What You Really Need to Know to Get to the C-suite!

4 min read | Susan Colantuono
Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash
In advertising, it's the transition from managing the client to
managing the business.
In construction, it's the transition from managing the project to
managing the business.
In professional services firms it's the transition from delivering client services to
advancing the business by revenue generation.
In your company, it is likely the transition from managing managers to
running a business.
In every company there is a barrier that has been difficult for women to cross and it's usually the barrier between middle and senior/executive management. Why is it so difficult? Because, as Marshal Goldsmith writes, what got you here, won't get you there.
For much of the past 40 years, advice to women has centered on guidance for getting from career-start to being successful in the middle. Advice such as:
  • Get a mentor.
  • Speak up!
  • Do a better job at self-promotion.
  • Engage your team.
  • Hone your interpersonal skills.
  • Network!
And all of this good advice builds skills that are taken with successful women who transition from middle management to senior/executive positions. For example, Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell's has had mentors at every stage in her career and Anne Mulcahy used her prodigious people skills with external customers and staff to turn around Xerox, mentor and then pass the reins on to her successor Ursula Burns.
But if they had rested on these skill sets, they would undoubtedly still be mired in the middle. 

In a November 2017 interview Geisha Williams of PG&E, the first Latina F500 CEO, spoke about career success, being a powerful woman, and mentoring. And what she says is her secret to her success is right in line with Leading Women's career advice:

"...understanding the business and really going into the hard core aspects of the business... the operations. I've had mentors tell me... you've got to get a little dirt under your fingernails. You really do have to understand the essence of what your business is about."

Yes, self-promotion, aptitude and all the rest are important, but here's what executives tell us they require before they'll risk social capital to sponsor someone - a track record of business success.
One recently said, "I won't waste my social capital sponsoring a woman who I don't see as a businesswoman."
So all of the traditional advice helps get women to the middle, but it's not what is needed to get women to the top. Instead, companies and advisors need to cultivate a new set of advice for ambitious women in the middle. Advice such as:
  • Hone your financial acumen.
  • Learn the business of your business.
  • Take key operational assignments.
  • Enhance your ability to understand/set strategy and the role finances play.
  • Take global assignments.
  • Take assignments that put you close to strategy setting.
  • Cultivate an influential external strategic network.
When I asked a panel of executives what they look for in high potential candidates, the bottom line is that the cluster of business, strategic and financial competencies are the door opener - interpersonal/team skills and individual qualities are the differentiators.
Too few women get this message - maybe 2-3 out of a room of 100. It's why so many are mired in the middle. It's beyond time to change this! If you and your organization are ready to change the advice given to women...
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