The C Suite

I’m not a fan of the title.

It conveys a sense of hierarchy and status.  Nothing wrong with that itself, but what message does it send to other team members in organisations when we refer to senior leaders as a ‘suite’ of people?  It just feels elitist to me.

For those who may not be familiar with the term, the origin of ‘C Suite’ comes from the titles of the senior executive members of most organisations, which tend to start with the word ‘Chief’.  For example, Chief Executive Officer, Chief Finance Officer, Chief Operating Officer and so forth.

I visited a hospital recently to see a friend and saw a sign in a corridor pointing to the ‘Executive Suite’.  When I noticed it, I thought about the impact of the front line-nurses and Drs every time they walked by it.  Perhaps it’s because when I think of a hotel suite, it is normally the biggest, most luxurious room and reserved for those with the deepest pockets.  I didn’t see a sign saying ‘nurses suite’ anywhere that day.

The term ‘C Suite’ is inconsistent with what I see as true leadership.

True leadership is humble, is accessible and it does not require special status or privilege.  Status is earned by deeds and actions.

The privilege is to lead, rather than privileges automatically triggered as a result of a leadership position being attained.

With trust in leadership at record lows, we need to challenge the language used to describe leadership positions.  I’ve heard many times over the years people in organisations tell me their organisations are too top-heavy, ‘there are too many Chiefs, not enough Indians’.  I’ve seen many cases over the years of ‘C Suite’ parking spaces right outside the main office building.  It is all about showing entitlement and privilege.    I know that some may say ‘but to attract the best executive talent we need to offer such incentives’ but where does this ultimately get us?   What message does this send to the rest of our teams?  We need to redefine what true human leadership looks like in the modern world.

I’ve seen an increase in the number of ‘C Suite’ influencers appearing in linked in job profiles.  It seems to be the accepted term to describe the corporate senior team in organisations.  If we are really going to build open trusting cultures in organisations, we need to challenge the language we use.  We need to think about the impact our language has on our culture.  The language we use within our organisations matters.  People notice it, let’s not kid ourselves any differently.   If we restrict such privileges to the ‘C Suite’ only, it sends a strong message out to the rest of the organisation.

With more and more organisations challenging traditional hierarchical practices, I’ll not be sad to see ‘C-suite’ phased out as a term over time.  Perhaps ‘Leadership Team’ is a more befitting title in the modern era?  A more understated term to convey that leadership is about influence and behaviour more than position, with the emphasis being on team.

Many organisations are experiencing challenges at ‘C Suite’ level regarding diversity and inclusion.  The business case for more diversity and inclusion at the C Suite level is compelling.

Maybe the term ‘C Suite’ itself forms a barrier in the minds of the under-represented, such as women and those of minority ethnic origin, who progressive companies want to attract to senior positions?

We know that language matters, never more so than when we are trying to build trust and bring about more diversity and inclusion in our organisations.  Pausing to sense check our language, such as the term ‘C Suite’ can provide some new insights and thinking.  Organisations love to be different, and I wonder if any will be brave to do away with the ‘C suite’ term and pioneer an alternative that is more in keeping with their ethos on leadership and wider culture?

Is there a better, more humanistic term?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.    

Kevin Miller
Kevin Millerhttps://www.apexhr.co.uk/
My 'Why' is to inspire a movement towards truly people-centred organizations. Organizations which see the person first and the employee second. A Coach, facilitator, and catalyst for positive change, I thrive on the challenge of making the world of work better and more humanized for people in organizations. I love networking and collaborating to share fresh ideas, insights and to learn. I have an in-depth knowledge and practical 'hands-on' experience of leading HR and Organizational Development projects. I am a visionary who rethinks what is possible when it comes to HR, leadership and the future of work, igniting positive change in others. Never forgetting the real reason behind my work, I love spending time with my wife Kelly and my children who are the centre of my world and the reason behind my 'Why'.

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Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi Ken. Yes, this does continue the unconscious privilege in corporate cultures where it needs to be dismantled. What about Executive Leaders as a term? I’ve seen that work in several environments. Thank you for pointing out this hidden and critical issue of language, hierarchy and power that needs to be addressed. I’m sending a link to your article to a few of my clients. Thanks again!

Larry Tyler
Larry Tyler

Being retire I don’t read many business articles. However I like this article because you ask a great question. Even after 50 years of success in retail I never saw myself as a leader and I absolutely never was one to follow someone. I Love the concept of a silent Leader, the one that gets things done without people knowing it. The silent Leader would be the one that moves silently in the world without seeking the roar of the crowd, the one that makes a difference and the reward in life would be the knowledge that what they do makes a difference.

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