Your arrival at the C-suite will not happen by accident, coincidence or luck.
Nor will it result from being smart, accomplished and talented…alone. You have to pave your path, then move along down the road, purposefully and with a plan.
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with clients and non-clients who are, or will soon be, C-suite leaders. If you’d like to know how they get there, read on.
Many in the C-suite discover their leadership capabilities early on or mid-career. Some know during their college years or even younger, that they want to be in charge; to run something; to be the final decision maker; to be at the top; to be in front setting the direction. For the best of the best, this is not an ego thing, but excitement about what’s possible, and confidence in their ability to make it happen. Regardless of when, these emerging leaders simply want to take new ideas, themselves and others, further down Possibility-to-Reality Road. Their arrival at the C-Suite is both organic and planned.
Planning Your Way to the C-Suite
Step one in your plan is recognizing the need for, and developing, two distinct, sometimes overlapping, skill sets.
Technical skills, business acumen and leadership are core to your success and will get your ticket punched. Demonstrating consistent excellence in these areas, allows you to be considered for the Hall of High Potentials.
Planning, paving and driving your way from the Hall to the C-suite requires Career Management Skills.
“GET YOUR TICKET PUNCHED”
Those are the words of Sophie Vandebroek, CTO Xerox, and a mentor at 3Plus International’s MiniMentoring event, Boston, where she advised up and coming professional women. Add to Sophie’s advice, the know-how to get your ticket punched. Be top of class in applying your core technical skills. Do your homework and your research. Be mindful that no one works alone and few are successful all on their own. Learn how to be influenced by and to influence others. Understand how your work ties to the bigger business picture. Know your industry and your company’s customers. Keep up with what’s happening on the competitive landscape.
DEVELOP YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM
Once you’ve earned the seal of excellence, maintain it. Then grow your support system. Who are your cheerleaders? Your helpful critics? Your truth tellers? What alliances are critical? Who can give the nod to your ideas, encouraging others to nod as well, or at least to not interfere? Who are your mentors and sponsors? Find the small handful of people in whom you can confide your aspirations, the ones who want to help your achieve your dreams.
SOLVE IMPORTANT PROBLEMS - GAIN VISIBILITY - GROW YOUR NETWORK
Vera Tice, Managing Director Healthcare Delivery Institute at WPI, another 3Plus International mentor, shared one way to build your network while simultaneously gaining credibility and visibility. “Make it your business to talk to people. Discover the important unsolved problems.” Don’t know who to talk to? Ask. “I want to make a substantial contribution here. Who can help me understand the business needs? Who should I be talking to and getting to know?” At first you’re an unknown, so you might choose a stinky problem that others are reluctant to touch. Solve it. This is your opportunity to contribute while becoming visible and valuable to people who can make a difference to your career.
MAKE YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS KNOWN (without bragging)
Nora Denzel, current board member, Saba Software and Overland Storage, formerly SVP Intuit, reframed talking about accomplishments and removed any fear of bragging. She says leaders are obliged to make a difference to the business and then to spread the word about how it was done. She calls this, “Creating epiphanies of scale”.
BE THE EXECUTIVE BEFORE YOU GET THERE
You’ve heard the expression, “He looks presidential.” Others are more inclined to see you as a fit for the role if you fit the role. The way you dress, your posture, how you present, and your presence make a difference. Observe those currently in such roles. See yourself there. Be authentic to who you are and simultaneously let people know you are authentically someone who is capable of leading from the C-suite.
Pave your road to the C-Suite with these seven steps:
- Get your ticket punched by being excellent at what matters to people who matter.
- Develop your support system, Change and grow it as needed.
- Develop your network.
- Solve important problems
- Gain visibility
- Pay forward your achievements and how they happened
- Be the executive before you get there, so you get there
Professional women who want to develop these skills can do so at the Women’s Leadership Development Program, University of New Hampshire, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, where I’m leading a fast paced, fun, practical course entitled Cultivating Strategic Networks.