Whether you climb a traditional corporate ladder, shift around a highly matrixed organization, or leap directly into a senior role, few experiences fully prepare you for a life of leading at the top of an organization.
In fact, only about 1/3 of executives have excellent leadership skills and capabilities, according to a report from Bersin & Associates.
What makes leading at the top so challenging?
“Once you get to the C-suite, the view is different,” Tallman says. “As simple as that sounds, that single fact makes the work of a leader categorically different.”
“CEOs will often say, ‘When I was a senior vice president, I had major responsibilities but still had a more narrow view than I have now,'” Tallman continues. “Once leaders have organizational-level roles, they have to pay attention to the whole organization and how the many pieces interact. Up until that point in a career, most leaders are responsible for a function or a segment of the business. They learned to lead successfully in a more narrow context as they competed, in a very real way, with other functions, people, and priorities within the company.”
In contrast, if a CEO maintains a narrow perspective and fails to grasp the broad view, the organization is sub-optimized at best.
“Nobody else has the view of the CEO — and this is key,” says Tallman. “With that top-of-the-mountain view comes 2 crucial responsibilities: To learn how your leadership style affects and informs that view, and to transfer your unique, bigger perspective through the rest of the organization.”
Together with the senior leadership team, the CEO creates and implements the business strategy, drives growth, inspires a high-performance workforce, and sustains the company’s competitive advantage.
As business technologies and markets shift, leaders — and organizations — must be able to adapt.
These big-picture challenges require leaders who can:
- Create and articulate a vision
- Create strategic alignment
- Develop a leadership and talent strategy aligned with business strategy
- Lead the culture
- Establish a strong executive image
- Create a culture of innovation
- Catalyze change
- Lead outwardly
- Influence others
- Develop and deepen self-awareness
- Be agile learners
- Communicate all of the above effectively
“While these competencies may be obvious to or understood by many leaders, we know that leading at the top requires people to excel at these competencies in new ways,” Tallman says. “For example, how to effectively communicate a major strategic change as a CEO today isn’t the same as skillfully delivering information as an operations manager. The role of CEO changes both what you do and how you do it.”
Further complicating the job of CEOs is the lack of information about their effectiveness as leaders.
“For many executives, it’s been years since they’ve been given honest feedback about their leadership style or strengths and weaknesses,” Tallman explains. “They don’t have the input they need for accurate self-assessment, nor the time for reflection and learning.”
This needs to change. Without the dual understanding of the view from the top and an accurate picture of the impact they have on the organization, many of today’s top leaders will fail — and many in the pipeline are destined to follow the same path.
A Leading Investment
You’ve earned your place in the C-suite. Everything you do — or don’t do — is noticed, analyzed, and judged.
As the top leader, you’ll see that your personal effectiveness and the organization’s effectiveness are deeply entwined.
“For CEOs and other top-level executives, leadership effectiveness is measured by organizational success,” Tallman says. “They need to honestly assess their leadership style and ask themselves, ‘What about me helps us meet our organizational challenges — and what about me is getting in the way?'”
Making clear connections between individual leader development and current organizational challenges is the crux of Leadership at the Peak, our core program for C-level executives and top leadership team members.
The program focuses on key competencies that are proven to be important for effective leadership at this level and also includes one-to-one coaching.
As a result, participants:
- Learn how key stakeholders rate their leadership effectiveness.
- Strengthen their influence skills with critical stakeholders.
- Enhance their executive presence and communication skills.
- Validate or recast their organizational vision.
- Broaden their network of senior executive colleagues.
- Learn to balance and sustain their energy for the work of leadership.
- Develop clear action plans.
If you’re ready to strengthen your skills as a top leader and want to prevent career derailment, learn more about our Leadership at the Peak program now.