This article was originally published on Forbes. Read it here!
“Am I CEO material?”
That’s what Amit asked when we discussed why he wanted to work with a leadership coach.
“Do you want to be?” I asked in return.
“Definitely!” he replied without the slightest bit of hesitation. “The truth is, I’m not sure what skills I should be focusing on and I don’t know how to create a path that will lead to a CEO role. Is that something you can help me with?”
That was a conversation I had with Amit 12 months ago. Yesterday, he called with the news that he had just received an offer to become the CEO of a growing medical devices company. I reveled in Amit’s joy as he shared the details of the new opportunity. We reflected on our work together and how it set the stage for this to happen.
Whether you’re aiming for a CEO role or a different leadership position, the key is to identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be. What are the skills you need to acquire? What are the specific actions you will take to develop those skills?
When we began to work together, Amit was already in a C-level position. He had deep technical expertise and great work experience on his side. What skills did he need to strengthen for a CEO position?
To find out, Amit took an assessment that revealed his core competencies and emotional intelligence. Then he gave me the green light to conduct a 360-perceptual interview with all the stakeholders to his work—his boss, his peers, his direct reports and even a few of his clients. Once we had a clear understanding of the ways in which he added value and how his strengths could best be used, we also identified where Amit needed to focus and created a professional development plan for rounding out his leadership profile.
Over the next 12 months, I worked with Amit to strengthen the top three leadership skills that would help him evolve from “CEO material” to a CEO candidate. Here is what we focused on:
1. Strategic thinking: This skill involves stepping back from the narrow view of day-to-day operations and taking in the big picture. It incorporates thinking about, evaluating and planning for the future — for yourself and others. Where do we want the company to be in six months? In a year? In five years? Why?
2. Futuristic thinking: This skill is akin to strategic thinking in that it also focuses on the big picture, however, it also involves the ability to imagine, envision, project and/or predict what has not been realized. Someone like Walt Disney excelled in futuristic thinking because he could imagine that cartoons could expand into a new industry of animated films, and imagination itself could be housed in theme parks.
3. The ability to be an inspiring leader and developer of a high-performing team: It’s one thing to know the ins and outs of the healthcare industry or to have deep knowledge of biomedical engineering; it’s another thing to create vision and purpose for an organization, to bring people together on a high-performing team and motivate them to persevere through setbacks to achieve forward momentum. Inspiring others requires more EQ (emotional intelligence) than IQ, so it’s important to hone the social skills related to emotional intelligence.
In addition to coaching Amit in specific areas, I also worked with him on defining a path from his current position to potential CEO roles. We discussed finding the right niche in a succession plan that would enable him to step into a C-level position with the understanding that in one year he would take over as CEO after the current CEO retired. This is the strategy that eventually paid off, giving Amit the opportunity he set out to create.
Within a year, Amit knew the answer. He was indeed CEO material! He had a vision for himself. He sensed that he needed help in making that vision a reality and he sought it. With each step in the direction of his goal, clarity emerged about what next steps would look like. He learned new skills and developed a game plan for positioning himself as a CEO candidate.
Are you CEO material? To know for sure, there’s only one question you have to ask yourself: Do you want to be a CEO? If the answer is yes, begin to imagine getting the job offer you want, then take a step toward developing what you will need to know to make that moment happen.