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Published on October 16, 2018

How to Become a CEO at 40 (Or Even 50) and Succeed as a Leader

How to Become a CEO at 40 (Or Even 50) and Succeed as a Leader

If you have always had the dream inside you that you would one day be leading the charge of a successful company, you just might, especially if you have a strong accounting or finance background. Even if you don’t, your dream has a great chance of becoming a reality, but there are gaps you will need to bridge. The great news is that you can learn how.

Without a doubt, there are patterns of career pathways of today’s CEOs. Experts in senior executive recruitment Robert Half Asia Pacific formulated a CEO Tracker[1] which monitors and reveals patterns in education, varied work experience and tenure.

So how to become a CEO at 40, or even 50? If you have the following, you’re in good stead for a CEO leadership position:

Education

If you have gained (or are looking to gain) tertiary training such as a college degree, you’re in a favorable position. You’re likely to have a few years head start consideration against someone without it.

Your odds are even better if your focus is business, commerce, economics or financial management. Postgraduate degrees will earn you more gold stars.

Working overseas

Having international work experience says you’re worldly, adaptable and can appreciate great change. Businesses also profit from the wisdom you bring from across the waters.

Such a mindset is highly prized with the globalization of organizations continually increasing.

Lengthy tenure

Not only does this communicate commitment, but it also demonstrates stickability.

Staying with a company for a minimum of eight years in different roles also demonstrates your ability to grow. Your company knowledge will also have grown very strong and internally recruiting CEOs is common.

However, if you lack these milestones in your current career history, all is far from lost. There is no set pathway to becoming a CEO. In today’s digital technology age, starting and scaling a business with few start-up costs is easier than it has ever been.

Leadership qualities

Most importantly, every CEO needs to have key leadership qualities.

Regardless of whether you have the education, experience, knowledge and technical skills or not, these are things you can learn. Everybody can.

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It comes down to your willingness to recognize and commit to a plan of personal development; not just acknowledging it’s necessary but truly following it through:

1. Discover your own vision, mission and passion

A CEO mindset around a business’ mission and vision goes far beyond the mission statement placards randomly dotted on walls in your workplace. Inside you, there needs to be a burning desire to share services and/or products that serve the greater good of a community far greater than you can imagine.

Your thinking contains a legacy that can continue to grow and evolve well after your CEO tenure ends. That burn to bring that legacy to life must be something doesn’t go away with the next bright and shiny idea that comes across your path.

Whatever the cause – whether it’s your own business or one you currently work within – you feel a constant, personal resonation to the cause. You are emotionally fueled to let every potential customer know your service and products exist.

Your ‘why’ is well-aligned with the business’ why and when people ask you about your company, they hear a passion and tone in your voice that shows unwavering commitment and belief.

Your personal brand and the business’ brand, are one. You are a clear ambassador.

2. Engage in projects that build your business confidence

Even though he is not yet 40 years old, 27-year-old Brian Wong is co-founder and CEO of Kiip, a mobile advertising company. He shares one of the biggest mistakes younger professionals make is not choosing projects wisely that help them build business confidence and an entrepreneurial mindset.

Building confidence comes from learning, exploring, undertaking new opportunities and learning to take risks. Demographer Bernard Salt suggests[2] that if you’re in your twenties, take time to do this. You will gain greater clarity of what your deeper, inner passions are. By the time you’re in your mid-thirties, you’re more likely to be ready to put four to six years into establishing a foundation. You’re done with bouncing around between businesses; you’re now yearning for depth.

Regardless of your age, if you don’t know what really drives you and what you want to be committed to longer-term, make it a high priority to develop your own plan and find out.

What gives you contentment despite the ups and downs? What are you constantly curious about that you keep revisiting despite the different opportunities you’ve explored? What is the constant feature that positively resonates inside you?

Don’t stop to take a hiatus and contemplate your navel. The best way is to keep momentum in your working experiences but ask yourself these questions more frequently. Clarity and confidence will come.

