Thursday, November 21, 2013

Middle Management versus the C-Suite

I'm still waiting for the paperwork to be approved, but it looks like I am the CEO of the Seraphim Foundation, my own little start-up business. Don't know what the Seraphim Foundation is? Don't worry. You'll be hearing about us very soon!

Over the past year I've been exposed to many ideas on leadership, business creation, entrepreneurship and even lifestyle choices of CEOs, CIOs, CFOs, COOs, etc (aka, the C-Suite). One of the things that struck me more than anything is the emphasis on lifestyle choices. I know CEOs work long hours. What surprised me is what they do outside of work. What surprised me is the little, subtle differences in how CEOs and others like them actual think. The C-Suite isn't smarter than anyone else. They aren't more talented than anyone else. Hell, they aren't even more driven than many of their middle-management counterparts. But they focus on different things. Not only that, they just see the world differently.

I was recently at a conference where I got to see both sides of the coin. For the first few days of the conference I was able to hang out with the C-Suite of various Fortune 500 companies. These people offered advice, gave talks, shared meals and spent time talking to a group of us about their companies. These were very powerful people, giving their time to help us. But I also noticed that their advice was very aggressive. Not "bad" aggressive. Just, in essence, "rub some dirt on it and get out there and DO what you need to DO." They emphasized things like working out and dressing nicely. They got up early. They returned emails quickly. They said, "at this level, we KNOW you can do a good job with whatever your career choice is. Now, you have to show you can inspire others, talk to peers, have creative vision."

Even the questions asked of these giants were about HOW to take what we wanted. How do we give back? When do we make a move? Who do we get to mentor us? How can we, in turn, become mentors?

On the other side, I spent a day at a Middle Manager's conference. Middle management is necessary and there are some amazing people at it. But it's hard. And it's a hard place to escape. It can be it's own purgatory. And as I listened to the group of middle managers I could see a WORLD of difference! The C-Suite asked lifestyle questions. The C-Suite said to take what you need. The C-Suite wondered how to give back.

The middle managers, on the other hand, asked about problems. Everything was problem oriented.

"I have this problem, how do I handle it?"

"My work environment is this way, so how can I change it?"

"My boss is aloof..."

"My co-workers aren't team players..."

"How do I get someone to do something for me?"

No one really asked about advancement. No one asked about lifestyle. No one wondered how to spend more time with their families. No one commented on giving back or mentoring. No one said, "take it!" They all wanted to know how to have it given. "How do we go about having whatever we want given to us, or to have whatever was broken fixed for us?"

Now, this was not universal, but it was a general feel of the hundreds of middle managers I was surrounded by. And, I couldn't honestly tell you that the egg came first. In other words, do middle managers have their passive outlook and thus remain middle managers, while the C-Suite took what they wanted while spending time attending to lifestyle things? Or, were the members of the C-Suite just as rewards-obsessed and passive as middle managers up until the time they got promoted/recruited/head hunted into their current position?

It's hard to say. Hell, for all I know, 98% of the middle managers at this conference are exactly where they want to be. Not everyone goes to work every day trying to be the Big Boss.

I can't answer for any of the people in either of those sets of people. I don't know which came first: the chicken or the egg. But I know this: Either way, I want to be the biggest cock in the room.

Hmmm. That didn't come out the way I thought it would.

CEO? Or just another dick?