The Evolving Skills of the Association C-suite
In the past, the path to the C-suite required skills and knowledge developed through experiences directly related to your job. It also helped to show you’re well-rounded by reaching into other areas beyond your core tasks.
The path to the C-suite used to be about checking boxes and paying your dues.
“It used to be that you went to school, got your experiences through stages and advanced in your career and then someone would tell you that ‘it’s your turn, you’re ready,’” said Emergency Nurses Association (ENA) Chief Growth Officer Terrence Sykes, MBA. “Now, what I see is it’s all those job skills, plus a different side of you. You need to be able to connect.”
Today’s path and requirements to be successful in the C-suite have evolved with the world we live in. In addition to well-rounded business expertise, some of the most common sought-after abilities focus on soft skills or, more specifically, the ability to connect, listen, include, understand and collaborate.
Why Soft Skills Are Crucial
The necessity of having soft skills to be successful in the C-suite shouldn’t come as a surprise. The work that we all do in associations has always been about supporting our members. We do that by using our social skills – listening, connecting, including members in the conversation, understanding needs and collaborating on solutions. Naturally, for executives, that practice needs to carry over to their staff.
The disruption to all our lives because of the pandemic has certainly contributed to this as well. Your staff have more on their minds now than ever before.
“As leaders, we have to understand that there’s a lot that people are carrying,” said Sykes. “We have to understand there’s more pressure, stress and sometimes, they just want someone to talk to.”
Regardless of the emotions felt throughout the past couple of years because of the pandemic or the spotlight on systemic injustices, our lives have been impacted, and a great officer understands these experiences we’re feeling.
What Skills are Required?
Arguably, each of the following skills contributes to an executive’s ability to make meaningful relationships with staff members regardless of their level in the association.
The ability to connect has always been important at the C-suite, whether you’re mingling with members, talking to employees at the water cooler or networking with other executives at Forum Forward, but nowadays it means more than just a conversation.
“The focus is to build a strong partnership. You need to connect with others and make it meaningful,” said ENA Chief Executive Officer Nancy MacRae, MS.
MacRae added that making meaningful connections with staff members helps tie the work they’re doing back to the association’s mission. This direct link to the mission and how it supports members can boost morale and drive motivation. For the executive, they have to see an employee’s perspective and use that as feedback and input to continue leading the organization.
When you’re in the C-suite, listening is important. You need to be able to hear what your staff is telling you, but the key is to truly listen.
“As a member of the C-suite, you need to truly want to listen to understand, not listen to have a reply,” said MacRae. “By listening to understand, you’ll be more effective in building relationships and seeing other perspectives. We need to be prepared to make decisions and execute, but without listening we won’t have all the input and information we need to be successful.”
By listening to understand and not just to hear, an executive will get more information that impacts employees and the organization. This leads to more inclusivity of staff who are now helping to diversify the association’s portfolio, innovating processes and best practices, or identifying new member benefits.
A member of the C-suite must ensure that not only are the right people in the room for conversations and decision-making, but also that the people in the room feel as though they are included. The conversation needs to flow in a way that welcomes all participants to freely speak their mind with the end goal of benefiting the association and its members. But seeking thoughts and opinions isn’t enough—a good executive values multiple voices and experiences.
Differing opinions and experiences will bring new ideas to the table that can impact the association and its members. By actively practicing inclusion, an executive is making sure that employees not only feel heard, but also get to contribute at a higher level.
Even if a chief is the person ultimately making a decision for an association, collaboration is key. Each of the abilities of social skills mentioned are the building blocks to achieve great collaboration. An executive can break down barriers by facilitating opportunities for collaboration no matter the size of the project or initiative.
Collaboration is incredibly important to continue the mission-driven work of your associations and the support of your members.
The skills required in the C-suite will always be rooted in the ability to have advanced competencies in your respective area of expertise, but social skills are an absolute necessity in 2022 and into the future.
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