7 Steps for Paving Your Path to the C-Suite
Paving a path to the C-suite Nor will it result from being smart, accomplished and talented…alone. You have to pave your path, then travel it 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 before or during college 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 a plausible future they see, and the drive to make it happen. Their arrival at the C-Suite is partly organic and partly planned. Your guide to the planned part begins here.
Plan Your Path to the C-Suite – Step 1 Step one 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, as described below.
BUILD A FOUNDATION OF SELF-CONFIDENCE – Step 2 INSUFFICIENT SELF-CONFIDENCE IS THE NUMBER ONE CAREER OBSTACLE identified by over 200 senior women who participated in research that asked about their relationship to power. But that doesn’t have to be the case for you. Self-confidence is a mind muscle you can develop. It has to be done from the inside out. If you seek “a constant drip feed of self-confidence” from the outside, as one research participant stated, you will forever have to rely on others to provide the feed. By doing so, you risk losing self-confidence when you’re challenged and on your own.
“GET YOUR TICKET PUNCHED” – Step 3 Those are the words of Sophie Vandebroek, CTO Xerox, and a mentor at 3Plus International’s MiniMentoring event, Boston. 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 achieve success by flying solo. 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 and YOUR NETWORK – Step 4 Once you’ve earned the seal of excellence, maintain it. Then grow your support system and your network. Who are your cheerleaders? Your helpful critics? Your truth tellers? What alliances are critical? Who needs your help? 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 you achieve your dreams. All of these people are in your support system and your network. Build, grow, and feed, continuously. Prune as needed.
SOLVE IMPORTANT PROBLEMS – Step 5 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) – Step 6 Nora Denzel, current board member, Ericsson, Saba Software and Overland Storage, formerly SVP Intuit, reframed talking about accomplishments in a way that removes bragging and appeals to women. She says leaders are obliged to make a difference to the business and to spread the word about how it was done. She calls this, “Creating epiphanies of scale”.
BE THE EXECUTIVE BEFORE YOU GET THERE – Step 7 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.
IN REVIEW: Pave your path to the C-Suite with these seven steps:
Create a plan
Build a strong foundation of self-confidence
Get your ticket punched by being excellent at what matters to people who matter
Develop your support system and your network, continuously
Solve important problems to gain visibility and credibility
Pay forward your achievements and how they happened
Be the executive before you get there, so you get there