It’s difficult to define the precise formula for making it to the C-suite. Life, or rather a career for that matter, is not always a neatly defined “how to” project or a formulaic enterprise that offers guaranteed output solely based on relentless execution. There are twists and turns and variables that one has no control over that influence the final outcome. My attempt here is to capture observations based on seeing such movements over the years, which you can bear in mind as you plan to scale the wall.   

leaders_who_inspire_reach_c_suiteWhat Got You Here vs. What Will Get You There

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 one’s functional domain. I have personally seen an example of a CFO who offered to be the acting CEO when the incumbent quit. He was rewarded with the corner office six months later because he brought his broader business expertise into play during the interim phase.

General Management Skills

Most executives tend to adopt a vertical, domain-expertise approach, but many leaders who make the cut for the C-suite are the ones who also focus on horizontal areas. For instance, they are the ones who offer to lead cross-functional projects (cutting across several functions) to produce the next big wave. Recently, a leader I know who led an enterprise-wide project team to come up with the 2.0 version of the extremely successful product beat several of his peers (with double his experience but a steadfast refusal to step outside their domain) to the head honcho’s post.

Creation of a Shared Vision

One of the most important traits of those who cross the finish line is 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.

Proactive Role

The captain loves to have a vice-captain who proactively shares inputs and perspectives as opposed to a vice-captain who shares his point of view only when asked. The one who participates in discussions, speaks his mind, contributes in every way is the self-appointed “crown prince.” There is no formal anointment ceremony – just go out and grab it!

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 men from the boys/women from the girls. 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.

Executive Presence – Born or Acquired?

While the jury is still out on that one, the yardstick has quietly been recalibrated to measure social media presence. Are you the one who is out there expressing his opinions via blogs and tweets? How many followers do you have? Virtual presence is now a major gateway to C-suite.

Let me hasten to add that this is not the definitive checklist. Nevertheless, these pointers carry you a long way forward and thrust you upwards. While all variables may not be in your control, do be on top of the ones that are, and may your dreams come true!


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