Executive Success: Rules of Engagement in the C-Suite


Are you an executive in your company, or someone who aspires to an executive level role?

It’s not the success everyone dreams of attaining, and that’s okay. If you think it might be for you, read on. (And if you’re already there, I’d love to hear about how your experience compares to the benefits and challenges I’ve noted in this article.)

It’s never about the glory. It’s always about the success of the organization and its people. In my experience, reaching that level can have some amazing benefits beyond the salary and title, visibility and recognition. Not least is getting to be “in on” the big decisions (because face it, we all love change as long as it’s not being done to us!).

Global impactSome of the other benefits include:

  • The chance to guide and shape the direction of the organization and to influence the organization’s culture can be personally fulfilling and professionally rewarding.
  • The challenge to think and make decisions at the strategic level is stimulating and allows you to contribute to overall success and growth.
  • The line of sight from your efforts to the success or failure of the organization is shorter than from any other seat you’ve occupied up to now. You’ll be able to see your impact, maybe even at a global level.
  • You’ll have access to the highest-level networking opportunities, interacting with other industry leaders, key stakeholders, and influential individuals, giving you the potential to open doors for collaborations and partnerships.
  • Maintain a growth mindset, and you’ll find your executive role affords you an incredible learning opportunity every day. You’ll face diverse challenges that will require you to adapt, expand, and grow both personally and professionally.

But it’s important to be aware that the rules change as you move up the ladder.

You’ll be navigating more complexity and uncertainty, with correspondingly higher responsibility. (Increase the reward, increase the risk!) Expectations of you will suddenly include things like strategic thinking, financial acumen, and a global perspective. And as a bonus, you’ll instantly become personally liable for any legal, regulatory, or ethical issue the organization might trip into.

Oh, but there’s more…

There’s a “No fault” employment principle in place that applies to executives.New Rules

Let go of your pre-conceived notions about due process or progressive discipline. (Seriously, once you start reporting to the CEO, you may never even get another annual performance review.) If something’s not working, the CEO is responsible to change it, and accountable to ownership stakeholders to exhibit a bias for timely action. It won’t matter how hard you’ve worked or how much more time you think is reasonable before stellar results are possible. It’s not personal. It just is.

You’ll likely be reporting to the CEO.

Pointing at top of org chartMaybe part of how you got here was recognizing the power in making your boss look good. Prepare for that aspect of your work to go on steroids!

Your boss’s stakeholders, the ones to whom they need to look good, are in a whole different league than anything you’ve dealt with before. The CEO is under constant scrutiny by the Board of Directors, the top brass of every key client, and even the media.

And you may have to become a mind-reader to fulfill this and every other aspect of your role. Your new boss won’t have time to provide the kind of guidance that got you here. Don’t expect mentorship. Don’t even expect long conversations about possible direction.

At the same time, the worst thing you can do to a CEO is let them be surprised. You’ll need to find the balance between too much information and too little, knowing every CEO is unique in this regard, then get creative and assertive to make sure you get just the right amount of time and attention from them.

You’ll be working with the Board of Directors.People at Board table

If your organization has a traditional board, it was created to represent ownership.

To get inside a Board member’s head you’ll have to see your organization from a whole new perspective. They have an important role to play, they’ve taken on some serious liability in order to be in that seat, and they have no interest in excuses.

Your CEO has an imperative to manage the narrative, respond to questions with confidence, and keep Board meetings on track. Remember your need to help your boss look good? This is one place the rubber meets the road. You’ll spend a significant amount of time preparing and polishing in order to support your CEO with the Board of Directors.

Man and woman rolling large gears togetherYou’ll need a whole new level of political savvy.

No doubt you’ve encountered conflicting interests between internal parties in the past. As the level of the stakeholders you’re dealing with increases, so do the stakes resting on a successful outcome, and the complexity of the organizational politics you’ll need to navigate to get there.

To successfully drive initiatives forward, you’ll need a strong understanding of power dynamics, and the ability to build alliances inside and outside the organization.  Collaboration, relationship-building, influence, and persuasion will be more critical than ever before in your career.


Yes, the increased rewards come with a whole new set of risks. And you’ll work harder than you ever have in your life. With the right outlook and focused on the skills you need to navigate a new set of perils, the rewards can make it all worthwhile. I highly recommend it!

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson

Lorri Anderson is an expert consultant to businesses and a powerful coach to individuals. After a long and rich career as a strategic HR executive, she is driven to give back by changing the Human Experience in today’s workplaces, one business or human at a time.

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