So you want to become a CEO? Read our tips on what it takes to get you where you want to be.
Head coaches and CEOs are both high-profile jobs with generally enough in common for easy comparison, and one of the more bewildering commonalities has been the ability of men to land positions again and again despite mediocre performance records. Can it be that there are so few qualified candidates (or so few people who want to become a CEO) that these enormous organizations have no choice but to keep dipping back into the same stale hiring pool?
If this hasn’t changed in sports, it may finally be changing in corporate America in the wake of the economic collapse. Men like Angelo Mozilo, Dick Fuld and Robert Nardelli have so publicly displayed such poor leadership skills that we should all be truly shocked if anyone puts these men back into the executive suite.
On the plus side, this means that C-level positions are no longer meant solely for career executives with Ivy League MBAs. Of course, there is no standardized set of steps to reaching the executive suite, and getting there is a long process measured in years. If you would like to become a CEO, be sure that you are pursuing the position in a company where you’ll likely be happy and where you believe you can achieve great results.
Educate yourself & become a CEO
If you would like to become a CEO, begin by learning about every aspect of your company, whether it pertains to your field or not, since the path to the top often changes with the times.
Understand just what it is a CEO actually does on a day-to-day basis. Imagine the conductor of a symphony orchestra, who plays no single instrument himself, but from a distance he exacts the desired result from each orchestra member despite their diversity. He doesn’t have to be the most gifted violinist — and in fact shouldn’t be — in order to lead that section to greatness. Similarly, a CEO doesn’t need decades of experience writing code in order to inspire his IT department to achieve success, but he should certainly have a solid understanding of how it functions.
Learn from others
The process of becoming a CEO is a lengthy one for good reason; the position requires a unique set of skills that in part comes from experience. Yet this doesn’t discount the wealth of source material available to accelerate the process. Biographies and autobiographies by and about successful leaders abound, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s about Lee Iacocca’s masterful turn-around of Chrysler in the early 1980s or Hannibal’s astonishing elephant-filled march over the Italian Alps to lay waste to a stunned Roman Empire in 218 B.C. — each man’s career as an inspirational leader offers you something to carry with you on your own path to success.
Aggressively seek promotions and raises
While this point may seem obvious, it shouldn’t necessarily be misconstrued as blind ambition. By striving to move up and be promoted, in both title and pay, at every single opportunity, you should be conscious of that ambition; you don’t want to appear overly selfish (just looking for a pay raise) and driven. What you do want to do is make your achievements for the greater good of the company visible to those in positions above you. Your profile should rise in accord with your contributions, not your personal ambitions.
Focus on achieving results
Great leadership is predicated on accountability, on the expectation that whatever has been assigned under your responsibility will be carried out successfully, and if it isn’t, your reputation is on the line. No matter how minor a role they might play within the larger company, don’t look past your own department’s achievements in trying to reach the C-level. You will be judged first and foremost by those results, as they directly reflect on your professional persona.
Find a mentor
The value of a mentorship can’t be overstated, and mentors have a long history at the executive level. Find a mentor within your company, someone who is a decision-maker (but not someone to whom you directly report). Some companies use so-called “high-potential mentorship” programs to advance the careers of select employees who show the potential to be great leaders. If developmental programs like this don’t exist in your company, be the man to suggest that they should — the request alone is likely to help put your name on that select list.
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