mouth, and they use them proportionately.
Cultivate a network of relationships and develop your political savvy.
Competing agendas occur in every organization, and the leader with executive presence knows that a diversity of opinions is the light to organizational blind spots.
The politically savvy executive is adept at developing a network of relationships that allow them to influence challenging situations productively.
They work comfortably within a matrixed organization and have the ability to bring stakeholders together for a common purpose.
Tame the beast known as stress.
Let’s face it. Life as an executive leader presents unique challenges.
An organization wants to see its leaders composed, prepared, and in control at all times.
Many influences in our professional lives can either affect us negatively if we allow ourselves to be at their effect, or positively if we possess the self-awareness to consciously choose our path.
Avoid operating in a manner that leads to appearing flustered or overwhelmed if you want to be seen as ready to take on greater challenges.
Develop a mindset that sees stress as a positive influence of change and progress.
In summary, if you’re looking to get promoted into the C-Suite and no one is opening that door of opportunity, it’s a good bet that several if not all of the indicators above are holding you back.
Engaging an experienced, third-party, and objective thought partner can help you discern the strategy you need to navigate past these obstacles, and help open the doors you’re looking for.
With a personalized and focused strategy, and a little practice, you can realize your potential and drive personal and professional success.