Tips to get to the C-suite

When working with credit union managers all across the country as part of our Transformational Leadership program, one question often arises: how can I get to the C-Suite? In other words, what is the path from management to executive?

Before answering that question, keep in mind that we’re not necessarily talking titles. You can be the “C” of anything: chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, chief experience officer or chief operations officer. Ultimately, attaining C-Suite status (or executive, VP or any other title you might be seeking) is more about influence. John Maxwell even says “the definition of leadership is influence.”

Based on my own experience along with conversations with CEOs all across the country, here are 10 insights on how to grow your career to the point where you are in a C-Suite chair.

  1. Ask yourself, “is this what you really want?”—Do some soul searching first. That searching must include an honest self-appraisal. Some people are honestly not cut out for top level positions. And that is okay. Look for the thing that gives you joy, energy and fulfillment. One practical tip is to journal why you want a C-Suite position and how it would fulfill you. And remember, it doesn’t take a title to have influence.
  2. Become a linchpin—This is directly from Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, in which he defines a linchpin as someone who is so valuable in the organization they almost can’t replace you. In order to become indispensable to your team (nor replaceable by robots or another human) you must add unique value. If you are truly bringing value, you will move up in your credit union or community bank.
  3. It all starts with your attitude—People with negative attitudes rarely get promoted to the C-Suite (although it does happen). Keep in mind, I’m talking positive and not Pollyanna. You don’t ignore the negative, but you address negative items as a challenge. Remember, being positive in a negative situation is not naïve, it’s leadership. The reality is, positive people get promoted more.
  4. Drink the Kool-Aid—You have to be “all in” on your credit union’s or community bank’s culture. If you don’t believe in the direction your financial institution is going, then why would they promote you? Being 100% in doesn’t mean you are a “yes” person. But when you disagree with a decision, demonstrate that you remain committed to the organization by supporting the leadership team’s direction.
  5. Play nice with others—People hire and promote people they like. In other words, don’t be a pain in the a#$. Whether you realize it or not, you have your own personal brand. What are people thinking and saying about you when you are not in the room? Do they see you as cooperative or contentious?
  6. Become an expert through continuous learning—You need to push yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is through reading business books. Let other executives know what you’re reading , what you learned form that material and how you plan to apply it. As Greg McKeown says in Effortless, “If you read every day, you will eventually develop an expertise.” If reading is not your thing, then listen to podcasts or attend a conference. Organizations promote experts.
  7. Spend time with executives—this tip might be the secret sauce to moving up. You tend to become like the people you are spending time with. While formal meetings with executives are good, informal time is great. Go to lunch or coffee with a C-suite executive and pick their brains. Learn from them. A huge chunk of trust is developed simply by spending time with people.
  8. Think strategically—you must think of the entire credit union or community bank and not just about your department. Think of it as playing chess: you must look at the entire board. You must see the entire board. As part of our management training we push managers to think strategically by discussing strategic issues and even doing “war game scenario” exercises where they have to solve big problems quickly.
  9. Bring ideas and solutions to the table—Most executives probably know the problems, but do we know the solutions? Problem solvers get promoted. When you point out something that needs improvement, be sure to add the ways to attain that improvement. This tactic shows the leadership team you are thinking about and proposing solutions.
  10. Develop and create a well-run team and department—if executives were to rank your financial institution’s departments, where would yours rank? At the top, in the middle or towards the bottom? Remember, your team is a reflection of you. Leaders of high performing areas get promoted.

Most people want to grow in their careers. If you are a mid-level manager and want to grow to a higher level, start by improving your own leadership skills. If you are an executive and want your mid-level managers to grow, make sure you are investing in their leadership development. Remember, growth doesn’t happen by osmosis. It takes intentionality.

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details