Congratulations, you are a leader in your organization however, you desire more. You have not yet attained that Executive or C-Level status, but you have ‘potential’. So how do you make the transition from leader to Executive? Welcome to “Figuring It Out”, a series where I offer tips and tricks from my experience being a person with ‘potential’. As a former College Head Coach, Corporate Executive, and current HR Director, I’ve had the honor to listen and learn from various Executives. Whether you have executive leadership aspirations or are an executive looking for something to pass onto your ‘HiPos’ or ‘up and comers’, “Figuring It Out” is a series of short insights I’ve personally experienced while occasionally referencing familiar (and not so familiar) thought leadership authors and articles. I look back at specific moments and share reflections with hopes of provoking thought about how to ‘figure it out’.
You’re being evaluated!
I called my lifelong business and personal mentor (we’ll call him JD) to seek his advice about what to expect when my organization’s new president was to start. JD calmly, yet firmly, explained ‘you’re being evaluated’, which was not what I expected, nor wanted, to hear. The evaluation he referenced was not the typical soft peddled or passive-aggressive performance review type of evaluation that we all have sat through where our ‘needs improvement’ areas are handled with kid gloves. This was the much more serious and candid ‘do I get to keep my position’ type of evaluation.
The new president was well-known with a history of change management success with examples that could easily be found online, which I did, several times. You don’t have to read many books to know that professional change success often requires turnover. My mentor, JD, in that short phrase, was basically telling me to get my affairs in order in case my performance wasn’t the desired ingredient for the new executive leadership vision or, in the timeless words of Jim Collins, in case I didn’t earn a seat on the bus.
I remember those words from JD. I remember that moment. Before that phrase, I was piddling around in my backyard, enjoying mild weather on a Sunday afternoon. After that phrase and our conversation, I was frozen; chills throughout, scared because I was now really ‘being evaluated’. Evaluated comprehensively, always, and from multiple people. Evaluated for what I could add to the organization, including if that meant me being subtracted. Enter the lump in my throat. Welcome to real leadership.
I’ve had the absolute privilege to sit down with various C-suite individuals and talk about evaluating performance, direct reports, and ‘high potential employees (HiPos)’. Yes, the word we all hate, ‘potential’. But that’s what it is, potential – what you can be, not what you are. Potential can stall if you are not WILLING, willing to rise, willing to grind, willing to fall on your face, willing to do the work those around you may not.
CEOs, COOs, CFOs, Presidents, and Partners all evaluate. That’s what they do and that’s what they are great at. They evaluate decisions, budgets, opportunities, and – importantly – they evaluate you. Because their boss, whether it’s a Board of Directors, Shareholders, or their own retirement, depends on finding the right people to succeed them. It’s a very narrow road to the Executive and Chief Executive levels, and there are plenty of nail-biting decisions, pressures, and challenges they encounter every day. One of the most nail-biting, legacy leaving decisions that C-Suites must make is ‘who’s next?’ There is only one way they can figure it out, by evaluating.
Take a breath. Now take one more. There’s a lot to ‘figure out’ on the way to the executive levels. We will scratch the surface with this series, but I promise the journey is great. First and foremost, you must embrace the fact that ‘you’re being evaluated’.