8 Skills You Need to Build Now to Reach the C-Suite Later was originally published on Vault.
Making it to the C-suite requires hard work, dedication, and a little luck. It also requires certain skills. In fact, to land a C-level position (CEO, COO, CTO, CFO, CMO, etc.), there are several key skills you’ll need. And below are eight of the most important of these skills—which you need to start building now if you want to land a top position later.
Are people willing to follow you? Do they go along with your decisions because they want to or because they have to? Answer these questions honestly. A leader is someone who inspires others to follow them. A person with a track record of directing others will have some tangible experience in a leadership role. Be a leader who can foster great employee engagement, someone who makes people want to follow you.
To gain experience and build your leadership skills now, offer to take on more leadership roles at work. Offer to lead projects, meetings, research, hiring—anyplace you can gain leadership experience. In addition to your current job, there are many other ways to build or demonstrate experience as a leader, such as volunteering to work in nonprofit organizations or running successful community events. These types of activities require vision, and will allow you to flex and build your leadership skills.
2. Business acumen
C-level positions are typically the most important roles in organizations. Top-level executives make decisions that grow their businesses and maximize profits. To be able to make sound decisions, C-suite members need to know everything about their businesses. And they need to be able to assess how current affairs, positive or negative press, and daily operations affect a business monetarily. In other words, it’s a must to have sound business and financial judgment in a C-level position and to know how every aspect of the business impacts its finances.
And so, to land a C-level role, you need experience that proves your business acumen and financial judgment. Which means you need to start seeking out opportunities where you can make decisions that affect an organization’s growth and bottom line. You can start in your current role, by asking to take ownership of a certain product or service. You might ask to be on more client calls. You might also take charge in a position outside your company—say, at a nonprofit you’re volunteering for; you might help the nonprofit fund-raise or grow. Find any place you can to build your financial and business acumen, even if you start out in a very small way. Remember, you have to start somewhere.
3. People management
A business is only as successful as its team. Which means C-level leaders need to be able to bring out the best in their teams. They must manage their professional relationships with other staff and key stakeholders around the company. They must seek the best ways to boost productivity among team members. They must motivate their teams and find ways to align company goals with team member goals.
Of course, you don’t need to wait to start working on your management skills. You can do that now. Do you currently have any direct reports? If so, work on your patience, understanding, flexibility, and motivational tactics with them. And even if you don’t have any direct reports, maybe you oversee a contract worker or a freelancer. Practice your skills with them. See what works with respect to boosting their productivity, motivating them, and making sure they’re healthy and happy—which is essential to maintaining a productive team.
4. Strategy and risk assessment
It’s up to C-level executives to direct companies so that they achieve maximum growth and maximum profits. That is, executives in the C-suite guide the overall strategies of a businesses, viewing their businesses from a wide and strategic perspective. They’re also tasked with mitigating any risks faced.
This means it’s essential to be a strategic thinker and understand risk factors to get to the C-suite. And so, this means you need to begin to work on building these skills now. No matter what level you’re at now, begin to think strategically about your area of coverage. Which directions might you take to grow your area? What might be the risks? It can also be a great idea to seek out mentors who can guide your strategic skill building. Mentors can provide you with perspectives that you might not have access to now.
5. Innovation and change management
It’s daunting to make changes to how a business operates. However, changes and change management are necessary for a business to grow and sit at the forefront of a market. This is one of the most important challenges a C-level employee faces. C-level employees need to constantly be seeking opportunities to increase their companies’ results. And after recognizing such opportunities, C-level employees must drive the change they need to achieve more positive results.
Steve Jobs is a prime example of innovation and change management. He took a fledgling Apple in 1996 and turned it into the most innovative mobile phone producer in the world by 2007. Every business has ways to improve—find them and identify steps to help your company reach those new heights. This will begin the path of your innovation and change management skill building.
6. Technological expertise
Businesses are rapidly adopting new technologies to stay ahead of the curve and competition. As a result, it’s increasingly important that C-level executives have hard technical knowledge in certain key areas like AI, big data, cybersecurity, and digitization. By understanding the available technological resources and then adopting them, executives can save their businesses time and money.
To begin to build your technological knowledge, you can perform research on ways companies are implementing technology to cut costs. For example, many companies are moving away from landlines to adopt technologies like the virtual office phone system for communications. You can also consider taking courses in areas like data science and AI. The point is to try to increase your knowledge now—and don’t be afraid to make recommendations to your managers based on what you learn.
A person in a C-level position must be able to communicate effectively. Employees look to leaders of a business or organization to help them understand overarching goals or complete assigned tasks. C-level executives must also master a range of communication styles. This means conveying information concisely and gauging how people respond. Great communicators should be able to read verbal and nonverbal cues, tailoring their messages so they’re received as intended.
One way to improve your communication skills now is to learn how to present in front of others by practicing public speaking. It’s common to hear of professionals practicing at Toastmasters events or taking online public speaking courses. Another way is to volunteer to lead presentations and meetings in your current role. Every Zoom meeting is a change to practice your communication skills. Remember, great communicators keep everyone on the same page and lead the team toward its goals.
8. Self-awareness and interpersonal
C-level positions are offered to people who can be trusted. This means that, to get to the top, you need to build positive working relationships with everyone you come across—you never know who’ll lend you a hand on your career path.
It’s important to understand that part of building positive relationships is being self-aware—recognizing the areas where you thrive and the areas where you’re lacking. Nobody’s perfect, and perfection isn’t something that’s expected if you want to get to the C-suite, but honesty is. So, start now by ensuring that you’re someone others can rely on—and someone others like to work with and be around.
Elea Andrea Almazora is the SEO Content Optimization manager for RingCentral, the leader in global enterprise communication and collaboration solutions on the cloud. She has more than a decade’s worth of experience in on-page optimization, editorial production, and digital publishing. She spends her free time learning new things.