Cracking the C-suite
How top professionals make the jump to senior leadership positions
Since the announcement of our executive search division a few months back, we’ve had an increasing number of enquiries from senior candidates curious about their career options and how to accelerate their trajectory into the upper echelons of corporate leadership.
In particular, a lot of questions focus on making the jump into ‘C-suite’ roles – the divisional, departmental or managerial apex of many professional paths.
While the routes to each specialist area of C-suite appointments are naturally very different, based on our experience working with top performers both as clients and candidates of Cordell Beaumont within shipping, maritime technology, broking and logistics, there are certain traits that hold true across the majority of roles – whether CEO, COO, CFO, CMO, CRO or other ‘CxO’ titles.
To help guide how ambitious industry professionals looking to fast-track their paths to the top, we’ve prepared a few pointers on qualities and experience common to the top percentile of business leaders.
While a strong professional track record and demonstrable expertise help build credentials for consideration for C-level roles, they’re not enough on their own to propel applications onto critical shortlists for top spots.
In the big wide professional world, there are typically hundreds of ‘qualified’ candidates on paper, even for leading positions.
What sets the top performers apart, however, is evidence of a wider business vision that goes beyond the documented confines of their roles – an ability to engage and work with multiple teams and senior stakeholders across the business, to identify and act on commercial opportunities, and a natural inclination to use the platform of their departmental or divisional position to move the needle for the overall organization.
Management and leadership are two distinctly different concepts, and nowhere is the contrast more apparent than when observing which professionals ascend to the upper tier of the corporate org chart.
While strong managers may have delivered reliably against briefs, hit targets and built effective frameworks for their teams, leaders will have made their mark in a different way.
Leadership is a quality heavily scrutinised in senior candidate assessment, and delves into a person’s ability to coach, develop and inspire their teams – helping them deliver the best of themselves and reach levels of performance and achievement they perhaps didn’t think possible.
Effective leaders leave a strong legacy across the organizations in which they work, building a personal brand and endorsement trail that includes direct and indirect reports, superiors and peers.
- Business & Financial Acumen
Though it’s not a pre-requisite to hold an MBA for some C-level roles, a strong and detailed understanding of business finance is essential to making the strategic, operational and budgetary decisions necessary to deliver effectively.
A holistic understanding of business processes and departmental interaction is also essential.
Many professionals who succeed in reaching CxO roles have built their experience in different types of business environments, rotating through different posts – perhaps heading finance or marketing for subsidiaries of a parent company or leading specific initiatives such as M&A, international expansion or new product line development.
This ground-level view of the business from different angles - coupled with a robust grounding in financial management - equips senior managers to graduate to C-level roles with a cohesive picture of how different teams, units and management groups fit together as an organizational whole.
Senior leaders are expected to deliver significant business change or development fast.
Compared with mid-tier management, the scale of tasks is vastly larger, and the time-frames and complexity to produce results create significant pressure.
As a result of this, most C-suite applicants don’t plan on moving the needle through sheer hard work or force of will – more often than not they come primed with a network of internal and external contacts ready to help them get things done ASAP.
From previous reports eager to follow an inspirational leader to a broader business network of partners and suppliers, the ability to ‘plug and play’ can be a major draw for companies making their appointment decision.
Lastly, candidates aiming to penetrate the C-suite need a CV or resume that shows real impact on the companies where they’ve worked.
Following orders and getting things done as asked doesn’t cut it – hiring organizations will want evidence that an applicant has a demonstrated track record in materially advancing the businesses, teams or companies they’ve led – pulling together the qualities listed in the points above to seize opportunities and deliver results.
When it comes to cracking the elite layer of corporate leadership, ‘good’ is rarely enough – companies are looking for exceptional, and expect to see evidence that candidates can make something special happen.
If you are currently considering your next step into, or within the C-suite, please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.