After the C-Suite: From Leader to Influencer

According to Harvard Business Review, leaders are following a new path to the C-Suite. Beyond the subject matter knowledge of leading a large functional area, the C-Suite expects a CFO, COO, CCO, CMO, President, Senior VP etc… to have leadership ability and business acumen to interact with their C-Suite peers.

This makes sense. When you move into a new sphere, expectations of your performance change.

As The People Skills Coach™ my questions to C-Suite leaders is:

What skills will you need after the corporate C-Suite?

After the C-Suite, leaders often move on to consulting, or teaching, or leading non-profit organizations. They move from leader to influencer. At this point, the emotional intelligence (EI) component of people skills becomes even more important.

Your reaction might be, “Leaders must be influencers in the C-Suite as well”. Yes quite true. Yet in the C-Suite there is the common focus of business profit/loss.

After the C-Suite, you must first identify what it is people care about to establish a common focus and then influence. That takes a greater focus on emotional intelligence and a different approach with people skills.

Try this simple exercise: Which picture would you select to represent finding a common focus?

After the C-Suite, Focus Changes

After the C-Suite, Focus Changes

The one above or the one to the right? Why?

Your selection reflects how, where, and with what success you will work after the C-Suite.

From Leader to Influencer

  1. An executive leader brings people around a vision. An influencer helps people discover a vision.
  2. An executive leader’s communication focuses on the end result. An influencer’s communication focuses on where people are at to get them to an end result.
  3. An executive leader has a strong drive to achieve. An influencer discovers what motivates others to achieve.
  4. An executive leader leads change. An influencer develops others’ openness to change.

For success in the C-Suite, all work as high achievers, often with direct communication, and with a C-Suite culture. After the C-Suite, those conditions change. As a consultant, you will work with many different companies, different levels within those companies, and different cultures. As a non-profit leader, you will face employees that live a different message. As a professor, you will teach some who have never lived in the business world.

So, how will you do it? Which picture did you select above? If your image of finding common focus is tangible components in a puzzle, like the wooden blocks, you may make assumptions that will inhibit success. You may focus primarily on performance and end results. You may likely overlook the human element of inspiring diverse people to find a common purpose and then reach results.

Noted EI expert, Daniel Goleman, outlines the 5 Components of Emotional Intelligence at Work: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

To succeed after the C-Suite, find time and opportunity today to further develop your empathy and social skill. Others will value your incredible experience, critical thinking, network connections, and business acumen if you know how to connect and work with them outside the C-Suite.

What are your views on this transition from leader to influenecer? What else is key?

I look forward to working with you,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. For permission to re-post or republish, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, has 20+ years of experience in diverse industries and a Masters in Organizational Psychology. She has a finely tuned ability to work with people. Her proven track record as a consultant inspiring teams to change and greatness will serve you well in your transition from C-Suite leader to consultant or teacher. See this site for more information.

6 Responses to “After the C-Suite: From Leader to Influencer”

  1. Wally Bock says:

    I like the challenge you’re proposing here, Kate. My understanding of how people get to the C-suite and where they go afterward is a bit more complex that what you’ve got here or the HBR article’s authors. What I think you’ve zeroed in on that’s important is that the C-suite itself is a kind of bubble that doesn’t really have analogs elsewhere in business. That said I think life before and after the C-suite is very much the same for most people. There is, for example, a lot of traffic back and forth between major consulting firms and the c-suites of their clients and other organizations and between C-suites. The importance of influence is increasingly important in leadership roles within the organization that are not C-suite roles, especially as more and more organizations function as matrices even if they don’t purport to be matrix organizations.

  2. Kate,

    Not having been a C-Suite attendee, my thoughts come from a limited perspective and may therefore be skewed. But I think profit and position create a simpler playing field for “leaders.” Money and power substitute for inspiration and self-motivation. As one who has worked for a lot of different people, including C-Suite folks, I know the range of employee commitment is much more narrow and CXO’s can get away with less inspiration because people who work with them feel more obligation.

    That’s a long way of saying that I believe the most appreciated CXO’s are those who actually make little transition. They treat people the same way whether or not they’re volunteers or employees with mortgages.

    Granted, I’ll take a successful CXO over a likeable, but failing one any day. But a likeable and successful CXO is a treasure. Mike…

  3. Jane Perdue says:

    As always, Kate, a thought provoking post.
    I don’t see influence or EI as being skills/attributes that come more sharply into focus or need after life in the C-suite. I agree with Wally in that influence is an essential component of leadership regardless of where one sits in the corporate hierarchy, or if you’re even in the hierarchy in the case of informal leaders. The absence of the ability to move beyond pure position power, coupled with a lack of self-awareness, can be a career-derailer long before reaching the C-suite.

    With a smile,


  4. John Bell says:

    Enjoyed your thoughts, Kate. However, as a retired CEO, I can tell you that there is an inherent paradigm in the assumption. Because we exerted such direct influence in the C-suite, people assume that we need to do this in the afterlife. Yes, many do, and as you rightly point out, they must hone their social skills and empathy to succeed. Yet, there are many who pursue completely new intrests — hobbies and causes beyond business and influence. I talk about this in my February Fortune Magazine article, ‘The CEO Afterlife’. Google it and have a gander. You might find it interesting.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Dear John,
      I am grateful for your interest in the topic and the contribution to this discussion. I can see how you would interpret my article as claiming C-suite execs would always want to exert influence.

      Yet my true message is much simpler than that: When people shift from one pursuit to one very different — most must learn how to interact in ways quite different from their previous circle.

      In the case of former C executives, I find that many have a challenge (e.g. in other pursuits as you suggested) interacting with people who were never in the C-suite nor served the C-suite. These execs are very intelligent, capable, and filled with experience that transforms anything they touch — IF they sharpen their “non C-suite type” people-skills.

      I did read your Fortune magazine article CEO Afterlife. It is very good. I liked the depth of honesty you brought to it. Perhaps you can share here your top 3 people-skills tips for interacting with non C-suite people and pursuits.

      Best wishes and thanks,

  5. Your posts are always great Kate! In my mind it’s okay if people consider themselves either right or left brain thinkers, but with regard to leadership, everyone must have all of the skills of a “leader” and “influencer.” It may be acceptable if someone is a little left or right of center, but being on one end of the spectrum doesn’t cut it in today’s competitive world. Well done Kate.

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