4 Critical Steps Every CEO Should Take on a Journey to the Top - CEO Recruiters - Cowen Partners

      Four Critical Steps Every CEO Candidate Should Take on Their Journey to the Top

      Do you envision the role of CEO in your future? It’s a worthwhile goal to have, but getting there is a challenging journey not everyone is built for. It requires honest introspection and hard work.

      The road to the top is paved with learning, humility, and results. You must display solid leadership traits like objectivity, resilience, decisiveness, and strategic thinking.

      However, you must also remain humble and authentic throughout the process.

      While there are no guarantees that you’ll eventually become the head of your company, you can take four critical steps to increase your likelihood of reaching CEO status.

      When you diligently work at each of them, you will be much better prepared for the ultimate corporate role.

      1. Understand Your Motivations & Temper Your Expectations.

      When you realize you want to be CEO, your next move should be to ask yourself why. If your answer is ego-driven, reconsider your intentions. Your ego won’t be a sustainable motivator in the long run, especially when the pressure mounts and all eyes are on you to fix the problem.

      What are good reasons to desire the Chief Executive Officer role? There are a few, including:

      • You have a strategic vision for the company
      • You believe the top role is a privilege to hold
      • You’re working on becoming your best self
      • You want to help others reach their potential
      • You’re a responsive and accountable leader

      The position of CEO is all-consuming. It is an intense undertaking that may require 100-hour weeks and time away from family. You’ll be responsible for setting direction, engaging leaders and the board, and connecting with stakeholders — all while managing yourself. 

      If your motivation is personal gain, it won’t be worthwhile. The only way to get fulfillment from the role is to be motivated by a desire to help others succeed.

      2. Get a Bird’s-Eye View While Staying Grounded.

      You must deliver the expected results while you’re still in your current role. Trying to prepare yourself for the CEO position does not excuse you from the obligation to perform right where you are.

      However, you should be working on gaining a bird’s eye view that includes understanding the future landscape, how your company will fit into it, and the stakeholders that will propel you toward it.

      The Future

      Understand where the world is headed and how that will affect your company and your sector. This will allow you to develop a vision and solutions to take the company in the right direction and ensure continued innovation and growth.

      The Company

      Before you attempt to become CEO, you should hold a broad range of roles that allow you to understand the organization beyond your position. If you’re two years or less from possible candidacy, consider gaining a more comprehensive view by getting involved in projects, committees, and development programs.

      The Stakeholders

      Seek to understand the sentiments of customers, employees, and your board, and use that information to inform your principles and views on current issues.

      You must come in each day and do your job like it’s the last one you’ll ever have. Invest in it, make it better, and find a way to take risks. Show the company you’re willing to do what it takes to outperform the competition.

      3. Exercise Humility.

      It is human nature to favorably view your actions and intentions and make yourself the hero in every story. However, CEOs must be more objective than that. To be a viable candidate, you’ll have to conduct a thorough self-assessment that asks the following:

      • Do you have the skills to do what’s needed as CEO?
      • Can you fill skill gaps and evaluate your progress?
      • Do you have the ability to avoid playing politics at work?

      To assess yourself, break down your abilities into four categories:

      1. Breadth of experience and record
      2. Knowledge and expertise
      3. Leadership skills
      4. Relationships and reputational strength

      As you conduct your 360-degree assessment, ask a mentor or coach to help you seek out views from others to keep the results objective. Once you’ve assessed yourself, start working toward filling your skills gaps through coaching, talking with leaders at other companies, reading leadership books, and finding opportunities to build relationships and gain experience. 

      Continue to check your motivations in the process. Be a team player, remain authentic, and remember that you serve the company — not yourself.

      4. Work With the Process — Not Against It.

      In most companies, the process of selecting the next CEO is long and complex. The company will typically hire a headhunter to help define what it needs from the next CEO and determine what role stakeholders will play in the search. The company will then conduct a 360-degree reference check on a short list of candidates and interview them to narrow the list further. 

      Candidates will undergo extensive psychometric, personality, and competency testing before a final round of interviews to discuss vision, leadership qualities, and how well the candidate fits the profile of what’s needed in the next CEO. 

      After a final round of due diligence, the company will make an offer to the chosen candidate. If you’ve completed the previous steps, you’ll be ready for what is asked of you in this process.

      As you move further along, remember to respect the headhunter, as they’ll be your greatest advocate. Treat every interaction like an interview, and keep an objective perspective on your company, just like an outsider would. Listen for and address subtext in your interview answers, and aim to be brief, clear, and memorable. 

      Above all, remain curious and authentic, as these qualities matter at every step of the journey.

      To Lead Your Company Well, You Must First Lead Yourself

      Becoming a successful corporate leader requires you to take a look in the mirror and ensure that you are first leading yourself well. Check your motivations and make sure your ego isn’t at the center. Get a bird’s-eye view of the business landscape and the company, then exercise humility as you assess your ability to truly lead within it. 

      Gain the skills you need and then go for it, embracing challenges and respecting the process. Don’t play politics or lose authenticity — remember, you’re here to serve.

      Ultimately, keep in mind that becoming a CEO is a small part of the journey. Learning and enjoying yourself along the way will ultimately fulfill you in your current role and sustain you in the next one.

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