It’s difficult to define the precise formula for making it to the level where you are applying to executive level roles, also known as the C-suite. Life is not always a neatly defined “how to” project or a formulaic enterprise, and neither is a career, for that matter. Neither offers guaranteed output solely based on relentless execution. There are twists and turns and variables that you can’t control which will influence the final outcome. I wrote this blog post to capture observations I’ve made based on seeing such movements over the years in my most senior clients. So here are some tips to help you decide if the C-suite is for you.
What Got You Here vs. What It Will Take To Get You There
I say to my clients all the time, “What it took to get you to $200K per year is not what it will take to get to $300 or $400K per year.” A key point to remember is that functional expertise got you to the director/VP level. What will take you ahead now is a broader understanding of the business beyond your specific functional domain? I have personally a VP of Finance who offered to be the acting CEO when the incumbent quit. Because he brought his broader business expertise into play during the interim phase, he was rewarded with the corner office six months later.
General Management Skills
Most executives tend to adopt a vertical, domain-expertise approach. However, many leaders who end up making the cut for C-suite roles are ones who also focus on horizontal areas. To mimic this perhaps you could offer to lead cross-functional projects to produce the next big wave while cutting across several functions. Recently, a leader I know stepped up and led an enterprise-wide project team to come up with the 2.0 version of his company’s most successful product. He was rewarded for his broad application of management expertise with a promotion to the Chief Product Officer’s post, beating out several of his peers. The others being considered had double his experience but refused to step outside their domain.
Creating a Shared Vision
One of the most important traits of those who cross into the executive “winners box” express their the ability to lead via direction as opposed to leading via directives. If an egg breaks from within, you get a chicken. If an egg breaks from outside, you get an omelet. The leaders who inspire others to break from within are the ones who get the opportunity to take the baton forward.
The high-quality captain loves to have a co-captain who proactively shares inputs and perspectives as opposed to sharing her point of view only when asked. The one who participates in discussions, speaks her mind, and contributes consistently is crowned a leader. There is no formal anointment ceremony – just go out and grab the crown!
Think Strategically, Not Tactically
How many times have we heard this? The reason for putting it up here is the evergreen nature of this trait. The most obvious filter, the ability to create an impact on a bigger canvas and over a broader timeline is the skill, which differentiates the children from the adults. Is your plan about 10 percent more productivity or is it about a new way of redefining the landscape?
Develop Enterprise-Wide Talent
A hallmark of C-suite leaders is their innate ability to create followers in the organization. And the easiest way to do this is to invest time in the career development of employees across the spectrum. The one who coaches the most is the one who gets to lead. Mentor others, advocate for younger talent and offer your expertise anyway you can. You will create devoted followers that will sing your praises farther corners within an organization than your own talents can develop alone.
If an executive is created in the woods, and no one is around to hear it….
The yardstick for measuring your effectiveness as a leader has quietly been recalibrated to include measuring your social media presence. Are you the one who is out there expressing your presence as a thought leader via blogs and tweets? Do you have the followers to make your opinion matter? Online presence is now a major hurdle on the path to the C-suite.
Let me also add that this is not the definitive checklist. Nevertheless, these pointers will carry you a long way forward, and upwards. While all variables may not be in your control, get on top of the points and you’ll be further on your way to achieving your dreams of executive success.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? What tips do you have for making it to the boardroom