Are you ready for the job of Chief Executive Officer? Have you really thought about what it is like and what it takes to be prepared? Have you tried and failed several times to reach your CEO goal and are wondering where he stumbling block is? In reviewing your career history, the first thing to do is to understand the differences between being a senior leader and being the CEO and where you stand from an experience perspective.
The Centre for Creative Leadership, a well-known, US think-tank suggests that a well-prepared candidate for the role of CEO has four kinds of readiness. These include experience, personal, network, and relationship readiness. And, keep in mind that it is not your opinion that counts, it is the opinion of the selection committee that is the most important.
From an experiential level, the most important criteria for success as a CEO is your breadth and range of experience. To build upon this, look for opportunities within your own work environment to take full responsibility for a key strategic initiative. If you have exhausted opportunities in your current organization, then seek out progressively responsible career opportunities where you can build new skills. This is called “lead and learn” as you go. Find yourself a senior CEO mentor so that you can experience the world of CEO indirectly, observe his/her behavior during challenging decisions and ask for feedback on your strengths and areas of challenge.
As is well known, success is often not what you know but who you know. In other words, it is important to get “plugged in” and to build a strong network both internally and externally. This means joining important industry associations and taking leadership roles, volunteering for high profile, well known social service agencies and/or teaching at a local university. Networking significantly increases the number of people you will get to know and who can influence your career in the future. It helps to create a higher profile for your skills and abilities and helps put you in the right place at the right time for your CEO career plans.
While breadth of experience is indeed critical to advancing to the role of CEO, your leadership style, personal communication and personality also play a big role. Your ethics must be impeccable with evidence of being able to put personal interests aside so that you can focus on organizational interests. If you have developed a reputation of being arrogant, letting ego get the best of you and/over eliminating those who might challenge, then you have simply a red flag waring that will stall your ascension to CEO.
CEO’s typically report to a board and therefore, it is critical a candidate understand the political nuances and dynamics that underlie board/CEO relationships. Where possible, get to meet senior executives that are also on various boards and learn from them. If you are second in command, take time to get to know your own board members personally and then observe and assess their approaches to the various problems that will arise.
Another key element of reaching for the CEO role is to become a student of success. Read biographies of successful and well respected leaders, review the background of CEO leaders in your own industry sector and/or amongst your network of colleagues. Join discussion groups where you will not only meet CEO’s but will gain opportunities to enter into good discussions with them about the issues of the day. Be sure to continue your own professional development through intensive, strategic study programs where you will learn the latest trends, meet new people and bring home innovative ideas.
Reaching for the next career step as CEO requires planning and personal diligence as you build up your professional work experience, ensure personal self-awareness, build strong networks and build leadership experience in dynamic and politically sensitive situations. Finally, remember that it is not your opinion that counts but it is the opinion of the selection committee that is the most important.