Could your board fire you?
Use these 4 strategies to secure your position.
Wade was feeling the heat.
As CEO of a multi-million dollar tech organization, he thought he’d been doing pretty well. But suddenly, the Board of Directors started requesting more “check-ins.” They seemed more concerned with certain issues and details than they had when he’d started as CEO.
In fact, Wade now felt like his actions were being watched closer than ever. The pressure to deliver excellent results felt heavier and heavier.
Turns out his suspicions were justified.
At his next meeting with the board, they told him flat out that he wasn’t cutting it as CEO. They’d observed that he wasn’t building coalitions with other teams. Quarterly goals were getting missed. He wasn’t driving the company forward at the speed they’d expected.
Something had to change, or the organization would be looking for a new CEO.
Wade was shocked.
He had nearly two decades of experience rebuilding organizations financially and operationally. When he’d stepped into this CEO role – his first time at the helm – his plan was to keep using the same recipe for success that he’d been using all along. But that was one of the biggest mistakes he could have made.
The fact is: What gets you to the C-suite rarely works in the C-suite.
You’re like an elite runner with a stack of medals from national championships. Very impressive. But when you get to the Olympics, you need to tap into a whole new level of training and growth. Your previous strategies simply aren’t going to be enough at the top.
Wade had fallen into this common trap of relying on old success recipes at his new CEO level. And it was about to earn him his walking papers.
But using the four tools below, he saved his job, made an enormous impact on his organization, and solidified his CEO staying power.
1. Forge a powerful foundation.
It’s impossible to stay at the top of the ladder when you have a shaky foundation beneath your feet. That’s why establishing your core values and guiding principles is critical. When you live congruently with your values and make decisions based on those principles, the results filter downward, creating an aligned, focused organization.
For years, Wade had believed in certain core principles. But his everyday behavior didn’t fully align with those values. The foundational cracks he hadn’t even noticed were now causing significant rifts.
Two of his core values were growth and learning. But after his board meeting, he realized he hadn’t exactly been living by those values. He’d been overly delegating tasks and decisions instead of learning enough about the organization to make them himself.
Wade also deeply valued curiosity and a beginner’s mindset. Yet in conversations with his team, he often bulldozed his way through meetings, pushing forward his opinion at the expense of anyone else’s. This was causing friction with his team. Worse, it was creating organizational stagnation. New ideas and innovations struggled to reach the surface in the stifling environment Wade had cultivated.
2. Cultivate self-awareness to uncover your blind spots.
Every executive has blind spots. In fact, our self-perception only overlaps with how others see us by about 80%.
What distinguishes truly elite executives is what they do with the remaining 20%. These leaders are willing to face their problem areas and take steps to address them.
With awareness comes increased perspective, which in turn leads to more choice in how to behave. And choosing small behavior shifts is what creates the lasting changes needed to sustain top-level positions.
When I coach top-performing executives, we invite feedback from their colleagues, subordinates, board members, and other stakeholders. Combined with the results of a Hogan personality test, we then pinpoint three main development areas.
This stage is where Wade started to recognize that he had a lot to learn. He’d been delegating rather than deeply learning the organization himself. His team feedback revealed that they thought he was often pigheaded. It was no wonder he’d had trouble building coalitions!
Wade had never taken the time to learn how others viewed him. This had caused him to miss out on a slew of growth opportunities. And it was about to cost him his job.
3. Design a plan to develop specific growth areas.
Just as CEOs expect their teams to reach goals using measurables, milestones, and deadlines, senior executives must achieve their own goals in the same way.
With his newfound self-awareness, Wade had these marching orders:
Learn the ins and outs of his organization in more detail.
Become a more active listener to encourage differing opinions and new ideas from his team.
Get better at observing his own behavior and learn hw to correct it – in the moment.
Taking ownership of those growth opportunities was the first step for Wade. He took accountability for the ways he’d failed in the past, and began learning methods to fix his blind spots. Together, we built a plan of targeted skills, tools, and mindset shifts that Wade could use.
To up the stakes even more, I met with a couple of Wade’s key board members to discuss what they were observing and get their feedback on what he could still improve.
This can be an uncomfortable process for many hard-charging executives, especially those who have already achieved a high level of success. But developing a fully-informed strategic plan for yourself is just as important as any strategic plan you launch at the company level.
4. Continuously experiment with new tools and strategies
No strategy for success is static. That’s true for business plans, company-wide strategic initiatives, and, yes, career-development.
To secure your staying power as a CEO, you need to stay flexible. You might have a step-by-step plan for your growth that can guide you initially. But you’ll also have to build more steps on the fly, for when circumstances change or when external forces crop up.
For Wade, this meant trying specific new strategies for actively listening to his team. It also meant acknowledging when one approach wasn’t working, and taking informed steps to undertake another approach.
Each week, he also used a tool called “game filming” where he wrote down the scenarios he’d experienced that week, how he’d behaved, and how he might improve his response to a similar scenario in the future.
For a CEO (or any high-achieving executive) to build staying power, flexibility is a must. Knowing how to effectively shift approaches, constantly evaluate what’s working, and honestly self-reflect on your own behavior will strengthen your development muscles into Olympiad-grade mastery.
And these tools can carry you throughout your entire career.
Bust past your plateaus.
Today, Wade has the respect and the confidence of his board. They’ve seen his self-improvement and his commitment to growth. More important, they’re thrilled with his results.
Through Wade’s leadership, his organization is turning things around. They've still got a long ways to go, but they're hitting their targets, and the board loves the improvements they're seeing in Wade and the company's key metrics.
The organization has moved past its plateau – because Wade has learned how to move past his.
As a senior executive, you’ll land on development plateaus throughout your career. It’s a normal part of the C-suite journey. But those plateaus aren’t opportunities to coast. They’re chances to take courageous steps, build your staying power, and grow into the elite executive you’re capable of becoming.