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007: The 5 things between you and the C-Suite

Ready to step up to the C-Suite. Wondering why you aren’t already there?

Are you frustrated that no one is noticing you? Or are you ready to get ahead and wondering how on earth to get there. Perhaps you feel like you don’t have the time to give to a C-level executive role.

Today I’m going to share with you the lessons I’ve learnt on my journey to the C-Suite, and from my clients who are on their way or already there. These are the top 5 barriers, that everyone of us faces, but few figure out. And hint: it isn’t about working more hours!

This might just be a little triggering as we unpick the reality of what it means to be in the C-Suite, what those already there are looking for, or indeed what is holding you back as an entrepreneur.

Show Notes

Useful links!

Want to work with Lauren on your graphics and marketing? Check out https://laurengraphics.co.za/

Ready to ask for what you want, but want to know how? Listen to Episode 4: https://tonicollis.com/episode4

If you are ready to uplevel your career, and get a boost (and a salary bump) by shortcutting your way to success, find out more about Toni’s Coaching at: https://tonicollis.com/workwithtoni.

Alternatively, go straight ahead and book a free Discovery Call, to find out more and discuss the type of support you would most benefit from: https://bit.ly/DiscoverToni.

Join us in the Leading Women in Tech Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/leadingwomenintech/

Join us in the Leading Women in Tech LinkedIn group: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/12391391/

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Want to read instead of listen? Here’s the transcript:

Hello! How are you doing? It’s Toni here from ToniCollis{dot}com. Welcome to the leading women in tech podcast!

Gosh I have been MISSING you! So you probably haven’t been missing me, but I’m just back from two weeks holiday, and I pre-recorded content so it feels like forever since I’ve been chatting with you! Yes because that is how I view this podcast – as a private one-on-one chat with you.

So let’s catch you up with what has been going on around here. Well as you might have guessed not a lot of work has been going on during holidays! But the wonderful news is that I did get the chance to see family for the first time since lockdown began in March. As they live on a Scottish island, which was completely cut off as the ferries on and off the island were only available for essential travel, I’ve been missing them loads. So there were lots of hugs and a fair number of tears I have to admit. So an emotional couple of weeks, but so incredibly restorative as well. In particular I’ve had the chance to really reflect on how good things actually are. I talk the talk a lot to appreciating life, feeling gratitude and generally making an effort to notice the good things more. But as with anyone else, sometimes it becomes easy to dismiss things and not see all the good things around us, particularly during tough times such as a world experiencing COVID-19. So it was wonderful to focus on the good stuff and really see how good life is and can be.

And this was compounded by being supported by being away – if you are a business owner or in the C-suite then you will know that getting the right support is always so incredibly important. And I’m lucky to be supported in particular by the amazing Lauren Smit of Lauren Graphics who took care of ToniCollis{dot}com while I was away – if you have ever wondered who does my graphics and marketing, it’s Lauren. And she is simply fabulous! In fact she’s so fabulous that I’ll put her website in the show notes in case you are after a website designer, graphic designer or marketing strategist.

And even better, in the week before I left for my holiday I received a beautiful bunch of flowers as a congratulations for launching this podcast! Can you believe we are on Episode 7 already! I can’t – it is simply fab being in your earbuds each week 🙂

And to add to this many of my clients are going through amazing up-levels right now. I can always tell when an uplevel is about to happen, as there is some discomfort before, and often some resistance to something which needs to be worked through and then voila, and uplevel. I’ve got one client who was going for a C-suite job but has instead pivoted to launching her own business because that is what really lights her up. And actually that shift happened really quickly once we started exploring what she loved and what she wanted as a leader. That notion of being a lit-up leader is so powerful – it isn’t really just a notion. Because you do your best work and find out the best things about yourself when you can figure out what it means to be lit-up.

So lots going on around here, but let’s get back to today’s podcast. The 5 things between you and the C-Suite!

Over the years I’ve had a lot of candid conversations about what is holding someone back from the C-suite. I help clients undertake 360 reviews which highlight barriers (some real, and some that are put there by others, but barriers nonetheless that we need to move through or take down). And all too often these are barriers that we cannot see. And when I work with women in the C-Suite or entrepreneurs that are scaling their business’ (because yes, the same challenges that we face when entering an established C-suite are often those faced by entrepreneurs who are ready to up-level their business). So in today’s episode I’m discussing what the top 5 barriers are, and what you can do about them.

