I would have to start by saying that really at a C-suite level, are management skills the things you need to focus on the most? Of course, if you manage people, premises and resources of any kind, management is required, but really at the C-suite you need people who can manage the people who manage the people who manage the day to day business.
Management at the C-suite is generally about managing relationships, partnerships, the strategic direction of travel of the organisation and compliance with legal and high quality operating standards.
A couple of years ago I did my doctorate and researched self awareness and leader effectiveness. The definition of leader effectiveness is, to my mind, interchangeable with leadership at the c-suite because if you’re doing c-suite level work well, it’s actually heavily weighted towards leadership
My view of leadership is that it has two parts: first order knowledge and second order knowledge
• First order knowledge is made up of technical skills or hard skills, like knowing how to set a balanced budget, the employment laws of restructures and the expectations around data protection. These skills tend to be the ones that are able to be taught and learnt.
• Second order knowledge is made up of relational skills or soft skills such as building trust, modelling vulnerability, equality of voice in team working, communication skills, being able to have difficult conversations and establishing rapport.
My definition of leadership then, is that you need to have:
• An ability to recognise your first order knowledge and capabilities and second order emotions and behaviours through reflection and introspection
• An ability to recognise how your first order knowledge and capabilities second order emotions and behaviours are received and perceived by others
• And An ability to recognising the impact of your first order knowledge and capabilities and second order emotions and behaviours on others and your ability to respond and regulate that impact
I affectionately refer to these layers as….
‘reflection, recognition and regulation of hard skills and relational skills’
So let’s take this back to where we started: management. If you think about the essential C-suite management practices being managing relationships, partnerships, the strategic direction of travel of the organisation and compliance with legal and high quality operating standards, then being able to recognise, assess and do something about your own hard skills and relational skills is critical.
I once worked in an organisation where the CEO was never seen. He was called The Invisible Man. I once heard that he knew he was called The Invisible Man and chose to focus on his hard accountancy skills over his relational skills. It was an organisation that was always in a good financial place but relationship building was led by people outside the C-suite and delivered ‘in spite of’ rather than ‘with the support of’. I don’t think his management tactics and leadership skills would have been effective or tolerated in this post covid world where employee wellbeing and engagement have risen to the fore.
I worked in another organisation where the CEOs relational skills far surpassed his hard skills and his front-man abilities rivalled any Fortune 500 Vice President. But the balance books scared the accountants, performance figures were sub-par and staff turnover resembled a revolving door. To me this suggested that the balance between hard skills and relational skills wasn’t right here either
C-suite management skills need to be balanced between hard skills and relational skills, and that balance always needs to be shifting to deal with the priority at hand. You’ll have seen me write that managers look down and in and leaders look up and out and sometimes we need to do both of these things. This is definitely relevant in answering this question. Everyone in the C-suite needs to have the self awareness to know their own skills, what skills the organisation needs and when and how to deploy them to best effect.
My view of the world is that management or leadership effectiveness comes back to self awareness. At the C-Suite, self awareness needs to be coupled with role awareness and that in turn must be strategically connected with organisational awareness. Effectively managing relationships, partnerships, the organisational direction of travel and compliance with legal and good operating standards can only come from a place of self aware leadership, made up of reflection, recognition and regulation of hard skills and relational skills.
What do you think are the most important management skills required for success in the C-suite?