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Commentary: Leadership Lessons for C-Suite Executives

In a world of exponentially increasing business tempo, C-suite leaders need clear, simple, and workable concepts that they can use immediately. When it comes to appropriate ways of providing leadership to their organizations, the best perspectives that the C-suite executives need come not from consultants, glossy marketing brochures, or politicians, but from the very people they are tasked with leading. Implementing and valuing internal employee perspectives produces outcomes that are beneficial for patients and the business. 


Leaders in almost any profession tend to go astray, especially at the senior level, when they come to believe that they are owed respect, a promotion, and/or deferential treatment because of their years of service and/or their professional title. Thinking of leadership as a privilege creates a character of service, humility, passion, and persistence that is necessary to enable great teams and organizations. Great leaders always think about what it is that they can do for the organization, its team(s), and its patients versus what the organization et al can do for them.   

When a healthcare business places the patient first, without thought to the employees, there may be no employee there the next time to serve those patients. That said, employees need effective communication and teaching at all levels. That teaching and communication should be more than the routine transmission of existing concepts, facts, and methodologies. True teaching as it applies to leadership is meant to challenge employees to obtain a true grasp and understanding of the material and how they will use it to meet the goals of the business. Great teaching should prepare others to use today’s knowledge to meet the challenges of an unknown future. Teaching should also incorporate ethics and a call to action as to how the organizations can affectively function for the good of the patients, employees, and other stakeholders. 


Too often, business strategy tends to focus on the “way” as oppose to the “ways” to effectively meet goals. This is a vitally important differentiation that military strategy and education approaches both generally embrace. Military strategy is formed around the concept of a commander’s Intent. Commander’s intent helps military units envision how the commander views the purpose of the mission and what success looks like at the end of the mission.  Likewise, business strategy must embrace the concept of maximizing the use of individual decision-making paired with individual initiative to reach a common, unified goal. Strategy is all about achieving the outcome, not dictating precisely how the outcome will be achieved. Great teachers and leaders find multiple avenues to reach a commonly understood objective. 

Ask your employees if they would recommend you, anonymously. This question is simple, and responses will be telling. Leaders who are recommended by their organization’s members tend to be those who produce the best results. C-suite leaders must remember to look inside their own organizations in order to ascertain the value they hold. 

Chad Storlie is an adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota and a widely published author on business, leadership, military, and higher-education. A retired United States Army special forces officer, he can be followed on Twitter @CombatToCorp and LinkedIn. He may be reached via email at

A 2014 report by Harvard Business Review that surveyed several dozen senior consultants identified seven skills that executives in the C-suite should possess in order to thrive in their leadership positions.

The traits that companies most wanted their C-suite staff to hold include leadership, strategic thinking and execution, technical and technology skills, team- and relationship-building, communication and presentation, change-management, and integrity. For the survey, executive-search consultants were asked how the most highly prized C-level skills have changed over time and what further change they foresee. What follows is material excerpted from the report:1

One consultant described the search for a chief information officer in these terms: “Whereas technical expertise was previously paramount, these competencies [being sought today] are more about leadership skills than technical ones.” Ethical leadership was also mentioned. The ability to think strategically, often on a global basis, was also frequently cited. One consultant stressed the ability to “set the strategic direction” for the organization. The third most frequently cited requirement was technical skills. “A C-level executive needs to understand how technology is impacting their organization and how to exploit technology,” one respondent said.

Many consultants also emphasized team-related skills. One respondent said that today’s executive must be “more interested and skilled in developing his/her team, less self-oriented.” 

Consultants also noted rising demand for executives who are “change drivers” who are able to “lead a transformation/change agenda” and be capable of “driving transformational change.” 

Another common theme was the demise of the “star culture,” ie, being a team player and working well with others. One consultant offered this quote: “Recently I was called to find the new [chief executive officer (CEO] of a local branch of an international company. The former CEO was fired because his management team decided he was too bossy and did not allow them opportunities for growth. They brought these concerns to the top level of the company, and the decision was to replace him.”

1. Groysberg B. The seven skills you need to thrive in the c-suite. Harvard Business Review. 2014. Accessed online:

Chad Storlie
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