What it Takes to Be an Executive
Posted by: VW
What does it take to be a trained executive?
We spend most of our lives being trained to be good workers. Our universities train people for front-line work and management, yet there is very little in the way of true executive education.
This is not difficult to see in our society. The model works something like this: Go to school. Give the right answers. Get good grades. Repeat for 15 to 20 years. Get a good job. Keep the job. This works for front-line workers and management positions – even the high level management positions – but this is an insufficient model for developing executives.
So what’s the difference between front-line workers, management and executives? In our experience, there are dozens of differences, but for the purpose of this article we will focus our discussion to four distinct areas, namely:
1. Key areas of concern
3. Results and production
4. Ways to failure
Keep in mind, that in the capitalist system there is a division of labour and above the executive level, is the level of ownership – but that is beyond the scope of this article.
For example, for a front-line worker, the key area of concern is keeping the job. The time frame is the present, and what is delivered are tasks, actions, and production. Front-line workers make sure that the job gets done correctly, and that the actions get recorded and reported. The way a person on the front-line fails is through task-paralysis. This occurs when actions are not taken because of lack of information and fear of losing one’s job.
Management’s key area of concern is their team, department or division. The temporality is the past, and what is delivered are clear priorities for the front-line workers. Management makes sure that the right job gets done, statistics are analysed, and that front-line workers are supervised correctly. The way management fails to produce results is through creating process bottlenecks in the organizational system.
Then there are executives.
For an executive, the key area of concern is their company. They exist in the temporality of the future. They provide clear direction, image, mind, design, and large deals. Executives make sure the company has a future, is in good standing, solvent and has the ability to thrive in the marketplace. They are result producers. Executives fail when there is a profitability and viability danger.
But, most importantly, executives provide the ability to create from nothing. They do not easily get stuck with anything and are able to flow from the future to the present. Whereas, management has the ability to predict, front-lines have the ability to move inside of a prediction without any creative, executives simply create from nothing. That is the true gift of executives.
So, why do we know there are not many executives being trained? Because there are very few people who are truly creative! Also, to be a true executive requires building an organization that one designs and builds from scratch. Again, there are very few people who can reliably accomplish this feat in our society, and without an organization an executive cannot and will not exist. One can be an individual and think from being an executive for a limited time, yet until there is an organization with a stable management structure, executives cannot function in their role on a full-time basis and will always get pulled down to the lower levels of labour.
So what it takes to be executive has a price – a price that most people are not willing to pay.
What is important to acknowledge, is that dropping to the lower levels of labour is inevitable for an executive in development because 1) their leadership skills must naturally develop, 2) they must get a profound relationship to reality and 3) they have to feel their whole company so they know what they built.
Ultimately, an executive must strive towards building an organization otherwise they are kidding themselves if they think they can be a full-time executive.
The problem with this is that most people do not want to deal with the messiness of developing human beings, and spend the time designing an organization. Often it takes years to do so, because we are conditioned to operate as individuals. As a society, we want the glory but not do the work required. We also don’t want to be accountable for making larger and larger promises so that our organization can keep on growing and thriving. It takes too much time and too much thinking.
If, however, you are willing to do the work, the rewards are tremendous. You can accomplish remarkable feats and move dozens, hundreds, and thousands of people with a few words towards accomplishing your organization’s vision. That is profound and something to consider if you are truly up to being an executive.