Aspiring to reach the C-Suite? Here’s 6 tips to get you there

Your career has gone from strength to strength, and you suddenly find yourself within arm’s reach of a respected C-Suite title. Whether you’re a senior leader in a commercial organisation, or an EL2 looking to move into a ‘super’ EL2 or SES position, the ultimate question is: how do you make the leap?

While qualifications and experience are undeniably important, there are certain traits that set some leaders apart from others and make all the difference when applying for a chief title role.

In my work within accounting and finance, I have helped many candidates take the next step in their careers and secure a C-Suite position. Here are the top 6 qualities I consistently see in these candidates…

# 1: Solid foundations

Most C-Suite candidates have a Bachelor Degree and post-graduate qualification in their area of speciality. But it’s the culmination of technical experience gained over the years, and how you translate this into directions and outcomes that matters most at the chief level.

You want to show that your technical expertise means you understand what’s happening from the frontline through the various levels of management, and can present this information in a considered and meaningful way to senior executives.

Quality candidates also demonstrate that they don’t rest on their laurels – they’re committed to their own professional development and keeping their ideas fresh.

# 2: Strategic thinking

The ability to interpret organisation-wide goals and priorities, and develop strategies that align to these, is crucial for a successful senior leader.

You must be the strategic priorities and visions’ guardian (as well as cheerleader) so you can effectively engage with and guide your team to achieve it. This includes how you manage progress and monitor KPIs, to how you motivate others to connect with your vision and stay the course.

# 3: Ability to influence and engage

Influence is vital to success at the C-Suite level. There is no point having a great strategic vision if you cannot engage others to help you deliver it!

This includes being able to ‘read the room’ and navigate internal politics, because your bosses need to know that you have a strong backbone and can have difficult conversations when needed.

Great C-Suite leaders embody the ideal balance between confidence and strength – influencing others to see what they see, and developing robust relationships that ensure progress towards outcomes.

# 4: Scalable management skills

Great management skills are important at the senior leadership level – from how you manage individuals and teams to how you manage your time, budget, and so on.

These responsibilities are amplified at the C-Suite level, so you’ll want to demonstrate that not only are your management skills top notch – but that your approach can scale to the next level.

# 5 A fresh approach

Most chief title positions become available when the person who held it moves on after a significant period of time. This could mean that not much has changed for a while, and senior executives are excited to find someone with new ideas and a fresh approach.

It will establish a point of difference if you can show that you have your finger on the pulse and know exactly what innovations and contemporary approaches you can bring to the table.

# 6 The ability to clearly articulate your value

While all of the above traits are key to securing a C-Suite role, your ability to prove that you have them in an interview setting is perhaps most important.

Every CFO I’ve placed in the past year was an excellent communicator who could clearly articulate how they:

  • Manage and lead
  • Approach their role, especially in the first 90 days
  • Assess and uplift capability in their team and other teams
  • Deal with challenges
  • Set a vision and deliver on it
  • Align their vision with organisational objectives

They immediately give others confidence in their knowledge and abilities, and show they have what it takes to win the respect of senior executives.

In a recent example, I helped a candidate move from an EL2 to a super EL2 role as a CFO in a mid-sized government agency. This person had the perfect combination of qualifications and experience. What secured the role, however, was their ability to clearly articulate their knowledge at a strategic level and their fresh approach to solving challenges.

Readying yourself for the C-Suite

These traits don’t come naturally to everyone, but they can definitely be learned.

One way to do this is to equip yourself with insights from respected professionals who have authored books on effective management, communication, influence, and so on.

Another way is to find a mentor in a C-Suite role who can answer your questions, give suggestions, and provide valuable feedback.

If you’re having difficulty finding a mentor, you could consider engaging an executive coach to help you get clear on your goals, understand your strengths and weaknesses, and provide advice.

For some, a C-Suite role is simply a stepping stone towards a higher role (such as SES or a larger commercial organisation). Keep in mind that you should be selective about the type of C-Suite roles you apply for and in which department or organisation.

Ideally, you want not only a perfect match for your area of expertise but also a clear connection with the organisations vision and purpose.  This will help you to secure the role and ensure success once you’re in it.

Give me a call today, let’s have a chat to see how I can help you reach your C-Suite goals.


Alan Larby
Manager – Accounting and Finance Recruitment

alan@horizonone.com.au
02 6108 4878

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