12 Keys to the Executive Suite

Have you suspected that the road to the corner office had to be paved with the carcasses of trampled subordinates?

For the past twenty five years I’ve analyzed thousands of executives and surveyed top C Level men and women to find out the truth about this well-known and negative cliché. I discovered that despite differing leadership styles, most executives share certain key traits.  None of these traits is compatible with a slash and burn approach to achieving executive power.

What are the keys to attaining access to the top of the ladder?

The men and women, who didn’t make a fast round trip to and from the top, use these 12 strategies:

  1. Put ethics first.
    Cheating and cutting corners can sometimes give you a temporary edge, but they will eventually be the end of your journey up the ladder. Followers demand high ethical standards from their leaders.  Set an example, take responsibility for your actions. Define your values. Turn “virtue”, “honor” and “duty” into cornerstones, not road blocks. These are the ingredients that build trust and followership.
  2. Have a mission.
    Does that sound corny? Don’t be fooled by cynics. Virtually all successful people have a burning vision, a mission that goes far beyond their personal drivel for success.  The power of a vision inspires and energizes others in ways that draws them to support and be part of your team.
  3. Think big.
    Strategic thinking was high on the list of the successful executives I surveyed. You don’t have to retreat to a mountain top to see the big picture behind all the everyday details.  Write your goals down and keep them in front of you at all times. See yourself as part pragmatist, part mystic.  Big thinking promotes big actions and big returns.
  4. Learn to communicate.
    Constantly work on your speaking, writing and listening skills.  Forget managing through power and focus on the power of language.  Learn that “criticism” is your chance to learn ways to improve, to say “how can we make it better, not an opportunity to demolish an opponent.  Use simple and straightforward words and language that inspires and motivates others do their best.
  5. Welcome change.
    You don’t have to like it or even agree with change. However to be a C Level person you must be flexible enough to accept it and adapt to it.  Anticipate the need for change and then build the skills to help others through it.  Change is the most difficult and the most inevitable thing you face in our life and in your quest for leadership and the executive suite.
  6. Be sensitive.
    Be careful not to become detached or build a hard shell on the way to the top. The more sensitive you are to issues, people and problems, the more perceptive you become and the more possibilities you’ll see.  Servant leadership is the key to all success for you personally and for your organization.
  7. Take risks.
    People who never take chances can probably be sure of keeping their jobs — forever.  But they also get stuck in that or similar jobs. Playing it safe, being overcautious and indecisive kills opportunity.  If you want to be a leader, push your boundaries, stick your neck out, learn to expand your thinking.  Be out ahead of the pack and you will soon find yourself as the front runner.
  8. Be decisive.
    Be ready and willing to make decisions when they should be made.  Often the act of deciding is more important than the results. When you make a decision you release potential and make something happen. Deciding to decide, not waiting for more information or opinions or developments, can be the hardest and most important thing a leader does.
  9. Be a team builder.
    No one ever succeeded alone, contrary to the “self-made” person myth. We all need others to help us accomplish our goals or fulfill our mission.  The most valuable leaders of the 21st century will be those can attract the right people to their team, communicate a mission, motivate and train their teams, and then direct them to maximum productivity.
  10. Use power wisely.
    Power is heady but dangerous stuff.  It is the source of energy for what you want to accomplish, the magnet that draws people to you.  Make sure that it comes from within you and from your mission, not from a temporary title or position.  Arrogance, pettiness, greed and deceit from a leader is a one way ticket to the bottom of the ladder.
  11. Be courageous.
    Rarely has history required more courage from its leaders.  The challenges we are facing can only be confronted by people with extraordinary strength and determination.  But there is more to courage than bravery in the face of danger or hardships.  Courage also means being able to keep going when there is no end in sight.  Doing your best every day requires courage.
  12. Be committed.
    With commitment you can achieve miracles, without it you will go nowhere very fast. Decide what your commitment is and then call on that commitment as your source of energy that will take you through the hard times when everyone else gives up. That same commitment will  boost you to the top when things are going well. Nothing of any value ever happened without commitment.

A final word: Leadership is earned, not claimed. You will only be a leader occupying an executive suite if your people decide you are one. Earn their followership with these 12 qualities as the foundation for all that you do.


© 2013, Dr. Sheila. All rights reserved. On republishing this post you must provide link to original post.

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One Response to 12 Keys to the Executive Suite

  1. Kim says:

    Thank you, Sheila. These are all important traits for great leadership. I think another one to add to the list would be “to lead by example.” Leaders should be able to “walk their talk” so to speak.

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