Leaders earn executive jobs

Do not plan and prepare for an executive career. Dedicate yourself to becoming a leader.

To become an executive, you must distinguish yourself amongst all the other managers jockeying for position on the corporate ziggurat. Some may rise a few steps by playing politics, and a few may rise by bullying their way to the front. If, however, you study the characters and careers of the people already at the pyramid's pinnacle, you will inevitably see they achieved their standing on the strength of their leadership. They imprinted their signature styles on the mission, and they inspired their teams to the mission's accomplishment.

Manifest your character and values in your leadership style.

Some companies want Vince Lombardi. Some want Ghandi. Common sense dictates that Ghandi ought not apply for Lombardi's position - no matter how attractive the perquisites, privileges, and performance incentives. Moreover, you cannot remake yourself in the company's image. No one can fake it that well for that long. The qualities you cherish and admire in yourself must become the currency of your leadership; and you must have courage to acknowledge and accept that, if the company does not cherish your best qualities, you must find another place, more fertile ground, in which to grow your leadership abilities.

Your values and the company's must match.

You cannot swim against the current of your own initiative. Unless your values and the companies match in almost every detail, your career will stall. In its statement of corporate values, a major American telecommunications corporation demands that its employees, "subordinate self to cause", a noble - sounding ideal... in theory. In practice, however, leaders learn to link selves and causes, teaching their teams how the company's interest and their self-interest connect, maybe even synergize. Leaders also learn that money's motivational power has limits. When your team members must choose between mandatory overtime and their children's soccer games, money alone will not win their wholehearted agreement. A leader helps the team understand exactly how the greater good justifies the short-term sacrifice. Moreover, the challenge comes with a choice: If the leader cannot justify the sacrifice in her own heart and mind, she never will make the case to the team. No one has that many pretty words. Therefore, before you agree to lead, check your ethical compass against the company's map.

No expedients. Excellence only.

No one ever would advocate naive idealism. Sometimes, you have to do a quick and dirty job for the sake of getting it done and meeting the deadline; and, at the other end of the continuum, even realists grow extremely weary of relentless perfectionism. Somewhere close to "the golden mean", however, a leader finds that the standards of excellence inhere in the tasks themselves, and she masters the science and art of finding the means to excellence immanent in the work. She learns to share her vision with her colleagues, and she persuades them to share her passion for it. You could not have advanced this far in your career without hearing this advice several times before now; and you may complain that none of the pundits or professors ever has explained how to share the vision and inspire the team's participation. Do not feel betrayed or disappointed. The experts did not explain, because they cannot know. Only you can know. That knowledge is the key to your distinction. Just as the standards inhere in the work itself, so the how lives and thrives in you. You will find it woven into the fabric of your character, and you will discover it speaks in the voice of your conscience. You simply must look and listen.

How to build job security in executive careers

Executive positions do not come with tenure. You serve "at the pleasure of" your directors and constituents.

Therefore, as you assume a leadership position, you must understand the term "executive" very literally: Honoring your executive responsibilities, you execute- that is, you take decisive action, carrying-out your constituents' will. Choosing and acting according to your constituents' vision and initiative, you guide the company to domination of your industry. Day by day in your executive career, you repeat the same four steps until they become reflex: You decide, delegate, monitor, and evaluate. You decide according to your sense of the company's direction, and you delegate according to your assessment of your managers' skills and talents. You monitor according to the strictest accountability standards in your industry, and you evaluate according to reasonable measures of the company's growth. Most of all, you must assess the quality of your decisions and actions according to their impact on your constituents. Remember, you serve at their pleasure.

Your directors and shareholders demand...

Exceptionally high performance: They will assess the quality of your work according to the numbers. Your stakeholders will look at the company's market share, stability and growth in its share prices, the distribution of its assets, and its profits. Naturally, your stakeholders demand return on their cash investments. They similarly expect substantial return on their investments of trust and confidence, and they will brook neither excuses nor explanations. When the numbers go up, and you clearly can show how they have gone up as a direct result of your leadership, your stakeholders will feel "pleased". You know the alternative.

Your employees require...

Consistency, clarity, and fairness. From your chief lieutenant to the minimum-wage laborer you hired just five minutes ago, your employees measure your integrity and the company's trustworthiness by the consistency between your communications and their everyday treatment. They read the mission statement as a contract between you and them. When the statement declares, "We place highest priority on customer service", and employees see tangible rewards for their extraordinary attention to customers' special needs, their morale soars on the strength of your integrity. You undoubtedly can imagine the range of alternatives and their consequences for your tenure as an executive.

What do you need?

As an executive, you make more money than you ever can spend and invest. The average American executive makes 100 times the median salary of his employees. You will discover, the more you make, the less it means. At day's end, how will you measure your own performance and integrity? While you serve at the pleasure of your directors and constituents, do you satisfy your own requirements?

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'Do not plan and prepare for an executive career. Dedicate yourself to becoming a leader.'