Political savvy at the top

“Those VP’s really have it made,” my lunch partner commented. “Once they make it into the top rungs of the ladder, they don’t have to worry about jockeying for the next promotion, or worrying about how to get visibility.” I had to smile…should I pop her balloon?
“Well, they may not have some of the problems they had climbing the ladder, but they sure have plenty of new ones,” I offered. “I work with executives as a coach,” I explained, “and I can assure you, there are plenty of ways to get your career into trouble.”
Let me count the ways…
  • Know-it-alls who try too hard to impress (or “Big hat, no cattle,” as my client from the South describes them). Executives, who wave their pedigree, Ivy League education, or five-syllable vocabularies, don’t last if the corporate culture isn’t a fit.
  • Leaders who are territorial and protective of their functions. Conflict used to be expected—even joked about between say, sales and engineering--but if you protect your turf in the boundary less workplace today, no one’s laughing anymore.
  • Poor presentation skills. So, public speaking makes your knees turn to Smuckers? If you’re an executive, you’d better find a way to overcome the jitters and get some coaching on how to present like a pro. For example, overly detailed presentations that cause eyes to glaze, or presentations that aren’t succinct will not sit well with the top managers. Senior leaders are constantly pitching their ideas, providing updates on projects in their departments and defending budget dollars…all in 30 minutes or less.
  • Over-controlling leaders. They may be at the top of their department but, if truth be told, they’d probably be better suited a level or two down. Why? Because they want their hands on everything—pricing decisions, all new hires, all presentations, all vendor contracts, all public relations…you get the idea. And if they have a large number of departments to oversee, it becomes gridlock of the highest order. They don’t last. Invariably, the log jam has to be broken and that means they lose chunks of their organization, and suffer reduced responsibility.
  • 9 to 5 ers. Any executive who thinks he or she won’t be working early/late/weekends is not going to succeed in a senior job. Period. A vacation without their laptop? Inconceivable. 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. meetings? Expected.
  • Eager to please. Even though being a “Yes man,” is a well-worn joke, it still exists in many forms. For example, trying to please all your customers, without a priority protocol, will wear out your people and please no one; or staying silent in a senior meeting when you really disagree, are all destined to get you in trouble in the long run.
  • Protecting your people and seeing them through rose-colored glasses. Overly-protective leaders who don’t confront performance problems are going to raise the ire of their peers and the suspicions of top management. Over time, their protectionist claims will wear thin as internal and external complaints about some of their people go unresolved. The solution is often to remove the leader and put in place a more steely-eyed replacement.
  • Lack of execution. A leader stuck in “Theory Land,” can only tap dance for so long. They have to move the needle. And getting those wheels to turn takes a lot of pushing and pulling on the gears below them and across the organization to make the right things happen.
  • Getting results, but with too much blood on the floor. At first, the President will love an executive who makes things happen. But over time, bullying, belittling and blasting good employees will come back to bite an executive who will do anything to make his metrics.
Still think they have it made?


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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