Rising Executives: How to Fast Track Yourself to the CEO Position

It’s the rare aspiring CEO who doesn’t hit bumps on the path to the corner office. I certainly did before becoming a CEO and I see my clients experience similar struggles. Maybe you feel stalled or that you’re missing some leadership checkboxes (an MBA perhaps?).

Here are 3 practices I adopted and recommend to ease your path over the inevitable hurdles on your way to the top.

1. Get a trusted advisor or business coach. When I first became a CEO I immediately hired a business coach (Lisa Goldman, my co-author on The Moonshot Effect) and through her began to understand the immense value of a trusted advisor. I wished I’d had her support earlier in my career.

It’s lonely at the top, and most CEOs I know don’t have anyone on their team or board who they can talk with in confidence about the daily challenges and decisions they face. A trusted advisor is essential to provide a sympathetic ear, bounce ideas off of, and have in your back pocket when the going gets tough. I recommend engaging a coach before you become CEO to get you through challenges and accelerate your path to the top.

2. Hire the most senior team you can afford. This advice is the most critical—and the least followed by my clients. They’re in fast-growing companies, and often their number of direct reports grows rapidly from a few to more than a dozen. They soon become a bottleneck, and only then recognize the critical need for managers to support their expanding staff. In an effort to conserve cash or boost their own visibility by “handling it all,” they wait too long and find themselves behind the curve when they need to grow rapidly.

“Hire the most senior team you can afford. This advice is the most critical—and the least followed by my clients.

Hiring senior staff first gives you bench strength and amplifies your management and leadership presence. This small team becomes your collaborators, advisors on critical issues, and takes action to manage business crises. Rather than detracting from your leadership profile, surrounding yourself with the best and brightest puts you in the best possible light so you can focus on what really matters in the business.

3. Delegate more than is comfortable—and maybe even more than is prudent. Delegating is one of the most effective ways to build bench strength. When you pass on challenging assignments you create opportunities for your current team to up-level their skill set and elevate their leadership potential.

What’s tricky about delegating is that it requires training and follow-up—and when you’re busy this extra work may seem like more bother than it’s worth.

I recommend that, once a quarter, senior executives track what they’re doing for a week to look for opportunities for delegation, things they can hand off to someone else with moderate-to-no training. Often this process reveals gaps in their team’s competency to handle delegated tasks. When the executive realizes he or she doesn’t have the right or sufficiently competent people in place, it’s time to re-evaluate the team and decide whether to add new members.

Adopting these practices will enhance your leadership effectiveness and, as a result, shorten your path to the corner office. You’ll free up time and energy for contemplation, planning, risk assessment and cultivating vision—all things critical for a successful CEO but extraordinarily difficult when you’re overworked and overwhelmed.


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