Originally published on Forbes.com on August 29, 2018.
Despite the growing gig economy of freelancers and independent contractors, many professionals still aspire to climb the corporate ladder and lead a company from the C-suite. It’s an admirable career goal, and with the right personal and professional development, it’s one that is very possible to achieve.
While it might take some time – and maybe even a few job changes – to reach the executive level, you can start laying the groundwork as a middle manager and begin building the skills you’ll need for your future role. We asked a panel of Forbes Coaches Council members to offer their advice for leaders who aim to become executives. Their best answers are below.
All images courtesy of Forbes Councils members.
1. Develop Your Team
Successful executives know how to make their team feel included. Sadly, team-building skills are considered natural talents. They aren’t. Any professional can begin to develop this talent by asking questions of their team and listening. An executive with an open mind can explore team ideas and come up with better results while making everyone feel like they had a hand in team success. – Deborah Goldstein, DRIVEN Professionals
2. Know How to Lead And When To Follow
Managers aiming for executive leadership must not only understand how to lead and influence, but also how to follow when appropriate. As an executive, learning when to follow is highly critical as you’ll be providing direction over several different departments headed by other C-level executives. Start focusing on the “bigger picture” rather than the intricacies of all business functions. – Lakrisha Davis, Lakrisha Davis & Co.
3. Continually Educate Yourself
There are certainly many different ways to become an executive, however, the one approach I have seen work most often is education. The simplest strategy is to enhance your knowledge in fields beyond your actual professional know-how. Over time, that knowledge will be noticed and will open new opportunities at higher levels. – Kamyar Shah, World Consulting Group
4. Develop Your Listening Skills
Leadership is listening, cultivating and championing. Leadership is not about doing but about motivating people to deliver in ways that are beneficial for all. Listen and deliver through actionable plans. Talent is not there to take orders. Instead, talent is there to create. Leaders can cultivate creation by listening — by leading with heart and not the bottom line. – Kristy McCann, GoCoach
5. Learn How To Prioritize Tasks And Manage Your Time
We all get 24 hours a day. The difference between influential leaders and those who are good managers is how they spend their time. Ensure you calendar time every day to connect while positioning your expertise. Master the art and science of connection and positioning (both matter), which leads to sponsorship, building powerful partnerships, and having a strong leadership presence. – Lisa Marie Platske, Upside Thinking, Inc.
6. Create A Personal Feedback Loop
Knowing where you stand within your organization is critical to getting to the next level. Up-and-coming leaders should engage in ongoing discussions about their presence and performance with a few trusted colleagues. Feedback from those around you will give you insight into how the organization views your contributions, style and potential. You will learn what adjustments you need to make too. – Stacey Staaterman, Stacey Staaterman Coaching & Consulting
7. Learn Your Organization’s Dynamics
One of the competencies most correlated with high performing executives is the ability to navigate organizational dynamics. Learn your company’s spoken and unspoken rules of engagement. Observe the language that successful executives use to influence others and emulate it. Develop the language of influence for your particular organization to show that you are ready. – Loren Margolis, Training & Leadership Success LLC
8. Develop Assertiveness And Flexibility
A strong executive point of view is one that can hold multiple perspectives at once. In order to effectively sit at the top of the organizational chart, you must be able to consider the impacts decisions will have on different areas of the business. Still, being able to assert a strong point of view is necessary as well. Developing both assertiveness and flexibility of perspective is key. – David Butlein, Ph.D., BLUECASE Strategic Partners
9. Know How To Transition Between Levels Of Analysis
Being able to transition between levels of analysis (knowing if the focus should be on the big picture or the details) is a professional development tip for managers. While both skills are needed, the key is knowing which is appropriate at the time. Most people are skilled at one or the other, but as an executive, being a strategic thinker and paying attention to details are needed. – Dr. Sharon H. Porter, Perfect Time SHP LLC
10. Build The Right Relationships
If your focus is to move into an executive position, start building relationships with other executives now. The better connected you are, the better your chances of being recommended. Look for commonalities for connection. Ask an executive to be your mentor. Offer to do special projects to sharpen your leadership skills. Your success depends on your ability to build relationships. – Erin Urban, UPPSolutions, LLC
11. Develop Your Personal Brand
People’s perception is your reality. Be the steward of your identity and image. To get to the next level, you must be clear and consistent with who you are and what value you provide your colleagues. This includes how you present yourself. Pronounce your skills of an executive while allowing your other skills to run in the background. People will subconsciously see you at the next level. – Rosie Guagliardo, InnerBrilliance Coaching
12. Understand Your Own Strengths And Values
The most important thing a rising professional can do is get clear on their strengths and values and work for a company that aligns itself with who they are. Climbing the corporate ladder requires dedication and sacrifice. Working for a company with a mission you believe in will allow you to merge your passions and ambitions, speed up your progression and lead to more success as an executive. – Jean Ali Muhlbauer, People at Work
13. Demonstrate Value In Your Decision Making
Executives bring wisdom, strategic thinking and courage to the decision-making process. To be an executive, you need to stand out in this area. For example, in leadership meetings, if a poor decision is being discussed, do not attack it. Instead, ask questions that reveal a lack of wisdom or value in the poor decision. Then, guide discussion back to a better alternative. – Julianne Cenac Ph.D., The Leader Channel