When you’re in the C-suite but feel uncertainty around career progression and what comes next

When you climb the career ladder, there’s a suggestion that achieving a C-suite position is the end of the line. There you will stay, happy in your seniority, for the rest of your career. But as you’re likely to be ambitious to have reached the C-Suite in the first place, then just stopping feels wrong. You want to keep going, growing, progressing. So, what can you do? 

First up, it’s important to remember that career ambitions don’t just stop. People who are looking up at you in your position in the C-suite, may be amazed that you’re not ready to settle down into the role you’ve earned. But anyone who’s spent time around C-suite leaders knows that many of them are really driven, and their career ambitions don’t just stop when they reach the C-Suite. There’s a tangible sense in the C-suite leaders I coach of the, ‘what next?’. Tweaking your current role and hoping for the best doesn’t, in my experience with those I coach, work. Instead, consider these five life-changing options:


The first, most obvious option, is to aim for one of the big two C-suite roles: CEO or COO. For these roles, you won’t necessarily need to have a particular background and it would provide additional stretch. If you don’t think it would be viable in your company, then what about in a different company that’s smaller, or in a slightly different sector, or a scale-up? If you need to build up more experience to be able to switch from your C-function to CEO or COO, make a list of what you need and start to learn the skills.


If you feel you’ve ‘done’ your role in your type of company, how about the same role in a different type of company, or organisation, or sector? A pivot at this level to a different industry could be really exciting and is not as unrealistic as it sounds. Create a list of 2 or more sectors that appeal to you and that you think wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Then, do some research as to what they look for in their executives.


If you want to stay where you are, why not start a new division in an area you’d like to become stronger in? If you’re CMO, can you sell your marketing services as an external product? Can you see opportunities to make money in an adjacent or complementary industry that you could be the driving force on, and perhaps ultimately split off to become a separate entity? Again, not as far-fetched as it sounds. Itchy-footed partners in a law firm I work with started two spin-offs which have proven to be business transforming, creating loads of cash for the firm which has enabled them to expand considerably and placed the partners in question in really good standing.


Non Executive Director, advisory, consultancy and trustee positions can be a great way to increase your career challenge, either as a ‘bit on the side’ of what you’re currently doing, or as a full-time switch. If the latter, you could become a portfolio careerist, with some NED roles, some consultancy work, and so forth until you feel that you are getting the fresh stretch and challenge you’re looking for.


Is there a little business you’ve always dreamed of starting? Can you drop to 3 – 4 days a week in your current role (particularly if you feel bored and/or as though you could do it with your eyes closed) and clear some space to give it a go? It can be a good way to find fulfilment without having to stop doing the main role you’ve become known for. With these last two suggestions, remember you’ll need to check your contract to see what your current role does or doesn’t allow you to do outside work.

Hopefully the above options help you see how big your actions may need to be to create that future satisfaction and, so, good luck!

Three resources to help with C-suite career planning:

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