Becoming a C-level executive can be one of the most rewarding moments of your career. It can also be terrifying — there’s a bigger spotlight to go with the bigger title and paycheck, meaning that the stakes are that much higher for you to get it right. There’s no manual for being an executive, which means that you should prepare for a bit of a “feeling out” period as you become more accustomed to your new responsibilities. The following tips can help out during those early days as you get your new executive feet under you.
1. Find a mentor.
Just because you’re in a position of power doesn’t mean you have all the answers. Having someone to talk to about your challenges and bounce ideas off of will keep you sane. Smart leaders surround themselves with people they can lean on and trust. You’ve made it this far because of things you’ve proven: good decisions, a strong vision and excellent insight. But this is not all you need to excel in the next phase of your career. It’s important to get input from people who have also been on the C-level journey, so choose who you get advice from wisely. The question I ask is, “Have they done the thing I wish to do?”
It’s also important to understand that the business world moves fast, particularly in a technology field, so tactics that have worked before may no longer apply. Strategy, on the other hand, often holds the test of time. A quality mentor will help you identify the best thought process that will help you through difficult situations, while also acknowledging that their methods may be outdated.
2. Keep your word.
When you’re working your way up through the ranks of an industry or a corporation, there are many practical lessons you’ll learn along the way. One of those lessons is the importance of keeping your word — not just in the way we’re taught as young children (“don’t fib”), but to maintain a high standard of integrity regarding appointments, agreements and information. Commitments are critical in business, and as a C-level exec, not only are your decisions and actions magnified; they help define the culture of your company. Being a person of integrity and reliability translates to your reputation and the identity of your company.
3. Be humble.
Think you’ve done a good job? It’s great to feel pride, but it’s not about you. It’s about your team and all the people that have made the project a success. Find ways to praise and acknowledge them for their hard work. Any sort of urge to brag about yourself should be stifled. It’s obnoxious and will win you more enemies than friends. Instead, let the results speak for you. This is generally a good philosophy for life, not just C-level management. However, in the executive microscope, every move tends to be heightened, so always give praise and appreciation without talking yourself up. It will make your team feel special and appreciated.
4. Get enough sleep.
In today’s modern business culture, sleep deprivation is almost considered a badge of honor. Unfortunately, these types of things shouldn’t be celebrated as they lead to (at best) burnout or (at worst) severe health issues. C-level executives define company culture, so if they want their workers to be healthy and balanced, they must demonstrate self-care principles by getting proper rest, emphasizing the importance of off-the-grid time (no phones, emails or social media) and striving for a healthy work-life balance.
5. Learn constantly.
You may have worked your way up the corporate ladder with your industry knowledge, but just because you’ve attained an executive position doesn’t mean you know it all. In reality, learning is more important than ever before. C-level executives are driving the direction of the company, which means that they need to look at both micro and macro issues. For example, C-level executives need to learn about areas of the company they may not have necessarily worked in before to get a better perspective of company decisions. On the other hand, they should look at processes and strategies outside of their own industry for outside-the-box points of view. Every day offers new lessons, and each can be a new tool in your executive toolbox.
6. Understand your reach.
When you’re the boss, your choices go beyond immediate task decisions. They ripple outward and impact people’s lives and their livelihoods. That means that your mood, your words, your actions and your reputation carry far more weight than in your previous position. Your responses must always be thoughtful, especially when situations escalate. That doesn’t mean you should roll over every time. In fact, it’s fine to be upset as long as it’s expressed in a respectful way that encourages problem-solving and teamwork. Otherwise, you’ll begin to lose the trust of your staff quickly.
7. Be straightforward with problem-solving.
Once you’ve reached a certain level of power within your company, there may be others that want to take it from you. This can manifest itself through territorial battles, undercutting your suggestions or even working around you through other executives. When facing these types of situations, it can knock you off balance at first. You will find your own style, but a few things I have found helpful is to always stay calm and focused, and remember that you are the leader and others are looking to you. Making assumptions about others’ intentions will make you feel crazy. Instead, get curious and start asking questions about behavior.
Management on an executive level is unlike anything you may have encountered in business before. It’s a unique journey, which means that you’ll need to take some time to find your style and voice. However, using the above tips can get you off to a good start. And remember: Stay true to yourself while you discover what kind of executive you’ll be.