But be ready: this is going to challenge you and your assumptions about what it takes. It may just be a little triggering! But that’s ok, because when we are uncomfortable, it is often because we are about to find out something useful and uplevel our self-awareness. So stick with me!

Here we go! The 5 things between you and the Csuite

1. You are too busy

See I told you this might be triggering.

Here’s the thing: western culture tells us that if we are important we are busy. If we are doing a good job we are busy. The only way to say no is to be so important that you are already so snowed under, that you simply have to say no.

And it has probably served you well. Up until this point in your career, working harder has probably pretty reliably got you ahead. If you are an entrepreneur – you might already have that CSuite title, and you may well be working crazy hours, working evenings, weekends and sacrificing that all important family time and self care hasn’t been heard of since you started.

If you feel like that harder you work the more accomplished you are and the faster you will get promoted, I’m here to tear down that truth. Pushing harder will only get you so far. And it doesn’t work for the CSuite, or for that matter scaling a startup.

And the decision makers who will put you in the C-Suite know that.

You’ve heard this before I’m sure, but it is about working smarter. But what does that actually mean? Because all too often, people will tell me that they are working smarter and yet they are still working crazy hours.

Because here is the thing about being busy: it means you are focusing all your attention on too many things. The responsibilities of the C-level executive require time and space to think, to plan, to strategise. You need to be recognising market trends early, delivering on results as promised, and setting strategic direction. This requires thinking space. You can’t pack this into 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon. The higher up you are the more time you need to be spending on strategy. If you are a business owner – when was the last time you worked on your business instead of just in your business?

And the other barrier related to being too busy that I see many of us make, is an artificial one. The classic of ‘I don’t want the stress/sleepless nights/lack of family time that comes with an executive role. Does that feel like you? Perhaps you love the idea of the C-Suite, but the reality of a lack of sleep and less time with those you love fills you with dread. You are ambitious but also want to live life and not just live for work.

This is another misconception! Because yes there are examples of the C-level executives who work crazy hours – those ones always make it into the news. And western culture, TV, movies, and history is littered with examples of (predominantly white, middle age, male) executives who sacrificed everything to get ahead.

But the reality in modern life is very different. That strategic thinking that is THE job at the C-level, actually requires the restorative time you get from me time, family time, down time and time out. The companies that really flourish have executives who take long vacations, not just a day here or a day there. Those executives put their work down at night on a regular basis: working late is an exception not the norm. Because when we work less we really do achieve more. It sounds mind boggling, and certainly it is something I’ve fought against emotionally: but when I set up my business I new part of it was to work fewer hours and have a better, more balanced life. And honestly it took me three months to get to peek productivity, where I could work just 20 hours and achieve more than I did working a 60 hour week. I still can’t really believe it, but the evidence is there! Now I’m not saying you are just going to work 20 hours a week – because the reality is that even when I’m not (air quotes) working, I’m thinking thinking thinking, discovering, learning, listening to a podcast. But it is so different from my previous (admittedly C-Suite role) where I genuinely felt that I had to be working all the time to do the job.

So remember: being too busy will always hold you back, firstly because it actually stops you doing what you need to do as a C-level executive, secondly because those who are there know that and know how hard it is to step outside that mode of operation and thirdly because you will have resistance to up-leveling if you have even an unconscious acceptance that the C-Suite means even longer hours.

So how do you get to be less busy? That brings us nicely to item two between you and the C-Suite:

2. You don’t empower others enough

To achieve high-performance, focus on the C-level activities you need a team. But not just any old team. Not a team that you need to actively manage and spend all your time managing. No. This needs to be a team that stops you managing, provides you the chance to really lead (because leadership is all about giving people the framework to manage themselves). When you do this, and do it well… you get time back. Yes you’ll still need to spend time dealing with people, but it will be a source of joy, because they will bring you ideas, solutions and opportunities. And fewer and fewer problems. Yes being a C-level executive inevitably means you fight fires, but you want to empower others so that fewer occur in the first place. And if you have freed yourself up to give you more time to think strategically and long-term then fewer fires take place.

Whenever I’ve worked with struggling teams or business’, every single time there is a lack of empowerment of staff. The main symptom: a stressed out boss who is fighting fires all day every day, or switching priorities every week. The reason (which all too often they resist being called out on): they aren’t empowering and trusting their team. They’ve often brought in great talent which is then stifled.

