Question: Career path to the C-Suite

I am a mid-level manager in a multi-national corporation which takes immense pride in its unique culture and managerial talent. Very few managers are promoted to C-level positions and we almost never hire an executive externally.

Apart from solid execution, I have observed that stuff like alignment to org values, good communication and willingness to relocate...even internationally, are some things that all execs in our company share.

I plan to have a long, productive time here. So, at this point in my career, with a few years in managing teams, what steps can I proactively take to position myself for an executive role in the company?


10 Expert Insights

Besides all the excellent answers by the coaches who answered your question, I would add that being mindful of your presence as a leader will be a strong factor in your advancement.  This is a combination of grit, an uncompromising commitment to performance excellence and strategic focus; grace, a command of relationship intelligence and transformative communication, and their critical role in elevating performance; and gravitas, a depth of professional knowledge and competence that contributes to excellence in performance.

The balance of grit, grace and gravitas (GGG) will shift in each situation, as you address challenges along your leadership journey.  and your command of GGG can be developed as you take in feedback, reflect on your choices, and grow your skills, knowledge and practices. Above all, leveraging your strengths, passions, and values - along with your sense of purpose - will keep you authentic, a critical quality of leadership that inspires others and builds trust.  

Find people willing to mentor you and an external coach. Apply discernment.

There are several things you can do, all dependent on how good a job you are presently doing.  First, you need to help your manager look good by producing high-quality work; by meeting with him regularly and having solid suggestions for whatever he/she needs; by thinking strategically when offering suggestions. Don't bring problems - bring solutions.  At some point, you need to let your manager know that you are looking towards the future for yourself and your company, be clear about what strengths you bring. If you have a team, helping the team to be successful will also help.

Without knowing in more detail what you do and what your situation is, it's difficult to provide specifics. But if you can implement some of the suggestions above, it's bound to help.  Feel free to call if you would like to discuss this further.

Good luck
Ruth Mott

Besides finding a mentor/champion for to support your development and possible advancement, get your job done brilliantly.  Don't do your current job "in order to" advance -- that is the wrong focus, in my view. Because every 'promotion' that you don't get will feel extra disappointing.  You've said that few managers get promoted, so i'm taking that into account.

Deliver on your accountabilities, develop leaders around you, and actively support the whole. by that i mean, be a strategic thinker and offer resources, time, perhaps even mentoring of peers or future managers.  

The executive skill most in demand today involves the ability to create an environmental ecosystem of agile teams comprised of enthusiastically engaged employees that adroitly respond to the rapidly changing market expectations.

This involves gaining Buy-in among the leaders (at multiple levels) in new ways of thinking, feeling and behaving, i.e. a culture shift.

Typically, over 50% of the employees in multi-national companies are non-engaged, only 30% are actively engaged.  If the people you are leading are innovative, adaptable and engaged, your unique leadership abilities will be recognized and you will be moved to a “fast track.”

Both suggestions are very good and I do not ave to add anything. Since I am a coach who works with individuals seeking  a promotion and/or a new job. I think I could help you in your endeavor.

All the best, Iva Wilson

Doing your job well a good and necessary start, but is not sufficient by itself. There are many competent, capable people who have good values and skills. And they are often overlooked for promotions.

What you need to develop is political savvy. Not the kissing up, back-stabbing, fake stuff that most people associate with politics. But rather, the ability to discern and move with powerful people in your org. chart -- up, down and sideways.  Engage such people in reciprocal, mutually beneficial actions. For example, give them some of your time and talent even if it's not in your objectives. Find ways to make them look good. Then see if they are appreciative and willing to reciprocate in some fashion. There are many users out there who won't reciprocate, but will take whatever you give. There are many who gladly do favors and give, but lack the confidence and guts to make their own requests. It takes intention, and skill in interpreting and communicating to excel in healthy politics.

This is how the game of building power works. It's not written down anywhere. It is happening all the time, but is mostly invisible, and nobody admits to such thinking and acting.

Along with the important guidance above, I would find a way to identify the key competencies (often published by HR) and also the mindset of the highest performing leaders. Research suggests that emotional intelligence is a key differentiator for high performing leaders. At some point you will likely be surrounded by other high performers so you will differentiate by things like:
- Presence (mentioned above)
- Grit, grace and gravitas (Mentioned above)
- Self- awareness and self-management
- The ability to read others quickly and determine a course of action that is effective

As leaders, making the shift from building more technical skills to managing these "softer" skills can be challenging yet it is often the biggest differentiator to get to and maintain the "C" level job.  As you evaluate the organization, you will see which behaviors are present in the most successful leaders. I would recommend creating a plan to build those behavioral skills and also the mindset behind those behaviors. Learn how they make sense of things. This often comes from your mentor and questions like: help me understand your rational for that decision, or what factors did you consider and how did you arrive at that course of action when xxx may also have been a reasonable choice. Use your mentor to help you build your acumen as well as relationships.

The final is keep reading about leadership. The field is changing dramatically in response to the massive changes we are seeing in the world. By updating your leadership skills (along with your functional skills) you will stay ahead of your peers and be well positioned when opportunities arise.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

1. What can you do to make yourself stand out from the crowd?
2. What can you do to take on challenges no one else is taking on?
3. How can you show innovation and new ways of thinking for the high profile challenges you take on?


Work on your emotional intelligence - your internal awareness,  so that you can lead effectively.  A great video to watch is Simon Sinek - he has two great TED talks on How Great Leaders Inspire Action.    Hire a coach to help you grow this aspect of yourself and you will be ahead of the game.  Find a good mentor who has been in your shoes. Mentors are different than coach's but an integral part of a leaders success.  Good Luck!