5 Expectations of the C-Suite

Are you running a company and wondering what expectations you can have for your team? Do you sometimes scratch your head and wonder if they really “get” it? Or do you ever feel like you’re playing whack-a-mole trying to resolve issues that should never get to the CEO in the first place?

After spending 30 years working with and coaching C-Level leaders in large global companies, there are a few things I’ve observed that should be crystal clear expectations of that level and, particularly, that team. It’s up to you, the CEO, to create these expectations and hold your team accountable to them.

1. Steward The Organization

No matter how good they are at their designated role or how they got there, the biggest differentiator of a senior leader must be that they are now a steward of the organization. As a steward, they must now understand the big picture, how the pieces come together and be able to use their knowledge to influence the success of the whole, even when it requires a sacrifice in their area. Stewards of the organization take a larger, strategic view and are able to act as business owners in influencing decisions. They are looking forward beyond the next quarter or sales cycle, planning for scenarios, and seeing around corners that others don’t. This requires skills that are not often taught or built below this level, so if you have team members who are not doing it, it may not mean they can’t. It may mean they’ve never thought about it or haven’t honed the skill. Executive coaching is a great way to solve this problem.

2. Align To A Shared Agenda

Members of any C-Suite team should be aligned with where the organization is going and how they plan to get there. This should not necessarily mean that they agree on everything, but what it does mean is that once decisions are made, this team acts and conveys a unified approach and makes decisions according to what they’ve aligned to. This is NOT an area where internal competition is helpful. To run an effective organization, a CEO must be able to trust that their team will do what

 they would do when they aren’t in the room and that any decision that is made is moving the organization towards a collective goal. This includes investment decisions, resourcing, staffing, and all sorts of decisions that come up.

In our practice, we help leadership teams create a shared agenda they can all align around that supports their strategy, prioritizes investments, and optimizes talent. We base it on an organizational capability model so there is no doubt that the next investment or resource spent (time, focus, etc.) is one that will drive the strategy the farthest.

3. Collaborate


A C-Suite team should be collaborative, not siloed. If they are operating more in silos, it is likely because they rose through the ranks specializing in critical areas and have arrived at the C-Suite as experts. This is a case of ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. You likely need that specialized expertise, but at this level, you also need (and should expect) more. This team needs to be open to giving and receiving input from each other. If they aren’t, there is simply no way they can fulfill their role as stewards of the organization. In order to see and influence the big picture, they’ve got to deeply understand each other’s areas and not only be willing to, but actually good at, collaborating and working together.

One of my clients was a very successful family-owned company with a long history of deeply rooted silos. When I got involved, they had never had a strategic planning meeting that involved the entire C-Suite.  With a history of 20% annual growth, they didn’t see much of a reason to do things differently but they were ready to revise their strategy and wanted the team to work together better. We worked hard to break down silos there and 4 years later they have doubled in revenue (a year earlier than forecasted) and are on track to double

 again in another 4 years. The power of collaboration is strong, even in pharmaceutical or technical companies where specialized expertise is critical.

4. Know The Numbers

It shouldn’t have to be said, but well, it does. This team needs to understand the numbers. Many organizations have very complex business models. We’ve dealt with airlines where pricing is as much of an art as a science, and global freight companies where charging back the cost of fuel is incredibly complicated. Banking is another one. In consumer products, this has necessitated the addition of a revenue growth management function to drive focus to it. In all cases, C-Level leaders MUST understand the flow of money, costs, and expenses. It is not enough to have a great finance leader. This team should be expected to do what it takes to get out and learn what drives the business. If they can’t do this, there is almost no way they can be effective in running the company.

We’ve had many clients we have worked with find internal mentors, build partnerships with colleagues closer to the finances, and frankly, get training. If you are a CEO, this should be non-negotiable.

5. Look Out For Each Other

In addition to collaborating and being stewards of the organization, this team should actively be trying to cover each other when things get tough. Every day is not everyone’s day, and there will be times when someone’s area comes up short. This can be detrimental when the organization has made commitments to the street. But if there is an expectation that the entire team will jump in to help cover the shortfall without even being asked, the organization stands a much better chance of getting through it with a just hiccup rather than a major downturn. 

One of my favorite examples of this was a retail company I worked with. The head of Real Estate announced around mid-year that his team could not find enough viable new store locations. They were about 100 stores off their target, and the company depended on the lift provided by new stores to meet their projections. It seemed as if no one even flinched. Sales ran promotions, merchandising negotiated better deals, supply chain found ways to get SKUs filled faster, and even HR jumped in with advanced training for store associates. The company exceeded its goals that year because its C-Suite proactively jumped in to cover each other. The CEO didn’t strong-arm them into it. Instead, there was a cultural expectation that this was the way things were done. 

If your C-Level team is costing you time, if you’re involved in things that shouldn’t rise to your attention, or if your team could just generally perform better as stewards of the organization, there is room for a shift that will drive exponential value and free you up to make a more meaningful contribution.  If you need help elevating your senior team to this level, call us. It’s what we do.