Rising to the C-Suite by Leading, Thinking and Doing.

I often say an executive—someone in the C-Suite like a CEO, CFO, CMO, etc. is a three-headed monster. Successful C-level executives (let’s call them CXO’s) must balance three distinct skillsets simultaneously. While every CXO has a different way of approaching these job functions, and has greater-or-lesser skill and experience in each; at the end of the day every CXO must find a way to: 

  • Manage up (and across): keeping executives informed, supportive, and un-threatened.
  • Manage teams (internal and external): hiring, firing, motivating and leading staff, agencies and other human resources
  • Create and execute strategy, plans and programs.

Another way of looking at this is even simpler. A CXO must:

  • Lead
  • Think
  • Do


In order to successfully develop execute strategies, plans, and programs the CMO must get buy-in, support, and ideas by managing-up-and-across the organization. That takes “leadership.”


In order to conceive strategies, plans, programs, and implementation patterns (schedules, approvals, buy-in, etc.) CXO’s must be able to use a combination of intuition and cognitive skills to arrive at the “right” answer for the given business need. That takes “thinking.”


In order to get stuff done, a CXO needs to understand how things are accomplished. Whether teaching others, or rolling up your sleeves to motivate or push a project forward, we need to be able to execute on strategies and plans. That takes “doing.”

Yes, a great CXO is a skilled leader, thinker and do-er, and must do-so simultaneously throughout their day. If you look at a marketer’s career, we learn each of these skills as we move up the corporate ladder.

We start out by “Doing”

Early in our careers we are asked to “do” seemingly menial tasks such as budget spreadsheets, SWOT analysis and project scheduling and management. It is important to first learn “how to do” so you can move on to “why to do” and how to teach “others to do.” The skills required to “do” include listening, being detailed-oriented, and in-service to a team.

Then we get to Think.

Once we’ve mastered skills in doing, we are invited to think more creatively, innovatively, and strategically by participating in brainstorms, then individually developing plan and program recommendations. Then, since we already know how to “do,” we can take the ball and run with approved plans. The skills required to “think” include intuition, innovation and creativity, and knowing that your idea can be done.

Now we must Lead.

In order to be promoted beyond an individual contributor, we must learn how to inform, motivate and lead teams of people. First, we might manage an intern, or agency team, then move on to larger and larger numbers of direct reports, then on to multi-layered organization oversight. The skills required to successfully lead include the ability to motivate, inspire, communicate, and think and do.

Simply put, we must learn how to be successful at “doing” before we can be successful at “thinking” and then “leading.” The skills are different in each case, and requires us to take on different roles to achieve success in each individually, and then simultaneously. That’s why being a CXO is like being a three-headed monster.



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