So, you think you’re ready to level up after years in middle management? Remember, with great power comes changes in responsibilities
Port of Saint John president and CEO Jim Quinn says his c-suite ambitions started during his days as a seaman in the 1970s where policies dictating how things were done on board a ship didn’t always mesh well with the day-to-day realities of life at sea. “I was always seeking to find a better way,” Quinn says. “I realized that to have some influence on improving things I had to be in positions where you were the ultimate decision-maker.”
Quinn has certainly gotten what he wanted. He’s gone from toiling as a seaman to being a regional director with the Canadian Coast Guard and chief financial officer/assistant deputy minister with the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. In 2010, he took over as the Port of Saint John’s top executive.
And what does Quinn think is the biggest role change he encountered as he moved from middle management to the c-suite? Surprisingly, it has to do with being that ultimate decision-maker. “You are now the focal point of the decision ladder. The buck stops here, and I enjoy that,” he says.
New job titles always bring new responsibilities and roles. But how much do those roles change when you move from middle management to the c-suite in an organization?
To find out, Atlantic Business Magazine quizzed experts like Quinn to get their two cents on what individuals must do differently when they reach the top of the leadership ladder.
It’s thinking strategically…
Perhaps the biggest role change someone who has been in middle management must make when they reach the c-suite is that they won’t be using the technical skills they are so good at in their new leadership position. “If you are an accountant or a lawyer, you stop doing that,” says Andy Cutten, a partner with Halifax Global Inc., a management consultant company. “Once you reach the c-suite you don’t use your functional expertise anymore.” Instead, a c-suite executive is expected to keep the bigger picture in mind and focus on strategy rather than tactics. “What becomes more important than your functional expertise is your judgment. That’s a very different expectation and it’s more strategic,” says Lori Weir, president and founder of Saint John-based Above The Line Inc. management consultancy. “But it’s difficult to shift to that different role where you are leaving behind the stuff that you are good at.”
It’s taking risks…
Another significant adjustment executives must make when they arrive in the c-suite is taking risks and embracing change. Weir says team leaders and middle managers often must avoid risk or manage it. But once they make it to the c-suite, especially the CEO’s chair, they must take a long-term view of the business. “In the c-suite your job is to think about how the company is going to be relevant in the future. Relevancy means doing something different and having some element of change in the business, which introduces risk,” Weir says. “That means you have to look at where the opportunities exist and where the risks are associated with those opportunities and step forward into what is a level of uncertainty and unknown.”
It’s being the public face of the company…
In the lower rungs of management, leaders are responsible for their teams and making sure they are doing what is necessary to execute the company’s strategy. While those are important responsibilities, he or she doesn’t bear the burden of being the public face of the company. That role falls squarely on the shoulders of c-suite executives, especially the CEO. “There is a real role for the CEO to be a leader and ambassador for the organization,” says Juliet Nicol, a people and advisory services expert at EY Canada’s Halifax office. “They are the ones at the helm of moving the organization forward. How do they come across in the external world with shareholders and the media? It has to be a consistent face of the organization because it is all about creating trust internally and externally.” That means handling good and bad times with dignity and treating everyone within your company and outside the company with respect and professionalism. “If you are leading the company, earn that reputation and be a good leader,” says Jacqui Winter, president of St. John’s-based HR Project Partners.
It’s looking outward…
As a member of the c-suite, executives must focus on what’s happening beyond their company. c-suite executives― whether it’s the CEO, chief operating officer, chief financial officer or chief information officer, they must be hunting for new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of doing things. “I think the great CEOs look outside their industry and their geography to see what’s happening and leverage best practices,” Weir says. “When you are at the c-suite level, your focus is outward not inward. Your focus is the board, the shareholders and all the outward facing organizations, people, clients, competitors.” Nicol says that’s particularly the case when it comes to technological innovation. “At a c-suite level you need to be cognizant of disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and automation and how does that fit into your organization in the future,” she says. “You can learn a lot by being external facing and understanding what other organizations are doing.”
It’s inspiring others…
Middle managers aren’t expected to inspire the troops to give it their all for the company. But management experts say it’s crucial for c-suiters to take on that role for their organizations. “As a c-suite executive you are often leading people on a new path with change,” Weir says. “You need to get people excited about that and committed to you as a leader in the organization to do the very best to get there. The skills to inspire and the ability to tell a good story and engage people and have them feel a part of what the experience is going to be like and get them excited about it and committed is very important.”
Winter agrees that inspiring employees is something executives in the c-suite must do. They’ve got to create a compelling vision and purpose for their organizations that gets their employees to fall in line. “If you can be that charismatic leader who relates to people, who motivates them and is a positive role model, you’ll be much more successful in that role.”