The ongoing Great Resignation has prompted millions of people to leave their jobs, whether to get better pay, a cheaper cost of living, a new career path, or for a variety of other pandemic-era reasons.
Even top-level executives are considering whether it’s time for a change.
“A lot of C-suite leaders are saying, ‘OK, how long do I want to do this for,’” said Cassandra Frangos, an executive development and C-suite succession advisor for MIT Sloan Executive Education. “Maybe they want to retire earlier, maybe they want to think about just doing things where they pull back from work a little bit and do more things [that] give them joy.”
That movement leaves an opening for workers who’ve got their sights set on a senior leadership position.
In a recent webinar, “What It Takes to Make It to the C-suite ‘Now,’” Frangos outlined the different paths to the top, the characteristics of people who successfully seek out the C-suite, and the short- and long-term actions that can help you ascend the ranks.
5 traits of C-suite personalities
People who seek out executive-level roles are typically results-oriented, Frangos said. They ensure they make an impact in whatever area that they own. They are people-leaders who hold others accountable while also thinking about ways to help them grow.
“People who make it to the C-suite — the good ones, anyway — are often not just only thinking about themselves … so they’re thinking about multifaceted stakeholders,” Frangos said. “Stakeholders can be people from the outside, their employees, their peers. There’s a whole constituent group that they have to be responsible for.”
Those who want to be in the C-suite should also have a good balance of strategy and operations; a way of being able to think about how they can protect their company in the long term, but also “how do I get things done right now,” Frangos said.
Finally, future C-suite leaders need to understand the rise and importance of diversity. They should be thinking about how to be a more inclusive leader and engage a more diverse workforce.
3 best practices to start now
Professional personality traits need to be considered when looking to rise to the C-suite, but there are also external steps to take. They include:
Keep your LinkedIn current. “When people have to send over a resume, it can be a daunting task if they are five jobs behind,” said Frangos, former head of the global executive talent practice at Cisco. Make sure your professional background is fully visible on the platform. Update your profile as you take on new roles and opportunities, such as board seats or research projects.
Cast a wide recruiting network. Network with your friends, and reach out to people who are in the roles that you want to be in, Frangos said. Ask people who are one or two levels below the C-suite who they admire in their space; then ask them for recruitment connections.
Remember that executive recruitment is a relationship-based business. Taking a phone call from a recruiter doesn’t mean you’re abandoning your company; it means you’re building your network. “It’s a networking business,” Frangos said. “A lot of times, if it’s an executive recruiter working on a C-suite position, that’s your key to getting to the table.”
Build a board of advisors. Look for a mentor — someone who’s held a similar position to one you’re looking to reach — that you can go to for advice. Find a sponsor who can advocate for you and help you get the right level of attention when your company is looking to fill a position.
“Your boss is a big player in all of this as well,” Frangos said. “Your boss can certainly be helpful in promotion or making sure you’re seeing the different ways of advancing in a company.”
And find an external source who can be a sounding board for career discussions, such as a job coach. It’s important to have someone — whether a job coach or more informal support person — who can encourage you to push yourself.
‘Women need sponsors more than ever’
Sponsorship and attention are particularly important for women looking to reach the C-suite, Frangos said. Women need be thinking about their brand perception and network, and understand that it’s important to voice their ambition, rather than keeping their heads down and hoping their work speaks for itself.
“You need a lot of people advocating for the work you’re doing,” Frangos said. “Women need sponsors more than ever. Having a sponsor that will really make sure that they are putting you forward as the leader, as someone who can advance.”