5 Ways to Stay Strategic on Your Way to the C-Suite
I remember they day it happened. At first all I felt was shame and disappointment; it was the day my software developers said to me, “We’re not letting you write code anymore.” I’ve always enjoyed hacking and take pride in the code I write. However, early on in my career I realised I was never going to be one of the great coders — I preferred to see the bigger picture, design systems and get in front of customers.
So a few days after the sucker punch I realised that this was an opportunity. At the time I was the Managing Director (CEO?) of a small software company and this freed me up to focus on defining the vision, strategy and goals for our team.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to learn from some great people and these are the five principals I try to maintain in my professional career:
Don’t sweat the details
I remember listening to the CEO of a multi-national billion dollar company. He [jokingly] said the higher you got in a company the less you were trusted/the more people you had around to help you. This is absolutely true - surround yourself with experts. You shouldn’t always be the smartest person in the room but you should have (two-way) trust with your team. Getting good at this will set you up for success — your value is not choosing specific technologies, rather creating an environment where your team is empowered to best deliver as the people that use/rely on these choices everyday.
Your Team is your peers, not your direct reports
All too often time is spent directing (micro-managing?!) your direct reports/team. If you’ve built out your team correctly, trust them to do the work/make the right calls and direct only when absolutely needed. It can often be difficult for teams to understand why you’re spending more time with your peers (other C-Suiters for example); think logically — as you work more strategically it’s about educating the broader business to the benefits your team delivers. This takes a lot of work and in my opinion is a key area that makes or breaks a good C-Suiter.
Keep your eye on the big picture
Once a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) has been set, be relentless in your pursuit of this. You’re the captain guiding the ship to the far off port, not the helmsman constantly adjusting. Don’t get distracted from the strategy that’s been set but constantly monitor, question, challenge and evolve it.
Know your business/customers
Maximising shareholder value is a stupid strategy. It’s obvious and will come with doing your job well. However, keeping in touch with your business/customers is key to ensuring your strategy is correct. Then, provide an actionable road map to deliver. Constantly review, validate and request feedback. You can’t do this on your own and this strategy should set you up for success in the future.
Don’t stop learning
It’s a question I’ve been consistently asked in interviews for senior roles. And for good reason. As you move towards a c-suite role you should have a wealth of knowledge and (just as important) experience on which you can draw to make decisions. You need to figure out how best to do this for you. I find networking with peers, engaging with potential vendors/partners and podcasts useful tools in my arsenal.
What are your thoughts and experience, is there something missing from the list?