Kickstart your C-suite ambitions

21:49, Jan 05 2014

So you want to be in the top team? Ambition is a defining characteristic of those who climb the corporate ladder to the executive team. If serious about promotion, it is worth putting yourself in the shoes of the decision-makers.

There is a lot at stake in the appointment of a senior executive. Getting it wrong can not only be expensive, it can also slow organisational growth, affect company culture and morale and be very distracting from the business of doing business.

In some cases, the gatekeepers to your ambition are external. They may be advisers, executive search or recruitment professionals. Or they may be people that you know, residing within your organisation; perhaps from the HR department or maybe even the chief executive.

Essentially decision-makers are looking to do two things:

- Maximise the opportunity of an appointment onto the top team; and

- De-risk the downside of someone transitioning into the role.

Transitions can be geographic, between industries, from public to private sector, between company cultures and finally a transition of role - from finance to marketing, for example.

Search and recruitment professionals tend to work on the assumption that if an individual has navigated career transitions effectively before, then the next transition is more likely to be successful than someone with a mono dimensional career track. A previous successful career transition is likely to give comfort to risk-averse decision makers.

Another issue affecting executives on the ascent is a lack of feedback about their strengths and more importantly, where they need to improve.

One of the most disappointing experiences that a leadership consultant can have when interviewing someone is to hear that the last time they had feedback was 10 years ago. Unfortunately, many organisations remain very poor at giving people the kind of constructive and honest feedback they need to progress their career.

Be brave about asking for feedback, and importantly make it easy for colleagues, direct reports and others to share their views with you. Look upon all suggestions as a gift of growth and an opportunity to learn how to be a more effective leader.

So, what next? You've got the ambition. You've progressed your career to build "transition resilience". You've had a decent amount of feedback to allow you to both accentuate your strengths and ensure that your weaknesses don't become fatal flaws.  

At this point, getting into the executive team comes down to a mix of good fortune and action. Action can probably be best summarised by self-promotion, networking and managing the politics of the organisation. While some may find these behaviours unpalatable, the brutal reality is that if you aren't managing your professional brand as a leader, then the likelihood of getting into the C suite is going to be seriously compromised.

With the economy picking up and business and consumer confidence on the rise, 2014 looks set to be one of labour market growth. Competition for candidates at all levels including executive will increase and many organisations will have to choose between developing or hiring key talent.

If you want to move up within your current organisation:

- Decide if you want it
- Get loads of feedback
- Back yourself
- Network and talk openly about your ambitions with others (don't leave people guessing!)
- Optimise your LinkedIn profile
- Put your hand up for projects, overseas assignments, and secondments to suppliers or partners. Take every opportunity to grow your skills and demonstrate your abilities.
- Be gracious when unsuccessful for a role
- Be gracious when accepting promotions
- Be true to yourself

If you want to pursue opportunities outside your organisation:

- Be honest about your abilities
- Nurture your network
- Optimise your LinkedIn profile
- Be realistic
- Be clear: are you moving from? Moving to?
- Be gracious when accepting promotions
- Be true to yourself
-Get loads of feedback

Make your case for promotion as strong as it can possibly be and best of luck.

Peter Kerridge is the founding partner of leadership consultancy, Kerridge & Partners.