August 14, 2017

What If No One Wants to Be a Senior Executive in Your Organization?

Andy is a senior executive in a large US Federal government agency. His direct reports are GS-14 and GS- 15 employees at the top of their grade levels. They are in prime position to prepare for the Senior Executive Service (SES) level of employment. Yet, in individual coaching and mentoring meetings with his staff, he regularly hears, “No, I don’t want to be a “Senior”. You can’t pay me enough money to take on all of those headaches”, “I like my 8-4 schedule and don’t want to work 24/7”, “I am content with my success, my salary, my influence, why should I buy extra nightmares?”, or “Nothing ever changes anyway, so why put myself through all of that aggravation?”

Andy describes his people as highly competent, talented, intelligent, mission-focused, and great people. He is perplexed about why they stop short of pursuing the senior most leadership posts in the organization. Andy enjoys being a “Senior” and has been able to achieve a very desirable level of life integration where he is not working 24/7. He has time to enjoy his family and grandchildren, takes regular vacations, has friends, and outside interests. Nevertheless, the word on the street is that being a “Senior” is not worth the investment. Often a few bad news stories get a lot of press and are passed around for a long time. These stories become larger than life organizational legends.

While baby boomers like Andy see job promotion and progression up the ladder as a key goal, what Andy is discovering is that younger leaders no longer automatically see senior jobs as a plum. Newer generation leaders want more choice, control over their own schedules, and more opportunities for life outside of work. How can Andy or others in a similar situation respond?

Identify and Connect with Employee Passions

Many newer generation leaders desire to make a difference and to create a larger impact. What they don’t see is how being a senior leader can help advance some of those core desires. Show them how being a senior leader can facilitate achieving those larger goals and objectives including major organization and culture change. Share some of your examples as well as the examples of others. Many stay where they are because they see how they make a difference in their current role.

Find out what else motivates and inspires them. How can those desires be realized at an even greater level as a senior leader? What unique opportunities and exposures exist for senior leaders that match their passions?

Be an Exemplar of Life Integration

If what they see in you is not what they want then it’s an easy decision not to pursue senior leadership. How can you better exemplify the life of a leader who has more dimensions than 24/7 work? How have you become more interesting, fulfilled, and expansive as a senior leader? What are you doing to practice resilience and to balance work with rest and other interests? How much of this do they know and see? What else can you share?

Why I Love Being a Senior Leader

Invite other senior leaders to town hall meetings, brown bag luncheons, webinars, and other venues to share their experiences with your people. Your staff members may need to see and experience real people sharing real experiences. Create interactive venues where questions are addressed in an open and honest format. Invite direct reports of the invited senior leaders to also share their experiences working with and for the senior leader. Counteract the rumors and assumptions about the realities of senior leadership with real people and their real stories.

Create a Day in the Life

You may think your people know what you do; however, they may not. Systematically and strategically create opportunities for each of your key leaders to spend a day or more with you doing what you do. Take them to your meetings; explain what issues you are addressing, with whom you are communicating, and the results you are achieving. Debrief the day, answer questions, share reflections on what was important and why. Let them be part of the good, the bad, and the ugly. There is nothing like having a front row seat.

Examine and Change the Culture

Talk to senior peers and interview a wide cross section of those just below the senior ranks. Find out more about their perceptions of barriers to success. There may be practices and procedures that block communication across departments, bureaucracies that unnecessarily slow down progress, or other issues that make life tedious. Identify new opportunities your people want to pursue. How can existing senior leaders help to make it happen? Demonstrate the power and value of senior leadership by making a difference on the issues of concern to those you want to develop as the organization’s future senior leaders.

Need help identifying and addressing cultural issues then give us a call.

What other leadership topics do you want to hear about? What subjects will help you to better take charge of your career, create an organizational culture that works on all levels, or develop yourself to be the fine-tuned instrument of the leadership music you make?

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Leaders believe what they see and experience more than what you tell them.


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