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The Journey from Director to CEO

In this edition of The Coaching Conversation, I'm going to be talking about the journey from C-suite member to the chief executive or managing director or whatever the title is that elevates you to be the person responsible for running the whole of the organisation.



In the last edition of The Coaching Conversation, I talked about the one-way journey from being the head of a function to being a C-suite member. So, head of operations to being operations director. It becomes increasingly a one-way street as you move from board member to being boardroom leader, because clearly if it doesn't work out, you're almost certainly going to leave the organisation.

One of the important aspects when coaching people towards the CEO position is to get them to understand that suddenly, unlike when they move from being a manager to a director, they'll have returned some degree of function responsibility when you become Chief Executive, you don't have functional responsibility - you have directors who have those functional responsibilities - and your job is really now about all leadership.

It's not about getting stuff done. It's about helping other people to get the right stuff done. And that's quite a difficult mindset change, particularly if you've had a very narrow experience. So, if you were the finance director you may have had very little customer exposure, you may have had very limited operational exposure. Then suddenly you're thrust into this leadership position where there are subject matter experts reporting to you and you need to give them guidance and leadership.

You need to gain their confidence and you need to gain their respect. That's a challenge. How do you meet that challenge? Well, that's the work of the coach, with you, to help you work those sorts of challenges out and to work out how you're going to address them.

The other thing about becoming a CEO is you really do then get thrust into the way in which all of the stakeholders, both the shareholders, the customers, the training partners, get dealt with. You will undoubtedly be in meetings you've never been in before, you undoubtedly have responsibilities you didn't realise came with the job - even if it's just simple stuff, like making sure shareholders know that you're on target with the business, making sure staff know and are informed about what that plan is and how you're doing against it. These are all new responsibilities to someone who has previously been a functional director.

What this adds up to is that you are probably the only person in the organisation with a truly holistic view of the business. All of the functional directors will be talking to you individually, as well as together at board meetings, you will be getting reports and information about the operational results from each of these functions; whether it's sales, operations, finance - you're going to be the only person on a routine and regular basis that has this complete A to Z picture of what's going on.

That's both a blessing and a curse because it's great that you know what's going on, but being the only one can put a big burden on you for ongoing and continuous communication. Let me explain... If I was a functional director, let's call me sales director; I am really busy with my team doing exactly that selling. I understand, and I attend board meetings. I've got wider responsibilities and I'm acting in a very committed kind of way. But the truth is the majority of my time is spent on my phone. So, when I do interface with the CEO, it will be at a moment in time when he, or she knows the things that they know at that moment in time. I might not speak to them again for a week, or I might not have any detailed interaction with them for a month. In which time the CEO has absorbed loads and loads of information that I know nothing about. So, if he or she doesn't talk to me, doesn't communicate with me, doesn't take me on their journey, I just end up seeing this person who's in a different place every time I bump into him or her that's confusing, unsettling and disturbing, and it's not good leadership.

So as a CEO, the burden on you for communication to explain to your direct reports and the organisation at large continuously about what you're thinking, why you're thinking it, how it's impacting the direction of the organisation is really incalculable. You can choose not to do it, but you will pay a price for that.

The other aspect is that you are the epicentre of the organisation. As the ambassador, wherever you go, whoever you bump into you will be the ‘CEO of..’ and that responsibility, therefore, goes with you 24/7. Yes, you can go on holiday. Yes, you can turn the phone off. Yes, you can go to sleep. There are all sorts of things you can do to not be that. But the truth is the CEO role isn't nine to five, Monday to Friday. However, much you manage your time, that won't be the case. If nothing else is happening, thoughts will be going through your head. You'll be reflecting on things that you've been concerned about or learning about, and you'll be plotting and scheming about what you're going to do when you return to work all of this in a positive way, not in a stressful kind of way, but you're not going to be turning the roll on and off. It's that kind of responsibility.

So, as a coach, what I'm trying to do is help these kinds of candidates prepare. I'm trying to show them the breadth of the role that they're moving from a functional, primarily focused role to something that has no focus - Its focus is the totality of the business - every function in every context. As well as the legal responsibilities, there is the organisation's responsibility of making sure as many people in the organisation are getting as much out of it as they can on a purely personal development basis and an enjoyment basis, a satisfaction basis, because that way the organisation will get the best results. None of this company lightly.

So, by explaining the nature of the role, explaining the change of the role from a functional director to a CEO, I hope we can open up the mind, open up the thought processes of these candidates. So, they are much more prepared for that day, when it comes, when they have the journey from functional director to CEO - the coach's perspective.

So, there you have it, the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I hope you found it interesting. I hope you found it useful. You can find out more about our coaching programmes at

If you want to reach out you can send us an email at you can book a free 15-minute coaching session at which will give you a really good feel for how coaching can help you.

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