Going for a C-Suite Career
Published: Mon 30 May 2016

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.

Insights for Leadership Reflection
Published: Mon 01 Feb 2016

Context is critical to successful leadership. A leader who excels in one position may not perform well in another. Have you identified the context(s) in which your strengths are likely to be an advantage?

Too many potentially outstanding leaders have allowed themselves to become stranded in contexts that require leadership approaches that highlight their weaknesses rather than their strengths.

In planning personal and team Leadership development you will achieve a greater return on investment by customising programs that build on strengths rather than compensate for weaknesses.

Building on individual past success/strengths triggers and sustains the intrinsic motivation to learn. In the absence of an inner motivation to learn little learning/development occurs.

Leadership development programs are most effective when they involve learning by addressing real on-job challenges, guided by an appropriate leadership action predictive framework.

There are two important sources from which to gain understanding of leadership action predictive frameworks; the first depends on the ability to critically reflect on past experiences and the second depends on the ability to identify and deploy appropriate leadership theory.

Sustainable leadership in any context requires the ability to balance an understanding of stakeholder expectations with an understanding of the hard facts and as a consequence secure broad support.

Stakeholder expectations typically reflect public commitments which in turn are based on implicit or explicit assumptions. Stakeholders will vigorously defend their public commitments but may be prepared to re-think assumptions based on hard facts.

Appropriate evaluation of leadership development is essential to continuous improvement. Evaluation must be carefully pre-planned and assessed over an appropriate time frame against pre-specified measurable milestone objectives.

Leadership development milestone objectives need to reflect specific desired organisational strategy outcomes. The immediate outcome of development action will provide an indication of the extent to which intrinsic motivation has been triggered but typically will be inconclusive in regard to other time based measurable desired outcomes.

Empowering Women to Seek Executive Roles and Directorships
Published: Tue 09 Dec 2014

Australian Master of Business Administration programs are boosting efforts to bring women into classrooms – with the aim of getting them into boardrooms down the track. Just seven ASX top 200 chief executives are female, as are fewer than 10 per cent of directors in the top 500.

The Dean of Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Alex Frino, said the limited number of women in senior leadership roles was one of the key factors identified that acted as a barrier to female enrolment. “If you look purely at the ­numbers, the issue of women in business it is much worse than the number of women in MBAs,” he said.

Pathway to Your Potenial is an interactive series of workshops created to support an organisation’s broader talent, leadership and diversity initiatives. It is designed to empower capable women with the confidence to take action and apply for senior leadership and executive roles or to increase their board portfolio.

The underlying thread through the five elements of the program hones in on the elusive factor of confidence. The program builds women’s outer confidence through fine-tuning relevant knowledge, insight and skills, and grows inner confidence through cognitive behavioural techniques and hands-on skills development.

The drive to create Pathway to Your Potential and the material presented within it, is grounded in evidence-based research from some of the world’s most prestigious institutions. The program's creator, Dr Jess Murphy, undertook her doctorate in the field of business leadership through AGSL and she is now an Alliance Partner. Her ongoing research focus is on disrupting traditional corporate structures. She has twenty years experience in corporate Australia, across the financial services, retail and property sectors, and has developed a globally recognised in-house program to prepare women for board directorships as well as a women’s money and life skills program. She is excited about working with organisations that invest in women to build their confidence and expand their opportunities. The outcomes will not only be professionally and personally rewarding for participants, but will also transform organisational structures and address the challenges and opportunities being faced by corporate Australia now and into the future.

It is widely accepted that companies with a higher number of women in senior leadership and board management roles are more profitable reference. Pathway to Your Potential is designed to ensure capable women in your organisation take action and apply for the executive roles and directorships they are qualified for, thus embedding a positive cultural shift within your organisation and the broader community.

For more information, visit the program page or use the form below to contact program creator and coordinator Dr Jess Murphy.

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Dr Jess Murphy will contact you to discuss how Pathway to Your Potential can help you and your organisation.

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Source: Australian Financial Review, 15/9/2014

Employee study finds many Australian workplaces lack effective leadership
Published: Fri 05 Dec 2014

"... For the first time, effective leadership has emerged as the key factor determining engagement and retention of employees, according to the third biennial survey..."


7 Traits of Effective Leaders in a World of Increasing Change, Intensifying Competition and Game Changing Innovation.
Published: Mon 17 Nov 2014

Know your Stakeholders: Your stakeholders are those whose support is essential to your success. Do you understand their concerns and aspirations and what they expect in return for their support? No organisation or initiative can be led successfully without understanding how your stakeholders feel and what they expect.

Walk and talk: Locked in a remote office, exposed only to sanitised reports and surrounded by “yes, yes, how high!” support staff is a formula for short tenured leadership. In a changing and intensely competitive context, there is no substitute for getting out and feeling, smelling and seeing what is really happening.

Communicate: A new CEO of one of the few consistently successful US airlines hand wrote a short personalised letter to several thousand employees seeking suggestions and got an abundance of useful responses. Communicating and acting in a way that conveys the importance you place on the ideas and suggestions of your team are powerful motivators.

Collaborate: There is a NASA Moon mission survival exercise that we use in leadership development programs to demonstrate how much more effective a collaborating team can be as compared with an individual working alone. How effectively you are able to collaborate is critical to your success as a leader.

Think systemically: Even in a complex rapidly changing environment, certain events typically follow others. A decline in economic performance typically leads to a drop in stock prices, which can lead to a shift in investment into property, which may trigger inflation, which may trigger increases in interest rates -- and so on. Leaders of the most successful organisations have a sharp ability to anticipate consequences (both positive and negative) by thinking systemically and interactively.

Think creatively: Having the confidence to look at a situation from a different perspective to see connections and possibilities that have never been seen previously is what creative thinking is about. Be more confident in stepping out of the ordinary if you want to become extraordinary.

Learn from past experiences: Periodic reflection, guided by specific questions, on your past good and bad experiences is an effective way of learning how to repeat success and is essential to ensure continuous innovation and adaptation of your leadership style and approach.