3. Start your CEO journey on a smaller scale to fast-track your management skills

If you didn’t go an Ivy League school or have a track record of perfection, researchers Elena Botehlo and Kim Powell have good news for you!

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They found in a ten-year study of 17,000 C-suite executives that 60% of those who fast-tracked their way to CEO status opted to take smaller roles with greater responsibilities during their careers before becoming CEOs.[3]

Whether you’re sub-40 or 40+, taking a step sideways or backward to manage a young team will put you leagues ahead of your peers when it comes to management skills.

If managing people has not been your strength, start with a small group. It might be a short-term project group or an event you coordinate and manage.

When those projects finish, you have a chance to reflect, review, regroup and prepare for your next management challenge. You build management resilience and can strategically improve clusters of leadership skill sets, one at a time.

Give yourself space to do it wisely, in stages. Through staged phases of learning and experience, you won’t be just learning to cope. You will be learning to become a master and contention for CEO will be in your reach sooner than you think.

If paid opportunities are slim, don’t discount volunteer opportunities. In fact, consider these as even more challenging. Often you’re thrust into looking after people you would not have chosen or who are not fit for the roles you need them to do.

If you can successfully pull off managing such groups, the amount of respect you receive can often be a lot greater.

4. Be curious and take a leap of faith

Botelho and Powell found that CEOs in the first decades of their careers took on large projects that they weren’t yet primed for.[4] Rather than questioning their qualifications and abilities, the pre-CEOs took the projects and ran with them.

In addition, Botelho and Powell recognized that CEOs who previously took on the job of cleaning up a mess, fast-tracked their progress to the top spot.

Because the right opportunities are unlikely to fall in your lap, you will need to seek them out. Ask for them. Ask for greater responsibilities. Put your hand up for the jobs others would rather run away from but don’t just throw yourself in the deep end. Be smart about it.

These opportunities are likely to hold more valleys than peaks, so be clever and proactively seek coaching and mentoring to help you manage the hurdles and dark times that lay ahead. Don’t take these projects on without it. Your mental and emotional resilience will need strength training.

Research has shown that throwing yourself in the deep end and learning to swim is not the best way to develop great management skills. You risk your mental and physical health if you don’t have the resources to cope.

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Too many managers get thrown into leadership roles without adequate people skills. That’s the old school way of learning c-suite management skills.

Failure of falling from grace in this way is no longer a noble act. Make the leap, but resource yourself wisely to make it.

5. Design a personal plan to become a better people manager and action it

Managing people is the most expensive and hardest part of running any business. If you don’t have strong emotional intelligence and relationship building skills not only you’re your business’ culture suffers, so too will your clients and customers.

Start with a self-evaluation that specifically looks at what your strengths and weaknesses are as a people manager. It doesn’t have to be a complex process.

A self-assessment through Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and/or review feedback from a reputable, psychometric 360o feedback survey is a food place to start.

There may be some hard truths in there, however, use this as your benchmark.

Consider then, the needs of your business and collaborate with other leaders (not just employees) to help upskill them in areas you are proficient in. Then, exchange your support for their advice on people management strategies and tips that work for them. Collaborate.

There may be specific relationships and personalities you might then target as opportunities for you to improve your leadership skills:

  • having difficult conversations whilst keeping emotions – yours and your employee’s – in check;
  • improving negotiating skills and learning the art of compromise;
  • learning how to never take ‘no’ for an answer;
  • learning how your staff prefer being rewarded, given feedback and adapting your style to benefit them;
  • undertake public speaking training;
  • coming up with progression plans individually tailored for staff to become better versions of themselves.

What else do your organization’s people need that you can use as opportunities to develop yourself? What are the win-wins? How can you add value, learn and fast-track your CEO leadership skills at the same time?

