How to Get and Keep That CEO Position

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Thinking about applying for that chief executive officer position at the corporation of your dreams? Before you put a down payment on the Porsche you’ve always wanted, remember that a company’s top title often comes with a hefty salary or extra perks for good reason. It’s important to step back and examine your strengths, experience and motivation to see if you are committed to not only becoming a CEO but to successfully leading a company and guiding its staff. Though there are certain overall leadership qualities all CEOs should demonstrate, specific strengths required for success vary tremendously depending on a company’s unique situation.

We often think of a CEO as a charismatic person with a strong personality along the likes of Donald Trump. In fact, individuals with strikingly different leadership styles can be successful as chief executive officers. Many successful CEOs are actually quiet, goal-oriented visionaries. Shareholders and executive boards often recognize that a management style that worked in the past may be very different from the CEO who will lead their organization into the future.

For many years, CEOs of large organizations may have come up through the ranks of the organization with “home-grown” knowledge of the business. Today, the average CEO tenure is much shorter. The pace of change in business is faster than ever and the type of leader an organization needs may vary depending on where the business exists on the life cycle continuum. For example, an organization that is ready to expand into global markets may choose to bring in a new leader with global business experience if it does not have that skillset already amongst its leadership ranks. An organization that is planning growth by acquisition may select a CEO who has prior successful experience in mergers and the necessary cultural integration that follows.

The overarching requirement for all CEO roles is a successful track record in leadership. A candidate should come to the table with broad knowledge of each functional area of business and a strong financial base that allows them to objectively evaluate and drive an organization to profitability.

Strengths of the hiring organization’s existing management team will determine any additional skills necessary for its new CEO. For example, an organization that already has great depth in its management team may not require a CEO to have specific industry or product knowledge. Other times, an organization’s structure or size may require the CEO to be on the front line of the sales and public relations efforts. Skill sets that can easily translate from one industry to another are also appealing, such as in the consumer products arena. The company may require a CEO who has a consumer products background but not necessarily with the specific product (e.g., men’s razors).

I believe there is a realization that the firms that lead their markets in the future will not only have the top talent on their team but will have the leadership strategy to utilize that talent effectively and efficiently. Future organizations will likely operate in a nontraditional manner. Companies will continue to operate in a global marketplace that requires them to be quick and nimble.

Most business leaders will tell you that a CEO’s first 30 days with a new organization are critical. Use the time to ask questions, listen, and gather information from a variety of sources. A new leader has a window of opportunity to learn about the organization’s strengths and weaknesses related to everything from financials to talent. To set a successful course, a leader must fully understand the current status of the organization – the good, the bad and the ugly. Talk with current leaders in all sectors of the business, including customers and suppliers. Identify gaps on the existing team, and bring new talent on board to fill these areas.

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Julie Godshall Brown is president of Godshall Professional Recruiting and Staffing. She has placed CEOs and other C-level talent for more than 45 years. The company focuses on talent placement in the technical, financial, healthcare and general professional markets.

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