Going for a C-Suite Career

In going for C-Suite leadership roles there are a number of personal considerations that should be taken into account, starting with how the role may impact the time available for other life roles.

We all have what could be described as a portfolio of life roles as outlined in the diagram below. The portfolio of life roles can be divided into paid work roles, personal maintenance roles and unpaid work roles.

Portfolio Roles Diagram

Life can be viewed as a zero sum longitudinal experience in which the total time anyone has available during a given period of their life is a limited resource. We all have only 24 hours a day for seven days a week, therefore the more time we expend during a designated period on one activity the less time we have for others.

There are two distinctly different time usage investment strategies we can broadly adopt: invest exclusively for short term personal gain and let tomorrow take care of itself or adopt a short to medium term personal time sacrifice for longer term gain.

The problem is that personal time sacrifice typically impacts other family members. Research undertaken for the Future of Work 2020 report and amongst very high performers within a 600 plus agent team suggested that the understanding support of the family when taking on high time demand roles significantly improves the chances of success in the role. Therefore, it is advisable to consider the following questions by involved family members to arrive at a consensus:

  1. What would be the best way for the family to use the limited shared residual time?
  2. How long does the family agree that this time sacrifice period should last?
  3. What family benefits are expected as a result of this sacrifice and how will they be shared?
  4. If this family agreement needs to be re-negotiated, what is the procedure?

In responding in an informed manner to these questions and determining what C-Suite roles within what organisations to pursue, it may assist to take account of at least the following:

  • Fit with your strengths as a leader: Aspirant C-Suite candidates are typically more qualified and have gained more diversified leadership experiences as compared with their predecessor a decade ago partly due to the proliferation of MBAs degree holders and partly due to a reduction in the average time during which an executive role is held. If to these developments the increasing need to think and act systemically in any C-Suite role is added then, in the emerging distributed organisation there is a greater degree of flexibility in the potential role that could be pursued by an appropriately qualified candidate. However, the decision the candidate needs to make is “Would this C-Suite role, given the current organisational context, provide an opportunity to leverage my personal strengths?” (See previous blog)

     
  • Impacts of technological developments: The unpaid and personal maintenance productivity time gains that are being achieved through internet shopping, telecommuting, surveillance applications, prepared food, online learning and artificial intelligence appear to be absorbed by the paid work role through increasingly intrusive accessibility into time previously available for all other life role activities, bringing about a blurring of traditional life role boundaries. This issue is aggravated by paid work teams distributed across different time zones and systems that are not yet automated requiring 24/7 critical maintenance support.

     
  • Rigid C-Suite cultures: Rigid hierarchical organisational cultures are being progressively replaced by self-organising distributed organisational cultures. This evolution has both advantages and disadvantages for the C-Suite executive. Several decades ago it was commonly assumed that an executive’s span of control was between 4 and 6 subordinates, beyond which it was believed that the control of subordinate activity could begin to collapse. It is not unusual today to find executives with spans of control well in excess of ten. This span of control expansion has been made possible by new facilitating technologies, none the less it has placed significant increased demands on executive time, particularly in those organisations in which C-Suite executives are also expected to cope with continuous rounds of downsizing.  

     
  • Escalating stakeholder demands: All C-Suite roles must contend with an increasingly complex array of increasingly demanding stakeholders. This in part has justified increasing C-Suite employment benefit expectations. There are now in excess of 300 Australian C-Suite executive with employment packages in excess of $3M per annum. All stakeholders, including internal and external customers, regulators, shareholders and suppliers, are collectively demanding a greater portion of senior executive available time by virtue of their “not to be ignored” expectations. Some indication of both; the future potential of an organisation and the likely pressure on its C-Suite roles can be gained from assessing the quality of its key stakeholder relationships by reviewing recent business press articles.  

     
  • Location and quality of life considerations: The global progressive shift towards a high tech knowledge-based service economy, together with the persistent low cost of capital, is increasing the relative importance of talent versus capital. When combined with the decoupling of personal location from work location, talent gravitates towards communities with an attractive quality of life, which is in turn driven by investment in social infrastructure (e.g. health care, housing, sporting facilities, transport, public amenities, educational facilities and security). In this emerging environment, communities with high quality social infrastructure will thrive as a consequence of capital following talent. Expected quality of lifestyle considerations, particularly when a family has already established roots in the desired community, must give C-Suite roles that do not involve moving house significant attractiveness in deciding what work opportunities to consider and possibly take on.

     
  • Performance assessment: A good insight into the culture of an organisation is usually provided by how an organisation measures performance. Hierarchical organisations typically have a wide range of mainly historically driven performance measures with little if any prioritisation, while emerging distributed organisations typically adopt a focus on a limited set of key measures that include adaptive performance opportunities based on predicted no change outcomes. This flows from a clearer shared sense of overall strategy reflected in more specific role expectations. It is usually less stressful to work within a C-Suite team embedded in the latter type of organisational culture.

There will be other considerations to take account of in deciding what C-Suite roles to pursue and what needs to be built into the family agreement, which will be different for each family, though the above considerations can be used as a starting point.

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