Who is an Executive?

by Meg Guiseppi on April 29, 2013

What is an Executive?

This may seem like an odd question for me to pose, and to write a blog post about.

But apparently there’s confusion on the part of some executive job seekers as to whether they’re actually “executives”.

Here’s something that happens to me all the time.

Job seekers at the Director, Executive Vice President or even General Manager level (clearly executives by most any definition) will reach out to me to see if I’d consider working with them, even though they’re “not yet at the executive level”.

I’m baffled every time.

Unless the definition of executive has shifted over the years, for all my 20 or so years as a job search professional, I’ve considered someone to be an executive when they manage others and have decision-making authority.

This doesn’t necessarily mean being “a suit”. Even some CEOs (unquestionably executives) don’t wear suits.

Dictionary.com lists its first definition of the noun “executive” as:

“A person or group of persons having administrative or supervisory authority in an organization.”

The late Peter F. Drucker’s seminal book on management, The Effective Executive (1967), was quoted in Fast Company’s article last year, Who Is an Executive?

“I have called “executives” those knowledge works, managers, or individual professionals who are expected by virtue of their position or their knowledge to make decisions in the normal course of their work that have impact on the performance and results of the whole.

What few yet realize, however is how many people there are even in the most humdrum organization of today, whether business or government agency, research lab or hospital, who have to make decisions. For the authority of knowledge is surely as legitimate as the authority of position. These decisions, moreover, are of the same kind as the decision of top management.

The most subordinate, we now know, may do the same kind of work as the president of the company or the administrator of the government agency, that is, plan, organize, integrate, motivate, and measure. His compass may be quite limited, but within his sphere, he is an executive.”

What do you think?

When does someone who has been contributing for several years and adding value to a company or organization get to call herself an “executive”?

Related posts:

What is a C-level Executive? and Other Keyword Searches

21 Ways Your Executive Brand Drives Your Career

Today’s Executive Job Search Toolkit

Executive Job Search: Research Your Target Employers

photo by Horia Varlan

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