6. Use your intuition to take risks and be decisive

Chief financial officers (CFOs) operate particularly well in the brain’s left hemisphere. Logic, carrying out of operations, planning, structure, tangible numbers…these are all natural activities your left brain looks after.

Vision, expansive thinking, emotional drive and passion all emanate from your right brain. Using your intuition and gut instinct are also right-brain activities.

Whilst it seems the natural progression from CFO is to CEO, that leap is too great for many. Using the gut instinct is not a common feature of an accountant. According to Gary D. Burnison, the difficulty is often in the mindset and the ability to make this shift.[5] Burnison speaks from experience, transitioning from CFO of Korn Ferry (2002-2007) to existing CEO and president of the company.

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Your mindset now needs to reflect a leader who commands direction, not asks for affirmation or permission.

On your journey, you will need to learn to take calculated risks. Gage what risks would be supported (and rejected) by collaborating with your c-suite team. Do your due diligence and practice honing your instinct to make decisions. Forecast different levels of positive impact and negative consequences. Choose, commit, follow through and always engage a review process that helps not only you but your organization to learn.

When you take risks and manage the consequences – good and bad – you improve your aptitude for innovation…something every organization undeniably needs. Thankfully, risks you take don’t need to be big to start with. Consider how you can catalyze small changes that stretch your team’s potential.

If successful, look to see if you can expand the positive effect on other parts of the business. If not, go through the review process. See if you can tackle the project again.

7. Mentorship is a must

Committing to an executive c-suite coach and/or mentor is a must in the same way an elite athlete has an elite coach. If you dream of being a CEO and think it’s just about doing the track work, think again.

Committing to professional mentoring as a normal part of your role clearly demonstrates three main facts to your company’s board of decision-makers:

  • you want your transition to be positive as a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’;
  • you are announcing to your mentorship networks, c-suite executives you’re well on your way and undeniably committed;
  • you’ve chosen to become not just a local player, but a global one.

It was through mentorship channels at Investa Property Group that Ming Long made the transition from CFO to CEO and became the group executive fund manager of the $2.5 billion Invest Office Fund.[6]

Despite being of Asian heritage and feeling an absence of role models to follow, Long became the first Asian female to head an ASX200 company. At 46 years of age, she now sits on several boards and is a member of Chief Executive Women.

If you are not participating actively in a succession-plan mentorship initiative, you’re stalling your own progress. Don’t merely seek your own mentorship through formal associations such as the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). Push to be engaged in whatever initiative of this kind exists within your organization.

Mentorship will not only massively increase your capability to step into the CEO role, but it will also help you stay there and protect your position. From there, you’re likely to expand into board leadership type roles so you won’t only be eyeing off the CEO post as your bull’s eye. You’ll start to look beyond the CEO role for even grander pastures!

Featured photo credit: LinkedIn Sales Navigator via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Malachi Thompson

Executive Leadership and Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on September 18, 2019

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

11 Hard Skills That Will Land You More Career Opportunities

Are you looking to move up the career ladder? Or maybe you’re tired of having a “job” and want to start looking for a more permanent career?

Whatever your motivation, you are going to have to learn some new and different hard skills to broaden your opportunities. After all, there’s a very famous quote that says:

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

While the insanity part doesn’t really fit here, the overall message is a good one. If you are looking for a different result (career advancement, more money or even a career instead of a job), it’s up to you to make it happen. This is both the good news and bad news!

The good news is that because it’s up to you, you have complete control over it happening. The bad news is that change is hard. Humans are creatures of habit, that’s why we develop routines, and anything that disrupts that routine causes us anxiety. And we will do almost anything to get rid of that anxiety. The overweight person will calm their anxiety by eating that doughnut, the smoker will light up a cigarette to avoid anxiety.

What we want to do with this article is to give you the hard skills you’ll need to reduce that anxiety so you can move up that corporate ladder, make more money or have career instead of just a “job.”

