** As published on AESC Bluesteps

Author: Mike Morrow

What does it require to advance from a management position to an executive role? When you’re a manager, you do the hands-on work of ensuring that your team’s day-to-day operations run smoothly. You’re a team super-user, versed in the systems and operations that enable your unit’s daily efforts. You oversee that work and keep those who execute it motivated, engaged and fully operational. It’s a complex undertaking and handling it well can be the ideal preparation for new challenges.

Advancing to an executive role means you go from the nuts and bolts of management to a more philosophical and psychological leadership role. Executive positions impact the larger framework that yields success for the company while driving followership among the teams that are engaged in the heavy lifting.

If you’re ready for such a role, then an executive position probably sounds like a thrilling advancement opportunity. But how do you garner the requisite skills if thus far you’ve served in management, rather than a leadership capacity? And once you do amass those capabilities, how can you demonstrate something philosophical, like leadership ability, in an interview?

The carrot and the stick

Executives tremendously impact professional cultures. They help shape and maintain those environments with their values, perspectives, priorities, etc. They foster the social and professional climate that influence the individuals and teams who work there.

Executives are not the ones waving the stick and saying: “this needs to be done by this date.” They are the ones pointing to the carrot on the end of the stick saying: “Here’s our goal. Lets’ work together and earn that carrot.”

Executives decide that the carrot is the thing to get, but they are not in the game of planning how to help teams get that carrot. They manage carrot gathering strategists, who tell them how the carrot attainment efforts are doing what's working and what’s not. Sure, executives impact those whose jobs it is to pursue carrots, but they are removed from that operation, even though they commissioned it.

Being capable of leading a team of savvy carrot getters is often what prepares a manager for an executive role. But when you interview for an executive role, you can’t just talk about how many carrots your team has amassed. You’ve graduated from that role. Now, you must show that you have the vision to lead teams to pursue carrots and other important goals.

Bridging the experience gap

If you’re currently a manager and you’re ready to pursue an executive role, you might prepare by cultivating leadership experience by serving on a non-profit board. It gives you the chance to see if you like this work and if it might be a fit for you. Plus, it gives you relevant experience to discuss in an executive-level interview.

Serving on a non-profit board is all about leadership. In most cases, there’s no staff management dimension to a director’s role. If you can find a non-profit where you can be a true director, tasked with strategic and high-level leadership, it’s all carrot and no stick.

The board sets vision, strategy, and expectations, and then unleashes the managers and their teams to execute those initiatives. Volunteering at this level is a wonderful professional experience, and an interesting way to exercise modes of leadership than you may not experience in your daily work.

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