5 Ways to Tell if a Leader is Ready for the C Suite

For a person to successfully take on a management or leadership role, certain skills and accomplishments must be evident. But to move on to a C-level executive position, “ordinary” leadership qualities – valuable as they are – are no longer sufficient.

The highest leadership levels require more than ordinary leadership skills.

Being, for example, head of the engineering department requires a different set of skills and experiences than does being the Chief Technology Officer. To make it to the executive suite, a person must go above and beyond demonstrating leadership. How can you tell if someone’s ready for the highest levels of leadership in an organization? Here are 5 indicators.

1. The Candidate Has Challenged Himself or Herself Sufficiently

The person who is ready for an office on the executive floor isn’t someone who stayed in a single role for an impressively long time. Nor is this person someone who made numerous career moves that only solidified what he or she already knew how to do. For someone to be ready to be a top executive, he or she must have honestly evaluated strengths and weaknesses, identified new skills to develop, and actively sought out challenges that facilitated the development of those skills. Much of being an executive involves navigating unfamiliar territory, and preparation for that must go well beyond what’s required of a lower level leader.

2. The Potential C-Level Executive Has Identified and Addressed Skills Gaps

Someone who is primed for a top executive position is someone who hasn’t been afraid to recognize skills gaps and areas where improvement is needed. This person knows, for example, that she didn’t have the risk-taking acumen necessary to go from middle- to upper-level leadership and invested in training, mentoring, or coaching (or some combination thereof) to learn how, when, and why to take appropriate risks. A top level leader, in other words, is someone willing to put in the effort to overcome specific skills gaps explicitly to become more qualified for a C-level position.

3. Anyone in the C-Suite Must Be Able to Accept Professional Responsibility

The C-level executive who can’t or won’t take responsibility for mistakes or poor performance won’t last long. In lower levels of leadership, the blame for faulty strategic decisions or other operational problems may be spread around to some extent. That, however, is not true for the three-letter executive. Once a person makes it to that level, he must be able to take personal responsibility for problems and not try to shift blame when something goes wrong. Owning mistakes is a major component of emotional intelligence, and the top-level leader is willing to take these hits rather than dive for cover.

4. C-Level Executives Should Be Engaged Throughout the Industry

Your organization’s top brass should have a reputation beyond the bounds of your company.

Naturally, your organization’s top executives are expected to have solid internal networks, and to have outstanding relationships with suppliers and important customers. In addition, however, your top leadership should be engaged beyond your organization and throughout your industry. These leaders should have industry-wide networks, should be able to work well with regulators, and should have relationships with relevant subject matter experts. Just being able to navigate internal corporate politics is not enough for the demands of being a top-level executive.

5. The Top Executive Knows How to Delegate Effectively

Delegating as a three-letter executive is different than delegating as a lower level leader. Executive leadership must know which tasks must be delegated and how to communicate with people who have direct-reporting responsibilities. A top leader doesn’t do tasks that should be delegated, nor does she “take back” delegated tasks out of belief those assigned the tasks aren’t up to them. And the highest level executive leaders know that micromanaging and not allowing team members to grow and expand their own skills benefits nobody.

Leadership skills are necessary at all levels of leadership in an organization, from line leader to department head to CEO. Making it to the top executive level requires specific leadership skills that transcend the skills lower-level leaders require. The executive-ready leader has challenged himself or herself sufficiently, has identified and bridged skills gaps, knows how to take responsibility when things go wrong, is respected beyond the boundaries of the organization, and knows how to delegate effectively. It’s a tall order, and that’s why not everyone is cut out for C-level leadership. Contact us at Teams of Distinction, and let’s talk about the skills you need in your executive suite and how to identify and develop leaders who are ready for the challenge.

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