The following hard skills are essential to learn if you want to advance your career. They may not be easy to take up, but definitely worth your effort of learning:

1. Cloud Computing

“Simply put, cloud computing is the delivery of computing services—servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, intelligence and more—over the Internet “the cloud” to offer faster innovation, flexible resources, and economies of scale. You typically pay only for cloud services you use, helping lower your operating costs, run your infrastructure more efficiently, and scale as your business needs change.” Microsoft[1]

There are many different jobs available in the cloud computing world today. They range from architects and developers to data scientists, security pros. Each job is its own specialty and requires a high level of specification for advancement.

This is definitely a hard skill that requires education. But if the tech world and computers are your thing you can make cloud computing a lucrative career.

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2. Data Mining and Statistical Analysis

Again, these are highly specialized fields. Data mining is defined as using large sets of data to look for anomalies and other patterns that can be used to predict future behavior.

Amazon is probably the best known company to use data mining. Have you ever noticed that when you buy something at Amazon, you’ll see a little ad at the bottom that says “customers who bought this also bought…”and it lists 2-3 other items? All of that information comes from data mining, by examining the millions of sales amazon makes they can predict that if you buy item #1 there is a high likelihood that you will buy one of the other items too. T

his not only increases sales for Amazon, but it also serves as a reminder for you that you may need these additional items for your project. This is very valuable information and has a wide range of uses. Although it has a bad reputation and evil sounding name, it is a very useful tool for maximizing productivity and sales.

3. Data Management

All companies today deal with a ton of data! Being able to manage that data in an efficient manor is not only highly prized, but a necessity.

We all have these things on our desks called computers. Unless there is a need for a paper copy, almost all of our data is computerized. Meaning that, in theory it is all at our fingertips. Being able to organize that data so that it’s easily and quickly retrievable is why computers are replacing filing cabinets!

However, just like the old fashion filing cabinet, data management on a computer is only good if it’s well organized. You want to make sure that you are keeping your data well organized so that it’s easy to find when needed. This is a skill that comes easily to some people (are you a person that makes lists? Good!) but with others it will be a skill that needs to be practices. Make sure that this is a discipline you master.

4. Scheduling

Being able to make and keep to a schedule is a very useful tool in both business and life. Effective scheduling means that you can prioritize projects, understand the tools needed to get the job done on time and that you are organized enough to lead people.

An important point here is to write things down! Whether it’s in an old fashion daily or weekly organizer or in a PDA. Have a copy of your schedule available at your fingertips at all times.

5. Financial Skills

These are especially important when looking for that promotion. The higher up the ladder you go, the more you’ll have to deal with things like accounting, budgeting, financial planning and cash flow management.

While you may not need to be an expert at all of these, you should have a good grasp of all of them. This is where taking a few night classes at your local community college is a good idea. You don’t need to become an expert, but brushing up on these skills will help you tremendously.

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6. Research Skills

These are important in all aspects of life, but especially in your work-life.

Are you looking for that first job out of school? Nothing impresses a boss or hiring manager more than someone who has researched the company. Trust me, they deal with people walking in off the street everyday looking for a job, but managers and owners need to see the value in hiring (or promoting) you.

So do your research and have some company specific questions ready to ask. Show that you are interested in working for that company or that position and not just “a” job or the “promotion” because you have seniority or need the money.

If it’s a promotion that you are after, never bad mouth the previous occupant. Instead pick out an example that he/she was good at and explain how you would like to use or expand that policy and how it would enhance the policy changes you’d like to make.

If it’s a new job you’re going for, then make sure to have some company specific questions ready to show that you have done your homework for the new position.

7. Marketing Skills

While marketing a companies products or services has always been a highly sought after skill. In today’s world, it can take on several different forms.

Some of the marketing skills that are highly sought after today include, SEO, Search Engine Optimization, SEM, Search Engine Marketing and marketing campaign management. Familiarity with Google Analytics as well as Word Press are also valuable.

