CEO advice from Steve White
July 8, 2022

Setting your sights on the C-suite? Consider 3 vital steps on your journey.

I discovered the path to success and the C-suite often jogs to the right and left, but keeping your eye on the (real) prize always helps you self-correct when detours present or disguise themselves.

If you’ve ever set your sights on the C-suite, you might have thought your mission would be accomplished once they put your name on the door. After getting there myself, I learned there was so much more to the journey. In truth, there’s a “before, during, and after” to holding a position at this level. 

This summer, I had the honor of serving on a four-person leadership panel for the Women’s Business Collaborative, where we shared our insights on achieving personal success and becoming a purpose-driven company. 

It was this panel that got me thinking about my pursuit of serving the company as a president. It was by no means a straight line from college graduation to the threshold of that elusive office. If you’ve read my book, Uncompromising, you know that line had a rocky start even before college was a consideration. I discovered the path to success often jogs to the right and left, but keeping your eye on the (real) prize always helps you self-correct when detours present or disguise themselves. 

There are 3 vital steps to leading in the C-suite: getting therestaying there, and leaving there. Let’s explore the first step in this post.

Getting there

The reality is that getting there is about getting noticed, but we don’t accomplish that by boastful behavior or manner of speaking. Standing out as a leader is about putting everyone on your team before you, helping your company serve its purpose, and exceeding expectations.

In other words, how will you be the grease to your teammates’ wheels? How can you help them achieve shared goals more easily?

Midway through my career, my company was purchased by a larger organization. To my surprise, the new company kept me on the team through the transition, and I became a permanent employee. I expected to be let go so they could find “their own” people. 

I learned later that they kept only two of the fifty top executives, and I was one of them. The new leadership shared that several of my former employees had encouraged the new management to keep me—that I was indispensable to the transition. It was an incredibly humbling moment. You can be sure I was mentally thanking early mentors like Darnell Martin, who modeled how to serve your team.  

Martin surpassed the mentor term we commonly think of when we consider someone who’s offering advice or resources without being tethered to our outcomes. Martin was what I call a sponsor, a leader who takes an interest in your career and personally guarantees your success. They’re essentially saying, “I’ve got you.” They lend their name to your journey and advocate for your growth toward a confided goal. I’ll talk more about this relationship when we explore the third phase of reaching the C-suite.

Helping your company serve its purpose is closely tied to exceeding expectations. You’ve heard me talk about the importance of attitude and effort. These two behaviors—when focused on your why—are the only things you have control over as a leader. 

In a recent article, I explained that one of the best ways you can help your company achieve its purpose is to identify pain points or challenges. Rather than shy away from them, run toward them with a positive attitude and effort. Do your homework about the company’s marketplace and familiarize yourself with its challenges so you can be among the first to weigh in or step up when opportunities present themselves to lend a hand. Helping your company solve its most chronic problems not only serves your team and your boss, but your efforts also help the company serve its purpose.

I hope you enjoyed these thoughts on getting to the C-suite. Join me for the next installment of this series, where I’ll explore another essential consideration for serving in this capacity: how to stay in the C-suite. 

Live your why,

Steve White

P.S. Want to read more about what my panel shared at the Women’s Business Collaborative or my career advice at Fast Company? For a deeper exploration beyond both articles, check out my new book, Uncompromising.

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