What does it take to join the C-Suite?

By Robert Half on 28 September 2019

Who doesn’t want to be at the top?

There are certainly perks for being in a C-suite position, whether your vision is to become a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) or Chief Information Officer (CIO).

Who wouldn’t lavish the idea of having a comfortable office, travel opportunities and an appealing compensation package? However, being one of the most powerful individuals in the business brings long hours that can interfere with family time, immense pressure from multiple stakeholders, and huge responsibilities to both lead a team and deliver on company KPIs.

If this still sounds like the job you want to strive for, then here are some tips from Robert Half that you should consider. The C-Suite may be years of hard work away, but there are steps you can take today to help make your career ambition become a reality.

What key skills do you need for a C-Suite role?

With lots of people aiming for the top and only a few positions available, it’s important to understand now what may help you reach the top. Start by mastering these five skills that you will need to make it to the C-Suite:

Strong leadership – In higher level roles, it’s important to be able to lead others effectively. However, having leadership skills is not just about giving orders or having power and control. Leadership is about motivating your team to perform better, inspiring them to be more innovative and driving them forward to meet and exceed business goals.

Business expertise – In lower level roles you may be comfortable working in one very specific area of the business. In the C-Suite, you need to have a much broader range of expertise. Whilst it’s important to oversee operations in different departments, C-Suite leaders must also understand market share, customer trends, and industry shifts. With an increase in globalisation, you will also need to understand the challenges associated with international negotiations.

Flexibility – With businesses developing, industries changing and globalisation, C-Suite leaders must be able to adapt quickly to different situations. Some business operations don’t stop after 5pm when most leave the office. The responsibilities of an executive can demand flexibility to stay late for a conference call with colleagues on the other side of the globe, or respond to an urgent email on the weekend.

Goal-oriented – As a leader, you need to be able to set clear goals to help give both the business and team direction. Part of being goal-orientated is also keeping accountability to ensure that KPIs are being met, or stepping in if necessary to help hit targets.

Bold – To see real breakthroughs, you need to have the confidence to make big, bold decisions. In an article by Fortune, Janet Foutty, CEO and Chairman of Deloitte Consulting LLP said: “Being a bold leader is about having the confidence to make decisions that disrupt and therefore transform your business, preparing it for the future”.

What can you do today to create a pathway to the C-Suite?

Working towards the C-Suite can sometimes be a chicken and egg scenario. Often to get promoted, you need certain skills, which you can only get if you are in that higher-level position. However, there are various steps you can take today to help you become a more credible candidate:

Be proactive – Don’t just sit around in the hope that someone will notice your skills. The most important thing you can do if you want to join the C-Suite is to act. Look out for opportunities, respond positively to changes, establish a mentor that could help you work your way up the ladder, advance your skills in your own time and always aim to make a great first impression.

Get experience – Where possible, try to gain extra experience. This can be by putting yourself forward for new projects, asking your manager for the responsibility to take on higher level tasks, or looking at other areas of the business to extend your skills.

Understand your business – Get to know more about the business. Understand its goals, its customers and build strong relationships with key people in the company. Use this knowledge to see if there are any missed opportunities, ways the business can save money, or ideas to generate more sales.

Network – As well as connecting with people inside the business, network with people outside the company too. It can also be beneficial to follow industry thought leaders, such as via social media, or by subscribing to their blog.

If you ever doubt whether it really is possible to make it all the way to the top, just look at Ruth Porat’s career journey for inspiration. Porat started at Morgan Stanley straight out of college, eventually becoming CFO, and later CFO at Google, and its parent company Alphabet.

Even if the goal may seem far away, having long-term career aspirations is a positive reflection of your commitment and attitude. It won’t always be easy and a promotion won’t just happen overnight. But the important thing is to stay determined and start making positive steps now.

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