As an executive, I’m no longer interested in being the “face of the company” and would like to transition to a different, less public facing role.

Elaine Varelas advises on stepping down from a senior role.

Q.  I am a senior executive and I’m realizing that the part of my job dealing with “being the face of the company” is not comfortable for me and really not an area of interest. I prefer to focus on leadership and improvement within the company, which I think will require a step down. How do I explain that to another company during my job search without them thinking that I failed in my current role?

A. Deciding to step down from the stress and demands of a senior executive role is understandable and there is no shame in wanting lesser or different responsibilities, but this decision should be carefully considered. Is this not an area that you can develop?  Have you been told this isn’t a strength? Does this have to be your role or can you assign this to another person more well suited to the responsibility. Many people are eager to be the face of the company in good times, but not so in times of crisis, or with bad news. Consider all aspects of this situation before you make a significant change to the type of role you are looking for. 

Are you a CEO looking to be the COO of a larger organization? Are you the communications person for an organization always in the public eye? The range of skills and talents needed to be a senior executive include functional expertise, the skills and training that got you into a specific role, for example, finance, technology, human resources, the law, etc. which are described as hard skills. The other half of the skillset needed to be in a senior executive role are considered soft skills or power skills, essential or core skills. As their name implies, you typically can’t successfully climb to the executive level without these skills as they are the foundation of leadership.

The softer skills of an executive role include communication, interpersonal, likability, trustworthiness, and executive presence skills. To be an effective senior executive, individuals need both hard and soft skills. As you noted, not everyone is excited about having to use their executive presence and presentation skills, especially if they are called to present externally to the organization. While you are job searching, you can let a board member, hiring manager or recruiter know that while you have successfully performed these high visibility responsibilities in the past, others seem to revel in these opportunities. As you looked at where you excel and add most value to the organization, using these leadership skills internally in operational leadership provides the most impact and is the most rewarding for you. Not everyone needs the external limelight.

People whose roles frequently demand being the external face of the company need to be comfortable in that role, or all their energy can be diverted away from other areas of responsibility that matter just as much to the role. You can talk about having served “as the face of the company” successfully, but that you came to the realization that you are more successful when you serve the organization through more internal operationally focused roles. Your desire to remain an executive may need to be balanced out by your new level of responsibility.

Focus on what areas you are most successful in and what contributions to the organization are the most rewarding to you. Rather than describing it as not being very interesting to you, you can say that other people are perhaps better suited for having a highly visible external role for the organization and that you being the face of leadership to your direct reports is where you excel. In any interview process, failure should not be your focus, but learning where you excel and thrive and being able to demonstrate that is exactly what recruiters and hiring managers want to hear.

When Richard Hytner, a former CEO at the advertising firm, Saatchi & Saatchi decided to step down in 2014 and take a deputy chairman position instead, he reflected, “Everybody owes it to themselves, as the chief development officer of their own career, to make sure they operate from a position at which they’re good and effective, but also one which brings real energy to them and enthusiasm and passion.”