For many of my clients, the transition from corporate executive to boardroom is a significant turning point in their careers and in overall organizational structure. Appropriately managing the roles and responsibilities between the C-suite and the board is key to ensuring the meaningful growth of an organization. Having worked with hundreds of clients to build their leadership teams on both the executive and board level, the following are my key insights on transitioning between the two leadership roles.
1. Day-to-Day Management vs. High-Level Oversight
As the CEO, your job is to lead your team to meet the outcomes and objectives of the company on a daily basis. You must oversee the marketing and sales teams to ensure the company is generating consistent growth, and you must manage the operations team to ensure orders are being fulfilled and customer expectations are being met consistently. When transitioning to boardroom leadership, your priority must be the overall strategic plan, company’s financial health, and on optimizing the growth of the business. Not only do your responsibilities change, but your leadership style must shift as well. In the boardroom, you are a member of a collaborative team on which no single person makes a decision — that’s done by the group. As an executive, individual decision-making is obviously much more appropriate within your given domain (CFO makes financial decisions, CEO makes company-wide decisions, CMO makes marketing decisions, etc.), and thus it’s important to differentiate between the two.
2. Thought Leadership vs. Team Leadership
In the C-suite, your focus must be on leading and supporting your team to accomplish the goals and outcomes set forth by the board of directors. Your leadership style in effectively communicating with your employees, implementing the systems set forth within the organization and maximizing productivity are paramount. In transitioning to the boardroom, your ability to create new ideas for growth, lead by influencing the board team to align with your ideas, and communicate those ideas to the C-suite for implementation are critical to your success. Where operations in the C-suite are your focus, in the boardroom, your focus should be on the overall customer experience, profitability and long-term growth of the business.
3. Corporate Oversight
As a board member, your job is guiding the CEO to maximize the bottom line. While the CEO generally reports directly to the board, there are numerous C-level and middle management executives who report to the CEO. It’s your duty to empower the CEO as much as possible. Bypassing the CEO and going straight to another executive or manager can compromise the CEO’s authority and credibility as a leader of the team.
4. Financial Oversight
The CEO’s leadership on a daily basis will influence your team’s ability to stay on track with the larger financial goals of the organization. The board of directors’ focus is on the quarterly and annual revenue goals and ensuring the CEO is set up to effectively meet those outcomes on a day-to-day basis. When joining a board, your focus must shift from day-to-day revenue to ensuring the higher level and longer-term revenue and financial goals stay on track.
If your business or organization isn’t ready to have a board of directors, the CEO should maintain leadership and oversight of all of the items above. A lack of a board doesn’t mean one can ignore the long-term financial goals, the overall customer experience or the growth strategy of the business. Even a startup or medium-sized business can find measurable value in having a board of directors or advisory board to direct their high-level outlook. After all, one of the biggest challenges for CEOs is removing themselves from the daily operations to focus on creating higher-level long-term strategies. Your advisor or board members can effectively lead that conversation and direct you to keep the long-term vision and outlook present in an organization.
I am often asked the question, “How do I know if I am ready for a board, or if I need advisors?” to which I answer, “Are you in business? Then you need an advisory board or board of directors.” I believe there is nothing more important than a company’s culture, vision and growth strategy. As a business grows, the executive leaders must have a team of advisors or board members who can direct the conversations the executive team is too busy to focus on. Identifying the annual goals of an organization, looking for opportunities to build new systems into the business, and ensuring company culture and customer experience are in alignment with the vision of the organization are all priorities for advisors and board members that are often forgotten at the executive level.