How to Nail a C-Suite Promotion

How to Nail a C-Suite Promotion

My Predictable Promotion advice was recently included in an article in the U.S. News & World Report “Money and Careers” section. The reporter who interviewed me was particularly interested in my insights regarding how to prepare for a leadership promotion.

Despite high unemployment and a contracted business environment, organizations are eagerly hiring and promoting qualified leaders for prized positions. But the operative word there is “qualified.” Are you?

Unfortunately, too many would-be candidates don’t have the skills they need. They either get passed over for promotions or they are promoted prematurely – which leads to a rapid crash and burn. That can kill your career, at a time when you should be playing your biggest game and reaching your lifelong goals.

Consider these interesting statistics cited in the U.S. News article:

  • Because so many Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age, the need for new leaders is critical, and rapidly growing.
  • But only 30 percent of 1,300 respondents to Price Waterhouse Cooper’s 2012 CEO survey said they believed they had sufficient leadership succession talent within the pipeline.
  • 25 percent of the HR execs recently polled by Deloitte Consulting say that this talent vacuum is, in fact, their number one challenge.

But as I explain to my clients, those research results should encourage and excite you, not bum you out! If you want a career at the top, there has never been a better time to apply for the position. The competition is historically low and the number of openings is tremendous!

Prepare Now or Lose Later

The question that remains is this: How do you ensure that you’re one of those rare, qualified leaders? The answer lies in preparation.

  • The biggest mistake I witness regarding promotions is that high-potential candidates wait for job openings, then apply for the position and start prepping for it.
  • Slimmed-down, budget-minded employers can’t afford to put people in high-powered positions and train them. They expect “little or no” learning curve and transition period.
  • When it comes to such things as executive presence, ability to build high-performance teams, and a knack for identifying talent in the raw and developing it you need expertise BEFORE applying for the position.

Nobody gets to the Super Bowl without first training really hard to perfect their skills. We all need to dream. But don’t confuse dreaming with preparation or your dreams will never come true!

Master the Zigzag Approach

That’s why I am becoming rather famous as the most passionate advocate of “Zigzag to the Top” strategies.

  • The model of linear, vertical promotions that take you up like an elevator is becoming a relic of the past – of your parents’ generation.
  • Today’s companies want panoramic vision and broad experience at the top, not silo mentality. You need to gain an understanding of how the entire organization works, across as many departments and disciplines as possible.
  • To get that you have to seek out and accept value-adding lateral and diagonal promotions that will put you in position to land the top job.

Best of all, once you’ve assumed that high level position you will already have a depth and breadth of experience to qualify you for running the whole show. You will hit the ground running.

Diversify Your Leadership

Ask any financial planner and they’ll tell you that a diversified portfolio is the one you want to invest in for stronger and more sustainable returns. Guess what? Companies think the same way. They will invest heavily in you and your career success if your resume shines as a powerful example of leadership development diversity.

  • Volunteer to head up a project that will showcase your expertise or give you skills and experience you do not yet have. If you’re in the marketing department, seek out opportunities to learn about accounting and HR. If you’re in budget planning, cultivate some marketing skills. Become diversified, in other words.
  • Take advantage of leadership development seminars, workshops, and executive coaching. Find a mentor. Expand your network across departments and industry specialties.

Be proactive about filling-in the gaps in your skill set. Why? Because then you will become the priceless, sought-after leader who can fill in the gaps in your company’s or industry’s succession plan.

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Sarah Hathorn is a leadership development mentor, executive presence coach, image and branding consultant, public speaker & author. She is the founding CEO of her own successful company, Illustra Consulting, and the creator of the proprietary Predictable Promotion System™.

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Copyright © 2012, Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS

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