For many of my clients, the transition from corporate executive to boardroom is a significant turning point in their career and in the overall organizational structure. Appropriately managing the roles and responsibilities between the C-suite and the board is key to ensuring the meaningful growth of an organization. Having worked with hundreds of clients to build their leadership teams on both the executive and board level, the following are my key insights on transitioning between the two leadership roles.
As the CEO, your job is to lead the team to meet the outcomes and objectives of the company on a daily basis. You must oversee the marketing and sales teams to ensure the company is generating consistent growth, and you must manage the operations team to ensure orders are being fulfilled and that customers' expectations are being met consistently. When transitioning to boardroom leadership, your priority must be on the overall strategic plan, company's financial health, and on optimizing the growth of the business. Not only do your responsibilities change, but your leadership style must shift as well. In the boardroom, you are a member of a collaborative team in which no single person makes a decision -- that's done by the group. As an executive, individual decision-making is obviously much more appropriate within your given domain (CFO makes financial decisions, CEO makes company-wide decisions, CMO makes marketing decisions, etc.), and thus it's important to differentiate between the two.
In the C-suite, your focus must be on leading and supporting your team to accomplish the goals and outcomes set forth by the board of directors. Your leadership style in effectively communicating with your employees, implementing the systems set forth within the organization, and maximizing productivity are paramount. In transitioning to the boardroom, your ability to create new ideas for growth, lead by influencing the board team to align with your ideas, and communicate those ideas to the C-suite for implementation are critical to your success. Where operations in the C-suite are your focus, in the boardroom, your focus should be on the overall customer experience, profitability, and long-term growth of the business.
As a board member, your job is guiding the CEO to maximize the bottom line. While the CEO generally reports directly to the board, there are numerous C-level and middle management executives who report to the CEO. It's your duty is to empower the CEO as much as possible. Bypassing the CEO and going straight to another executive or manager can compromise the CEO's authority and credibility as a leader of the team.
A CEO's leadership on a daily basis will influence your team's ability to stay on track with the larger financial goals of the organization. The board of directors' focus is on the quarterly and annual revenue goals and in ensuring the CEO is set up to effectively meet those outcomes on a day-to-day basis. When joining a board, your focus must shift from day-to-day revenue to ensuring the higher level and longer-term revenue and financial goals stay on track.
If your business or organization isn't ready to have a board of directors, the CEO should maintain leadership and oversight of all of the items above. A lack of board doesn't mean one can ignore the long-term financial goals, the overall customer experience, or growth strategy of the business. Even a startup or medium-sized business can find measurable value in having a board of directors or advisory board to direct their high-level outlook. After all, one of the biggest challenges amongst CEOs is to remove themselves from the daily operations to focus on creating higher-level long-term strategies. Your advisor or board members can effectively lead that conversation and direct you to keep the long-term vision and outlook present in an organization.
I am often asked the question, "How do I know if I am ready for a board, or if I need advisors?" to which I answer, "Are you in business? Then you need an advisory board or board of directors." I believe there is nothing more important than a company's culture, vision and growth strategy. As a business grows, the executive leaders must have a team of advisors or board members who can direct the conversations the executive team is too busy to focus on. Identifying the annual goals of an organization, looking for opportunities to build new systems into the business, ensuring the company culture and customer experience is in alignment with the vision of the organization are all priorities for advisors and board members which are often forgotten at the executive level.
Justin Sachs is a highly-sought after business and marketing expert and CEO of Motivational Press, an industry-leading book publishing company.