Leadership

Simple, bold ways to prepare for the C-suite starting now.

Simple, bold ways to prepare for the C-suite starting now.

I enjoyed my C-level responsibilities immensely. There was pressure, but it was rewarding far beyond my expectations. Relationships formed under pressure are the most lasting.

One of my mentors early in my career told me, “If you aspire to the C-suite, you had better have a heart for Service because if you don’t, you will perhaps hurt many people in your charge.” 

I didn’t fully understand or appreciate what that meant at the time, but I certainly do now. He was telling me to intentionally develop my leadership skills and my willingness to serve others. So, let’s explore what it takes to get ready for the C-suite. It may take a little time, but it can and will be great fun.

Can I learn C-suite competencies before I get there?

Yes, you can. And that preparation will be most effective if it is intentional and follows a plan that exposes you to the components you need to know and learn. There are two high-level competency categories that your training should address. They are simple.

            -The skills and strategic mindset required of the c suite executive.

            -Learning how to lead others appropriately at the senior executive level. 

A C-suite role requires a broad and deep competency, best learned by experience as your career progresses. Senior managers and executives must have strong risk management skills. The ability to think strategically takes time and experience to develop. Early and consistent exposure to risk management methodology will help you learn to do it well.

However, there is no one size fits all template for this kind of preparation. Every business requires something uniquely different to survive and thrive. I will discuss two ways for you in your current environment to gauge where your preparation stands and how to go about building the necessary senior leadership competency skills for success.

How can I get C-suite training?

There may be a formal Leadership Training or Mentoring Program in larger companies. It is usually a highly structured and comprehensive program. It is commonly a process to groom or potentially weed out management and executive candidates. You will need an executive sponsor to recommend you for the program in most cases.

However, most companies don’t have formal leadership skills training programs. If that is the case at your company, here is what you can do to help yourself get prepared.

Start by letting your boss know that you desire to learn what is needed to contribute, perhaps at the senior executive level in the future. Ask to be mentored to that end. Ask if the both of you can structure a way for you to progressively learn with whatever time your boss may have to help you.

Look for executive coaching and business leader mentors outside of your business. There are far more of them around you than you may think. More on that later.

Look for people who are strong in areas where you are weak. You will need to do an honest personal assessment for this to be of value.

How do structured mentorship programs work?

As I previously stated, structured mentoring tends to be very effective. So, let’s get specific about what you may ask for as part of your structured program.

-I learned the most when I was able to sit in management and executive-level meetings to listen and absorb their framework and strategic nature quietly. You will see that executives will make decisions with more broad impact objectives. 

-You may also have an opportunity to observe how risk management disciplines and tools are constructed and deployed to help operate the company. Pay particular attention to the bigger picture of managing risk. Senior leaders are often selected because they understand and do this well. Ask your manager if you can be allowed to experience this kind of strategic level meeting.

-Ask your mentors what preparation they engaged in that best helped prepare them for increased responsibility. Classes or special education may be a recommended pathway, and they may be the differentiator for you someday if you are competing for a position. Don’t take shortcuts. Remember that your mentors have been where you want to go.

-Ask your manager or mentor to show you how the business’s financials are structured and managed. This is of critical importance. If you progress to an executive role, you will need to understand the P/L (profit/loss) financials of how the business operates and your business segment manages its financials. Understanding this is an absolute must.

-Ask if you may be allowed to be a part of or audit senior leadership task force teams. These can be special projects or think tank planning sessions. If a company business plan is being crafted or modified, you can learn a lot by observing how this process is done and structured. Offer to provide help administratively if you can in exchange for the learning experience.

The more opportunities you get to see firsthand business operations at the upper level, the faster you understand its detailed workings. While observing and learning, you should gather questions to ask your mentors at the end of the sessions. They can provide clarity and purpose to what you have seen. 

-Occasionally ask your mentors to evaluate your skills growth progress. Use that opportunity to ask them to refine and modify how to learn more. Remember to offer help to others if you can. It is an excellent way to demonstrate your appreciation for their investment in you.

How can I find mentors?

Perhaps it will help to describe how and where I found my mentors.

-Two CEO mentors were customers of my company.

            -I stumbled on one CEO mentor at church (not in my industry).

            -An M&A attorney from one of my early career lower-level positions mentored me for two decades.

            -I was introduced to Private Equity company owners who helped me understand the financials and process of buying and selling companies.

            -One of my mentors was CIO at one of the nation’s largest insurance carriers. Another customer.

            -And I became friends with the CEO of one of our competitors. We mentored each other for many years.

– As I met a board member, I would ask to be mentored. They never refused. They always offered that I could call on them if I needed advice or counsel. I did.

This is certainly a diverse group of mentors. But my most impactful mentors were those in c level positions at larger public companies. Their responsibilities and experience were significantly more than I would need to succeed. And they all shared with me powerful leadership traits and habits. As you can see, I was fortunate to have mentors of this caliber.

To summarize:

Find sponsorship for entry into formal corporate management training if your company offers it. If your company does not have a formal program, you will need mentors. Offer to help your mentors as they help you. And look for ways to participate in and audit executive team sessions. Firsthand experience is the best teacher. Be intentional in your quest to be highly competent. The C-suite does not allow for many mistakes.

Learn to be a servant leader. It is not a leadership style. It is a compassionate way of viewing your responsibilities. As your career progresses, you must understand that it isn’t about you. An executive position carries significant responsibility and pressure because you will be responsible for the safety of others. 

As you have seen, this preparation requires a considerable amount of extra work. It is a meaningful investment of time and effort. Be committed to that investment. If you do, your senior leadership team will eventually notice and provide more opportunities for you. You want to be ready for that leadership role when it comes. Start preparing now and enjoy the process.

To conclude:

If you wish, I’d be happy to continue this conversation. There is so much more to unpack here. Click here for a free session. https://calendly.com/dave-kerford/

Also, join our Bulletproof Business Community. This is a forum of shared wisdom and experience from our C-suite and business leader members who have built or are building Bulletproof Businesses. The first step to joining our community is to click below and sign up for our newsletter. https://davekerford.com/subscribe/  Enjoy!

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