The Rise of the C-Suite

Business organizations, conglomerates, and companies are no longer limited to the CFO or CEO as the prime leader. In this digital age, there is a C-suite, which denotes shared leadership. According to the Harvard Business Review(HBR):

Once people reach the C-suite, technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals. Chief information officers need to know how to create business models; chief financial officers, how to develop risk management strategies; chief human resource officers, how to design a succession plan and a talent structure that will provide a competitive edge. In other words, the skills that help you climb to the top won’t suffice once you get there. We’re beginning to see C-level executives who have more in common with their executive peers than they do with the people in the functions they run. And today members of senior management are expected not only to support the CEO on business strategies but also to offer their own insights and contribute to key decisions (HBR, March, 2011).

The HBR article further alludes to the importance of “softer” leadership skills.

Technical skills are merely a starting point, the bare minimum. To thrive as a C-level executive, an individual needs to be a good communicator, a collaborator, and a strategic thinker—and we think the trend toward a general business orientation over a functional orientation will continue (2011).

In relating this to the field of education, administrators at the district and at the school site level need to cultivate a climate of shared leadership through an educational “C-suite,” if you will. DuFour speaks of professional learning communities. Fullan, Bertran, and Quinn (2004) list ten components of effective leadership for district-wide success, among them the following:

  1. Compelling conceptualization uses pluralized leadership (daily, internal support system) to implement the district’s vision. Collective moral purpose involves each person in the system.
  2. The right bus, i.e., the right structure for accomplishing the task, ensures a common direction and moral collective purpose.
  3. Capacity building refers to the extent that a successful leader is able to develop leadership in others.

For those of us who are into Marvel heroes, the lone superfigures of Superman, Spiderman, and Batman have given way to Superhero teams such as The Avengers, X-Men, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the like.


Bennis, W. (1990).  Why Leaders Can’t Lead: The Unconscious Conspiracy Continues.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fullan, M., Bertran, A., & Quinn, J. (2004).  New lessons for districtwide reform.  Educational Leadership, 61, pp. 42–46.

Groysberg, Kelly, and MacDonald (2011). The new path to the C-suite. Harvard Business Review, March, 2011. Retrieved from

Weber, L. (2014). New C-suite mandate: Accessibility. The Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2014. Retrieved from


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