One of the longest-running debates in history centers on whether great leaders are made or born. It’s a “chicken or the egg” question for which there’s no definitive answer, and I’m not about to try. What I will say is that a great business executive demonstrates strong leadership abilities well before those abilities are recognized with a job title and a corner office.
As a chief executive officer, I’m often asked, “What does it take to move up the corporate ladder? What can I do to impress the CEO and the senior leadership team?” The answer is simple: To attract the notice of senior management, you must already be a leader. To receive that “big promotion,” you must behave as though you already got the promotion.
Below are 7 tips on how to increase your visibility and capture the attention of the CEO and executive leadership team. (These tips presume, of course, that you have access to senior management.)
1. Be active and engaged with the business. Employees who merely do what’s required — who aren’t passionate about, and engaged with, the company’s mission and direction — are unlikely to get noticed. When I say “be active,” I mean take action. Ask your boss and coworkers about developments and trends in the company. If the organization uses social media — e.g., LinkedIn and Facebook — comment on the posts. Demonstrate interest in what the company is doing. Upper management doesmonitor this sort of thing. When I see somebody who’s active, who’s promoting the company, and who’s engaged with the business as a whole, I take notice of this person.
2. Make thoughtful suggestions. I love employees who are constantly thinking and innovating. To promote innovation, I always welcome new ideas, no matter the source — from clerical workers and customer service representatives to those in supervisory positions. I have an open-door policy that encourages employees to suggest well-thought out solutions. Identifying problems is helpful, but I’m most interested in solutions that improve the quality of our services and technology. When someone regularly comes to me with potential solutions to problems (large or small), I’ll soon see that person as an innovator with “fast track” potential.
3. Talk about key numbers (and understand them). Regardless of your job title, if you understand key numbers and metrics that are important to your department and/or the company as a whole, and can talk about them intelligently, you’ll eventually get noticed. Someone who can talk numbers, and has a handle on how they relate to improving performance, is someone I want to hear from on a regular basis.
4. Don’t brag about your schooling or degrees. Why? Because nobody cares. Occasionally, newly minted graduates come to my firm bragging about their degrees or the prestigious universities they attended. None of this impresses me. If you want to wow senior management, touting your academic record is not a good tactic. When we hire someone at our company, we’ve already examined their resume, including their academic accomplishments and skillsets. Once you’re hired, it’s time to talk about what you can do for the company. All too often, employees who use their degrees as “ego crutches” don’t perform up to expectations.
5. Dress and behave professionally. I’m looking for employees who can represent the company when I can’t. I want people I can send to conferences. I want people who can meet with clients and prospective clients. If you want to hop on the fast track, demonstrate that you’re somebody on which the executive team can rely. To do this, dress professionally and behave professionally. If you do this, you’ll quickly catch my eye as a good ambassador for the company.
6. Study the industry. You can really impress your CEO by understanding the industry in which your company operates. And that requires you to study the industry — often by approaching your boss, senior management or the CEO and expressing a desire to learn more. Maybe you can take classes to acquire more job-related training. Maybe you can pick your bosses’ brains to learn more about certain facets of the business. Taking this kind of initiative is one of the most direct ways of attracting positive attention from superiors.
7. Claims ownership of problems and solutions. At one time or another, problems will arise through no fault of your own. But this doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for solving the problem. A true leader claims ownership of problems, regardless of how they arose, and takes charge of solving them. By the time someone approaches me, I expect to learn about not just the problem but about the person’s recommendations for resolving it — even if the resolution requires some fine-tuning.
What all these tips have in common is added value. By implementing these tips, individually and collectively, you reveal a determination to make yourself a more valuable team member. Inevitably, employees who add more value to the company receive more value — in the form of greater compensation and authority. This “chicken or the egg” question is easy to answer: To be recognized and rewarded as a leader, you must already be a leader.