Tech executives often come to me and share their disappointment about the role they seem to be taking in their companies. They feel that they are not being utilized correctly or are not viewed as real executives. I’d say that more often than not, when someone feels like this, it’s true. Nevertheless, the real question lies in what should be done to remedy the situation. Sitting there and frowning isn’t likely to improve your situation.
CTO in Charge of Printers
OK, maybe not really taking care of printers, I might be exaggerating a bit here, but many senior tech leaders can feel like they are being relegated to minor parts of the company’s roadmap. They’re in charge of the rote software delivery but aren’t treated as trusted advisors to the CEO and others in the C-suite. I was recently talking to a CTO whose OKRs would barely qualify as good objectives for an IT professional.
Are you unable to leverage your role in the company to achieve a greater impact? Do you feel like you are being sidelined and not consulted and trusted by your peers in the executive team? The good news is that this is quite common, and you don’t have to give up. However, to achieve an improvement, you’ll have to start by realizing what you’d want to do.
No Wind Favors Him Who Has No Destined Port
After hearing about these issues they’re experiencing, I ask what should be an obvious question, “What would you rather be doing instead?” Many times the other party is baffled by this. We are great at talking about negatives and shooting down what we see but explicitly saying what we’d like to do? That’s a lot harder for many.
With each rung of the seniority ladder, one gets more influence and less guidance. You cannot expect that merely complaining about your altitude in the company will trigger your boss to use you better for myriad reasons. First, the more senior you are, the more likely it is that your boss is incredibly busy. Second, senior roles come with an inherent assumption that those in positions know what to do. I’ve also seen many cases where the CEO genuinely didn’t know what to do differently. People who are not experts in your domain can find it hard or even impossible to imagine how you could be better leveraged and what might be possible.
Therefore, if you want to see improvement, you have to take the lead and decide on your own future. Where do you want to go?
I know that the concept of no coaching or guidance from your boss might seem harsh, but that’s how it is. That shouldn’t deter you from striving for self-improvement and blazing your own trail forward. However, don’t confuse lack of guidance with lack of options. When I advise CTOs, it’s common for them to assume that they cannot do anything unless explicitly asked to do it. That’s wrong. If you have a healthy relationship with your boss and peers, you should be able to inject yourself to where you’d like to, or at least start moving in that direction. Busy executives are often happy to get a helping hand from a capable and talented person.
The question that remains is, what do you want to do? That’s a very individual question that you should take the time to consider personally. Without a mentor within your company, you should find other ways to decide on your growth path. Either by exposing yourself to what else might be possible or by using your support systems. Typical support systems are advisors, executive coaches, mastermind groups, communities, etc. It’s your responsibility to find a good one that works for you and use it to define your wanted future better.
You can do anything, but you can’t do everything. Decide where you want to see yourself going and set forth. Don’t say what you don’t want to do—define your target by what you wish to do instead.
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