Executive thinking and decisions

Follow these three management tips to succeed as an executive.


Understanding top management’s thought processes is important to your career, regardless of whether you want to be an executive. It’s hard to get approval on anything if you don’t understand how or why decisions are made.

In college, I was fortunate to take an executive forum course in which weekly talks were conducted by CEOs who flew in to discuss their jobs. The thinking was that, if you want to succeed in sports, you have a chance to watch professionals to learn how they do what they do. Those aspiring to executive management don’t often get that same opportunity, hence the forum.

Here are three executive management tips to follow if you’re interested in being one—or even if you just want to add to your understanding of how and why decisions are made that impact you.

1. Know where you’re going

“Why are we talking about this? Where are we headed?” An executive must have a clear mission with established objectives, so the many tasks that they oversee fit and accomplish that mission.

  • What do executives value? People who can understand the broad context and value of the overall organization, and not just look at how it affects themselves, their department, or their project.
  • What can you do? Before saying something, think about whether it helps or hurts the overall organization. Don’t push something that helps you or your department but negatively impacts the larger organization.

2. Don’t do the work; look for those who can

I received a great piece of advice while in my first job as a vice president/general manager: Take out your business card and underline the word “general,” as in “no specific functional position.” It meant that I shouldn’t fall into the trap of doing things for which someone else is responsible. Instead, understand that the executive’s role is to manage the organization and its people as a whole—by definition, the general manager knows less about a specific function than does the person in charge of it.

  • What do executives value? People who thoroughly understand what they do and can get it done. It’s like a good hockey goalie—you know they’ll block the puck. An executive doesn’t need to know all the details about how, just that it will be done.
  • What can you do? Don’t bog down your comments with detail about how you’ll do things. Be definitive about when, how, and by whom things will be done. Be prepared with details if he/she does a deep dive to probe your thought processes, but think of that as an appendix and not the main body of your comments.

3. Develop bench strength

Good leaders develop people who can be promoted outside their particular organization, because it makes the larger organization stronger. To do that, they must develop bench strength so the person who’s being promoted can leave the current role with minimal disruption.

  • What do executives value? People who want to be challenged in different assignments, want to be mentored and coached to fully make use of their potential, and are realistic about what it takes to get things done.
  • What can you do? Watch and talk to those who continuously accomplish things and figure out how, what, and why they do what they do. Mostly, make it a disciplined habit to do what you said you’re going to do, every time.

John Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on strategic planning and product-to-solutions business model transitions.

Regardless of your career objectives, understanding how executives think is a worthy undertaking to increase your effectiveness and value.

John Suzukida was Trane’s senior VP of global marketing and strategy prior to founding Lanex Consulting in 2002, which focuses on strategic planning and product-to-solutions business model transitions. He has a BSME and distinguished alumnus award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Read more career advice at www.csemag.com/careersmart.

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