If you want to operate at the C-level you need to find a way to empower others to realize higher levels of performance. This means delegating. And not just tasks – that is the action of a general manager or project manager. But delegate responsibilities. Delegate outcomes.

But this doesn’t happen by chance. To build a great team requires conscious choices in selecting and developing team members. Recognising talent and enabling it. Trusting those around you to make decisions, and then getting behind them even if it isn’t the exact decision you would make. You don’t have time to make all the decisions any more. Your focus should be on the big decisions – the big changes, the things that will make your business competitive in 3-5 or even 10 years. It should not be about the day-to-day running of the business.

Leveraging your team, empowering them is essential for C-level. If you aren’t already demonstrating it you need to find out how. The best and easiest way: start sharing credit!

So many managers forget to share credit. Maybe you’ve had an experience where you shared credit and then someone forgot to acknowledge you. Yes this happens. But I’m going to lovingly tell you to get over it. I’ve had this happen many times in my career. And honestly, every time it stung. It hurt. And once or twice I then fell into the trap of not sharing the credit anymore. But that is wrong. And actually it didn’t serve me.

Because here’s the thing: the people that really matter know that the leader is what makes the team work possible. And that a great leader surrounds themselves with great talent and isn’t threatened by it. The decision makers – those people who are between you and the C-Suite – know that. They’ve been there. They know if someone is doing great things, that someone else is enabling them – you. And they don’t want someone who can just do great things – that got you to where you are, but probably not much further. They want someone who can enable others to do great things. And yes, this was true of me to. Despite ‘credit’ being sometimes, in my less than humble opinion, being miss-applied from time-to-time (side-note, ever notice that we are far more likely to notice credit not being given to us, instead of not being given to someone else!), but despite that, I was still the one being asked to events, speak on stage, and given amazing opportunities aligned with my leadership position. Those other people were also given great opportunities, which further enabled me, because my team was being seen as leading internationally.

So don’t be afraid to share the credit, even when sometimes it feels like you don’t get the credit you deserve. The people that matter – they know. And if they don’t recognise it, then something else is wrong – which we will dig into in the remaining points (or those aren’t the type of people you want to work for anyway! Because they will be the micromanager CEOs instead, who are always fire-fighting as a result).

Which brings us to item number three:

3. You are seen as a problem person not a solutions person

This was me for so many years. I actually had a colleagues, someone I deeply cared about, pull me aside early on in my career to tell me that all I ever did was talk about what was wrong. Oh gosh that stung. But here’s the thing – I knew that by talking about what was wrong we could avoid pitfalls, missteps and move more swiftly along the desired trajectory. It baffled me that everyone else failed to notice these issues, so I was the one always speaking up.

And for a while, I thought – maybe that’s the issue here – I’m the problem person.

But being the person who notices problems is the actual issue. It is being that person without offering solutions. Or being that person without any form of filter.

Noticing issues that mean you avoid fires is great. But you boss will begin to resent you if the only time you raise your hand or stick your head above the parapet is to mention an issue. However well intentioned or grateful someone is, we associate people with what they are doing and known for. If you are awesome at your job, and you are reliable, you probably don’t get attention a lot of the time – because you just keep things going. But if in addition to just keeping things going, you are also the person who notices issues arising before anyone else, then well, you will be associated with that.

But you don’t want to stop – that’s equally bad.

So here is the thing: to get to SVP and beyond you need to be the solutions person. You need to have identified a problem and a potential fix. You also then need to know when you are empowered to just implement that or when you have to escalate for permission. But that is what the escalation should be about – permission, not asking a decision.

Of course there will be issues that you can’t fix. But the more you can become the solutions person the better.

And remember: you don’t need to fix everything. I brought things up, that in hindsight, didn’t need to be fixed. They were simply issues that I thought could be improved. Not everything needs to be perfect. Sometimes good enough, is well, good enough. That applies to all those issues around you too.

So let’s crack on with number 4:

4. You aren’t showing up as a visible thought leader

So many women I work with are resistant to an online presence or being the one to speak in public. They don’t believe it is part of their job. They believe their experience and work will speak for itself. Here’s the thing: an C-level executive represents the company. To do that you need to be on stage, you need to be talking the talk, you need to have that presence in the community. Whether you are looking for an internal or external position, you will be spending more time speaking for a company, and decision makers notice people who have a public presence. Whether you like it or not, C-level requires a public profile. So get comfortable with it.