While traditional marketing and branding were focused on advertising and selling. Almost all marketing efforts now a days are focused on the internet.

8. Network Security Specialist

Again, this is a highly skilled position that requires specialized training. But the amount of data that all companies store is significant, and if that data is leaked or stolen, it can costs them millions of dollars in both lost revenue and lawsuits.

So, if you have an interest in network security you will find the field both lucrative and stable.

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9. Communication Skills

At first glance, communication skills may not look like it fits into the category of “Hard Skills” that can help you succeed. But in this ever shrinking world where companies can do business from almost anywhere, communication is more and more important.

Are you bilingual? It really doesn’t matter what language you speak, there’s a company out there looking for someone who speaks that language.

10. Computer Programming

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that computers are going to be around for a while! As both the hardware and software get more advanced, the need for computer programming is only going to increase.

11. Graphic Design

As of 2018, there were 4.37 million new websites launched.[2] A good number of them will fail because they just aren’t interesting enough visually. The use of templates and replicated websites is only making the problem worse.

Part of the way Google ranks sites is through originality, this almost ensures that replicated sites will never get ranked through Google. So the more original your site is, the more likely people will visit and actually spend time there.

That is what a good graphic designer does. Takes your basic idea and turns it into a website that people actually want to visit.

Embrace the Anxiety That Comes with Change

You know it’s going to be there, you know that you’ll want to give up as you’re learning these new skills but, you’ll also know that the end result is worth the journey.

Here’s a little trick when you’re feeling overwhelmed:

Have you ever met an ex-smoker who was sorry they quit? An ex-drinker or drug user that said life was much better before they quit? These people have gone through some of the most difficult challenges humans can go through including weeks, if not, months of intense physical withdrawal symptoms. They did it because they knew that the pain and anxiety they would experience would ultimately get them to a much better life.

Now what was that complaint you had about attending night-school?

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This is the part everyone hates, everyone thinks night-school, adult education and just generally giving up family and/or spare time. While those are certainly possible ways to develop the necessary skills, they aren’t the only way.

You’ll want to check with your human resources department because depending on the company, a certain degree maybe required in order to even be considered for a position. In those cases, night-school, on-line or some other form of adult education maybe your best route.

But as long as a degree isn’t required, then your options are wide open.

Let’s just say that you’re a sales person interested in becoming the sales manager but, the territory you’ve been given will never produce the sales figures that would make you stand out as a good candidate for sales manager. So how about you start your own side business (don’t compete with your company), but let’s say you enjoy golf.

In this day and age, there are plenty of places that will teach you how to sell products on-line and even set you up with your own website. So you start a site selling golf equipment and accessories (don’t worry, you won’t even have to carry inventory or worry about shipping).

Now, when that sales manager spot opens up, you can explain that even though other salespeople had better numbers than you, it had nothing to do with your sales ability, it was more of a consequence of the territory your were given.

And to prove it, you brought in some information about a side business, you started showing that you’re on target for a sales growth rate of 30% this year. And because you had to do all of the marketing for the business, you came up with some marketing strategies that you can bring to the new job (built-in experience).

The Bottom Line

We’ve put together these 11 hard skills as a way to give yourself a “leg up” on the competition. We’ve tried to make this a mixture of both skills that require a great deal of training, and also ones that you can work on and develop by yourself.

We know that not everyone is cut out to be a cloud computing expert, but we also know that working on and having good scheduling skills will make you a much more desirable candidate for the position!

We also don’t want you to discount the idea of a “side hustle“. Especially for people new to the workforce, having a business that you have started and run successfully shows potential employers that you have initiative, scheduling skills and ambition which can put you well ahead of your competition!

As usual, we hope you found this article both enjoyable and informative. If you did, may we ask that you share it with your family and friends through social media. It really does help us and is greatly appreciated!

More Skill to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Kyle Sterk via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Microsoft Azure: Cloud Computing
[2] Netcraft: December 2018 Web Server Survey

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