6 principles of leadership for c-level managers

Reaching the c-suite is a massive career achievement but one which can come with a whole new set of challenges.

Over 60% of CEOs and senior management report that one of their biggest challenges is feeling lonely. It would seem that despite the high salary, status, and admiration—sometimes there’s no one to talk to at the top (Harvard Business Review, 2012).  

In this post, we explore the leadership challenges you may experience when you’re a c-level manager. Read on to explore:

  • what leaders can do to feel connected again
  • how they can improve their relations with others
  • how they can create healthier more productive working lives

Leaving these problems unaddressed can have a real impact on business performance as a whole, with 61% of CEOs believing feelings of loneliness hinder their performance (Harvard Business Review, 2012). 

Here are the six principles that research suggests c-level managers should follow to overcome these little talked about challenges.

1) Create a culture that welcomes feedback

Unless leaders let it be known that they welcome feedback and diverse opinions, there is a danger that people will be afraid to disagree with what they are saying (High Conflict Institute, 2013). To prevent this, respected leaders nurture a fearless open feedback culture (Harvard Business Review, 2015).

Seeking opinion, getting another point of view, and having others critique your ideas will make sure the decisions you’re making are robust. This will ultimately lead to a more considered approach to management. 

2) Develop your soft skills

If you’re going to invite feedback it’s important to listen to what’s being said and what’s not being said.

Read between the lines, invite employees to address concerns and bring ideas to you. Many CEOs claim to have an open door policy, but employees don’t feel empowered to speak up in reality. 

The people coming to you are the people speaking to customers and facing the challenges you can help manage—show them that you’re listening. A leader who doesn’t speak to employees quickly becomes out of touch with the reality of the marketplace.

3) Explore participatory leadership

A common mistake is thinking you need to be seen as leading alone—in doing so you risk isolating yourself and other decision-makers by not considering different angles, risks, and influence. To overcome this challenge, try participatory leadership.

Participatory leadership is a paradigm based on respect and engagement, through shared ownership of the decisions made. Seeking to engage others more deeply in the process of running the company is a great way to fully engage employees, customers, peers, superiors, and other stakeholders.

The CEO and chairman of the board at Coca-Cola, Muhtar Kent, is known as a participative leader with a reputation for seeking input from others on key decisions (Leadership is Learnt, 2016).

4) Pass the credit and take the blame

One of the most important assets of any leader is integrity. And it’s not just a case of principles—integrity has a real impact on business performance. Employee engagement is 26% higher in organisations led by high-integrity CEOs (Entrepreneur, 2015).

Credit your employees with your company successes and stand-up to take the blame when things don’t go as planned. It’s these types of actions that generate confidence and respect from your staff, peers, and customers.

5) Continue to educate yourself

Becoming a leader can deskill you—taking you away from the sharp-end of sales, development and technology, and confining you to the boardroom.

Finding your time stretched and feeling the pressure from others means it can be tempting to leave the innovation to others, relying on them to tell you everything you need to know. But making the best decisions requires knowledge and insight—and it’s better to keep-up with the latest thinking on key issues yourself.

Take time to read and discover what’s going on the the wider marketplace. Read about the latests skills, innovations and strategies—not just on leadership—but in marketing, product development and technology. Doing so will push others to do the same and leads to wiser, more informed decisions.

6) Feel the passion

As a leader, it is important to stay passionate about what your organisation represents: your core values, belief or purpose. As the late Steve Job’s said: “Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me” (The Telegraph, 2016).

An unwavering belief in what you do is contagious to both employees and customers. Fall in love with the purpose of your business and the people behind your brand. Ask yourself what you and your company wants to be known for, what your legacy will be and passionately commit to it.


Leading with these principles in mind may make you feel more connected to the business you’re leading. You’ll develop a leadership style which is healthy for you and those around you—and discover that the boardroom doesn’t need to be a lonely place.

If you want to lead the way in email marketing, discover how advanced your strategy is today by downloading our maturity guide below.

Download the Pure360 Guide to the Email Maturity Model