Ask yourself: are you prepared to get on stage (even the virtual stage counts!). How is your public speaking? Hey, do you want to be interviewed on this podcast – drop me a message about why if you do. Do you have insights to the type of role you are in and how it can be improved. Are you talking strategically online about what you do.

You’ll notice that those in senior positions rarely have time for social media, but they all make time for being seen as a thought leader, either through articles, commentary, public speaking or something else. Find a mechanism that works for you, and then add it into your schedule (and yes stop being so busy so you can make time for this). It is to the benefit of your company right now for you to be more visible. After all, people buy-in to ideas and those they trust, more than they buy-in to products.

Which brings us to item 5: the final barrier between you and the C-suite:

5. You aren’t networking enough or in the right way

Ever notice how C-level executives, and even many VPs and SVPs don’t have time for social media. But the one platform they are on is LinkedIn?

Networking is key. In the same way that your thought leadership is essential, so is your network. Your network is what will get you to the C-level and is the network that you bring to the table. I’m fully aware that the size of my network was a large part of why I got to the C-level with 7 years of finishing my Ph.D., in particular as for the first 5 I didn’t even have a plan. Yes, once I decided what I wanted I got there in 2 years! My network did that for me. Firstly because it opened doors. Amazing people introduced me to other amazing people which eventually resulted in great opportunities.

And my network was also part of why the company that hired me wanted me. I was, and still am, extremely well connected in the world of High Performance and Supercomputing. And at the C-level your network is everything.

But here’s the thing about networking: it doesn’t have to be at special networking events. Indeed many of us are now unable to get to those with social distancing and cancelled conferences. True networking is helping other people who then also help you. Give more to your network than you take. Ask people how they are getting on, comment on other people’s online activity that you are genuinely interested in. And yes, make time for your network.

So let’s just recap: the (top!) 5 things between you and the C-Suite

1. You are too busy

2. You don’t empowering others enough

3. You are seen as a problem person not a solutions person

4. You aren’t showing up as a visible thought leader

5. You aren’t networking enough or in the right way

Side note the addendum to this – the final thing that you need is to ask. If you aren’t asking, make sure you listen to episode 4 of the podcast – link in the show notes – to find out how to ask for what you want without feeling icky or uncomfortable.

Obviously the list goes on, but this is what you NEED to know and tackle, raise your own self-awareness of, and get comfortable with realising if you want to accelerate your career.

And if you found this triggering in anyway, then remember: you probably have some sort of unconscious barrier going on. So recognise and acknowledge that triggering. And of course, if you are wanting some support as you uplevel your Tech Leadership career then I’d love to help. If you’d like to find out more, head over to ToniCollis.com/workwithtoni, and you can read about working with me, or just scroll straight to the bottom of that page and click the book a discovery call link and we can have a chat about what you are struggling with right now, where you want to go next and whether coaching with me is the right support for you! I’ll pop the link in the show notes – available in your podcast player or head over to tonicollis.com/episode7.

But let’s finish up with a Leadership Mindset moment. What is a leadership mindset moment? It is an actionable tip to help adjust how you act or think to make it easier to up-level so you can take more positive action on the topic of today’s podcast.

Today’s leadership mindset moment is all about leaning into any uncomfortable-ness you might have felt listening to this, and finding out why you were triggered. Because if you have listened and got irritated at some point, this might be telling you something important.

So grab your journal (yes more work – see its all about making time and space and being less busy – side-note if this is you, then leave a review in iTunes or Stitcher and I might just give you that free coaching session that I offer to one lucky reviewer each month, and we can work through those barriers that mean you are so busy – I’m yet to meet someone who I can’t improve their productivity significantly!). But grab that journal, a pen, and find yourself 10 minutes of peace and quiet.

Then ask yourself: which of these are triggering you, upsetting you.

Why do you feel triggered? What do you believe is and isn’t true? Why is it upsetting you? What is it that you believe is right and wrong about this approach.

Use those 10 minutes to have some honest self-reflection. Because great leadership requires self-awareness, and that often means finding out what is under those uncomfortable moments.

That is all for today’s episode! If you loved this please do share. And of course. If you would like some help up-leveling your negotiation, leadership and career then do check out my coaching program at tonicollis.com/workwithtoni.

If you want more check out the show notes available in your favourite podcast player or head over to tonicollis.com/episode7.

Until next time, remember to stay on your tech leadership game, and follow your dreams, because the world really does need that uniqueness that you bring as a leading woman in tech.

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