If only I knew then what I know now.
I can’t count the number of times that thought has come to me since I became the chief operating officer of Rev1 Ventures, an investor studio that provides strategic services and capital to help startups scale and corporates innovate.
A professional senior marketing executive, I moved about four years ago from a function that I knew and loved to take on a more extensive and more diverse COO role. This journey has been everything I hoped it would be and more. However, there are some realities that I wish I had known ahead of time. Here are five.
1. Work-life balance is a myth. Strive for presence instead. Be present in the most important things at work and at home. The more accountability I have, the more responsibility I will be given. There is no such thing as “getting through” it all or “catching up.” Greater responsibility means the list just gets longer — and that more things must take a backseat. It is work to keep all those virtual sticky notes out of my head. Creating time to review them weekly and re-prioritize is key. If I can’t measure a project’s impact, it shouldn’t be on the list.
2. Being removed from the action is more challenging than I thought. More of my role is in meetings strategizing: setting direction and providing guard rails for senior leaders, many of whom are smarter than I am. The higher the rung on the ladder, the further I am from the daily work that I loved. I miss the creativity in marketing and daily contact with entrepreneurs. I have to really work to stay connected to the core of what we do. In our company, every person at every level has some kind of client advisory responsibility. It is an excellent way for me to stay grounded and connected to the most essential aspect of our work: our clients and their success.
3. Be careful what you ask for, because you may get it. A leader’s voice matters. If I ask for something, it can turn into a project and take on a life of its own — and it can happen very quickly. My words and the weight of them matter differently than in other roles I have had. I have learned to be more thoughtful and encourage our team to determine if my ideas have legs.
4. C-suite executives set the values and carry the culture. Leading from the C-suite is different than managing in other leadership roles. We set the example for the company, from how we work to how we play, from how we lead to how we prioritize. If I want to foster a flexible work environment, for example, I have to show that I take advantage of that myself. That means being comfortable shifting my hours to accommodate my kids’ schedule — and being open about it. I know I need to walk the walk and talk the talk.
5. We must prepare our teams with the resources to do the jobs we expect them to do. The people reporting to senior executives must be strong, self-sufficient managers. As COO, I am offering guide rails and prioritization, but I have less time to coach. Our team leaders must be functional experts and effective managers. They must know how to both manage people and achieve business results. On the flip side, they must be in the right seats. We can’t expect everyone to succeed in the role we want them in, or they want to be in. As COO, it is my responsibility to ensure the right people have the right roles and business operations are efficient and effective.
Moving from chief marketing officer to chief operating officer was a big step and a great opportunity. I love my job. And if you’re a senior professional about to make a similar leap, perhaps these key learnings will give you a head start.