Jay Haines identifies the five traits most commonly found in executive leaders
There is no shortage of advice on how to find a job, how to prepare for an interview or how to negotiate a salary. While these are all crucial steps in building a career, there seems to be a lack of guidance for seasoned, established employees attempting to make the leap from middle management to the executive level.
At my company Grace Blue, I’ve spent my career working closely with top leaders in the communications space. They are often brilliant and charismatic, but always ambitious, decisive and resourceful. So what makes them different from their peers? Few people start careers as a CEO, CMO or CCO -– so how does one get from point A to point B?
In my day-to-day working with executives, I have seen common traits, decisions and actions that have helped them rise to the top. While I wouldn’t necessarily categorize these traits as requirements, I have noticed a pattern of best practices that are intuitive to the people managing their businesses — and if you put them into practice in your own career, they can go a long way toward helping you chart a path to a coveted corner office.
We live in the 'agility era' –- one that is fast-paced, immensely complex and often unforgiving. Succeeding in such a fast-paced environment requires energy, and a tremendous amount of it. Succeeding in such a fast-paced environment requires energy, and a tremendous amount of it. To get ahead, you need to be proactively up for everything. Volunteer yourself for the extra projects, the new business pitches and the difficult assignments. This highlights to management that you’re hungry and have a real desire to push on with your career.
Stand for creativity.
Whether it’s identifying a new revenue stream no one has thought of, or simplifying a workflow to be more cost-efficient, thinking outside the box is a must. The key to any business is improvement and development. It’s an executive’s job to create and promote growth — so get into the habit now.
Ask yourself: Where are the places you can take your account and make it better? Where can you become leaner and more efficient? Finding a creative way to move the needle for your boss or client is a great way to get promoted.
Get smart about your business.
A common problem we see when searching for candidates is a general lack of knowledge of their company or account’s finances. The earlier in your career you begin taking an interest in the metrics, margins and bottom line of your account (and the business as a whole), the sooner you’ll be ready to make the jump to the executive level. Understanding the finances of the business creates an immediate point of difference amongst your peers.
Be transparent with your ambitions.
It’s important to be open with your employer about your ambitions and the opportunities you’re looking for within an organization. If it’s your goal to become a VP in the next two years, address this with your employer If it’s your goal to become a VP in the next two years, address this with your employer and ask for the best ways to ensure you achieve it. Expressing ambition can be a sensitive topic, but as long as you manage the conversation with care and humility, it’s a perfectly acceptable one. If you are an asset to the company, your leaders will be grateful for the chance to keep you happy and help you succeed. If your goals aren’t achievable from your current position, at least the conversation will let you know where you stand and give you the chance to move somewhere with better prospects.
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Always keep an eye out for business challenges outside your comfort zone that require new skills and fresh thinking. If you work in advertising, try working directly with a brand (and vice-versa). People who understand both sides of the communications coin will always have a leg-up over those who don’t.
Taking a role in a foreign market can also be a boon for your career. Taking (or volunteering for) a job in a market like China — or elsewhere in Asia-Pacific — gives you an opportunity to prove yourself in a new situation, as well as a tremendous chance to learn. Moving to an emerging market will also give you the chance to secure a leadership position earlier than you might be able to otherwise. Helping to establish a brand or business in a new market is a huge plus for anyone looking to push forward in his or her career.
In a world without guaranteed revenue at the start of each year, and in which the fastest, most competent and most inventive business wins out, a leader should be quick on his or her feet, bold in decision-making and forward-thinking for the business. The quicker you can develop these traits, the faster you’ll be able to make the leap to the C-Suite.