An impressive track record is not enough to prepare you to take the big step to CEO.
“The CEO job is not just another senior leadership role. It is fundamentally different,” says CCL’s Bill Pasmore.
“Many CEOs put it this way: Until you actually become the person in the corner office, you can’t imagine what the job is really like,” Pasmore explains.
This is the crux of the challenge to prepare CEO candidates — and maybe a clue as to why almost half of all CEOs fail and companies struggle with short-tenured chief executives.
Pasmore, CCL’s vice president and organizational practice leader, has been working with CCL CEO John Ryan, corporate CEOs and board members to improve the way companies prepare potential CEO successors. They tell companies to start sooner and plan more — advice that individuals who have CEO ambitions should also follow.
Pasmore says potential CEO candidates should seek out CEO-caliber experiences before they need it. He offers three tips that will make you a better senior leader, strengthen you as a CEO candidate and serve you well if you get the nod:
Stop doing more of the same. Staying in your current role longer isn’t the key to readiness. Nor is round after round of career moves that build on what you already do well. Honestly assess your weak spots, identify skills you need and seek out challenges or roles that fill those gaps. If you need strategic planning experience, step up to lead the company’s scenario planning efforts. If you need more international experience, lobby to lead the company’s entry into a new geographic market. Note that you need to learn and lead as you go — the ability to succeed in unfamiliar territory is an essential CEO skill.
Learn to take a direct hit. Until you are CEO, you have someone else to absorb some of the shock of a poor strategic decision or an operational problem. For CEOs, the shock absorber is gone. No one else can share the blame for poor performance. To get a sense of this, make sure you are taking personal responsibility for key, high-profile initiatives. Can you own the work without micromanaging it? Can you take the hits rather than looking for cover?
Learn how to work with a Board of directors. Few CEO candidates understand board dynamics, so start learning now by taking leadership roles on boards of local nonprofits. Ask your boss or mentor to help you gain a corporate board post where you can use your expertise, but also gain new experience and perspectives. And if you are on the short list of potential CEOs for your company, find ways to get to know individual board members: work with them on committee projects, play host when they visit your site, join them on trips to other company locations, ask for a walk-through of their own business. Understanding different board members’ experiences, perspectives and personalities will give you insight into the demands facing the CEO.