9 C’s to the C-Suite

Talking with a couple of business women in South Africa last week, I was asked yet again about the success formula women all over the world keep trying to crack:

How do you get to senior/executive management?

An oft repeated American quote is “How do you get to Carnegie Hall (the famous American landmark and music venue)?”

The answer: Practice!

Contained within that simple word practice is a whole host of complex actions. In some respects the answer for corporate and professional women trying to figure out how to get promoted to the most senior ranks, the answer is similar:  it takes practice, desire and commitment.

Except, it’s a different type of practice.

One of the most renowned executive coaches, Marshall Goldsmith coined the phrase “What got you here, won’t get you there” and wrote a book by the same name. Goldsmith’s book is based on the premise that there are a handful of workplace habits that often keep successful people from making the next big leap forward in their career. While Goldsmith’s book identifies 20 specific behaviors that hold successful people back, my advice to women around the world is to adopt nine key practices of women who have made it.

My advice to women around the world is to adopt these nine key practices of women who have made it.

  1. Connect: Understand, connect to and support the culture of your organization. Women who have successfully advanced understand and are actively engaged in the strategic direction of the business they are in. They are energized and fully supportive of the mission and objective of their company through their work, actions, and words.
  2. Contribute: Make a significant contribution to the bottom line; add value. Here’s a key learning: The path and ability to get to senior management is much more direct if you work in a revenue producing role and/or in a role that is critical to the business success of an organization. Staff and support positions are good but leaders with direct profit/loss, business unit or mission critical responsibilities are more likely to be recognized and promoted.
  3. Cultivate: Build the right type of support base and connections.
    • Seek the advice of a variety of successful mentors (men and women) who know and are experienced in what it takes to be successful.
    • Get a sponsor: someone who has the ability and desire to advocate for you, to open doors for you, to promote you or ensure you get promoted.
    • Build a network internally and externally not just with people like you but with people who are influential, knowledgeable and well connected.
  4. Cease: Stop behaviors that inhibit or even worse derail your advancement. Some of the most common ones I have found in women I have coached are:
    • Working too hard: not delegating enough, not developing or holding staff accountable to take increased responsibilities.
    • Not asking for resources: time, money, people they need to excel. Thinking instead that they have to make it work with what they have.
    • Not having a support base of the right types of mentors, network or sponsor.
    • Lack of confidence
    • Not developing or adopting a communication style that is alignment with the preferred communication style of their company.
  5. Communicate: Your successes, your accomplishments, your contributions and your needs. In other words promote yourself.
  6. Conduct: Demonstrate leadership at every stage of your career, lead initiatives, projects, people. Raise your hand, volunteer for tough assignments especially ones where success or failure and results will be clearly visible and important to your company’s success.
  7. Change: develop your skills, your approach, your knowledge of the industry, expand your business acumen. Lead or at a minimum be open and embrace changes in direction for your business, product, industry and company.
  8. Convert: Obstacles into opportunitiesFor women, especially women in developing and emerging markets one of the most distinguishing characteristic and behaviors of the most successful women is their ability to: work around barriers, overcome stereotypes or practices, processes or rules that are overtly or unconsciously biased against women.
  9. Combine: Life and work. Figure out what works best for you, your family and your life. Don’t worry about norms, what other people do, or what works for them. Don’t try and balance life and work – balance is misnomer. It’s not achievable. You’ll keep feeling like you are juggling, taking from one to give to the other. The definition of where work starts and stops and your needs evolve regularly. You can have it “all” – the key is to determine what all means to you.
How have you advanced in your career to attain senior and executive positions? What would you add to our list?