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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

Dr. Malachi Thompson III

High-Performance Consultant

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Last Updated on June 1, 2021

10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

10 Effective Ways To Make You a Fast Learner

The importance of learning cannot be underestimated. Learning empowers us to fulfill our ideas and realize our full potential. The speed of gaining new knowledge is practically as important as its volume. Who wouldn’t love to remember tons of information as quickly as possible?

If you want to start learning faster, you need a new approach towards the process which would enable you to comprehend the essence of the matter and relate it with new concepts you encounter.

The following 10 tips will help you become a fast learner:

1. Analyze Your Learning Style

Before you can start experimenting with different studying methods, you need to understand what type of learner you are:

Is your memory associated to sound?

Maybe you can remember what you were reading when a particular song was playing? If this is your case, then you fall into the category of auditory learners.

If you want to start studying more efficiently, then it would be wise to record the lectures and listen to them instead of reading textbooks.

Do you relate information to visual content?

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If you are a visual learner, you should implement images, graphs, charts, infographics, colorful lists, flashcards, and other types of visual content when you study.

Are you a physical learner?

If your learning style is not auditory or visual, then you might be a physical learner. Some students have too much energy; they tap their feet or play with a pen during lectures.

A walk before a lecture will calm your nerves down. You can try studying or listening to audio lectures during a walk. That will help you remember the information more quickly.

2. Use the Right EdTech Tools

Technology has the power of making everything easier. There are plenty of websites, online tools, and smartphone/tablet apps that will boost your skills of planning, writing, time management and brainstorming, etc.

One way of improving your productivity is using flashcards. You can make your own cards, but you can also download pre-made kits online:

  • StudyBlue is one of the best online destinations when it comes to creating and discovering flashcards from all areas of study.
  • If you are looking for a tool that makes the process of brainstorming more effective, then you should try PapersGear.
  • You also need the SelfControl app, which will eliminate all distractions when you need to stay focused.
  • Quizlet is another website you should bookmark; it offers study tools that will transform the learning process into a fun activity.
  • Notella is an app that will help you take quick notes at any time.
  • Brainscape is an educational platform that makes complex subjects easy by relying on cognitive science.
  • You can also try Dragon Dictation, especially if you are an audio learner.

3. Train Your Brain to Accept New Information

Efficient studying is a habit. Your brain needs constant training if you want to improve your focus and complete complex tasks without taking breaks.

One way to achieve this goal is to create a private learning space in your home. You’ll also need a specific time of day that you’ll devote to studying. That will make your brain ready to accept the information it gets, so you’ll notice you’re starting to learn much faster by the day.

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4. Get Some Exercise

You are aware of the fact that physical activity is good for your body, but your brain needs it too!

Light exercise, such as yoga, can help you learn much faster. If you are inactive throughout the day, your body will want to move, so it will be difficult for you to stay focused.

If, on the other hand, you canalize your energy through light training sessions, you will be ready to study productively.

5. Work on the Ambiance

If you have a noisy neighborhood or a working environment full of distractions, you won’t be able to learn or study no matter how hard you try.

If you want to learn quickly, you need a quiet, distraction-free environment that won’t disturb the mind in any way. Such a peaceful place will set you in learning mode as soon as you find yourself in it.

6. Take a Lot of Notes

Only few people are capable of remembering information as they read it. If you don’t belong to this category of privileged learners, then you absolutely need to start taking notes.

This simple learning method will force you to think about the essence of the material. It will also give you a nice framework that will help you review the things you’ve learned.

Write down only the most important information. That will help you remember all the other things you’ve learned.

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Here’re some tips to take notes effectively: Why Successful People Take Notes And How to Make It Your Habit

7. Make Mind Maps

Mind maps are among the best tools to speed up the learning process. Your mind will process information effectively if you create a visual representation of the things you’re about to learn.

You can create a nice mind map in the old-school way: take a large sheet of paper and organize all facts and explanations. Use pictures, note-cards, and other symbols you can think of. Group similar items together and connect them with colorful pens.

Some tips mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

Of course, you can also use an online mind mapping tool if you want to save yourself some time.

8. Experiment with Memorization Methods

Memorizing is often misused in the process of studying. Some people memorize whole sentences, paragraphs and lectures without grasping their essence.

However, memorization can be useful when you need to learn definitions and classifications really quickly. Don’t avoid this technique if you want to fill your brain with information without wasting any time.

Try this if you want to memorize more and faster: How to Memorize More and Faster Than Other People

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9. Find the Right Context

Memorization works solely in times of urgency. If you want to learn in the most effective manner, then you need to have context for information.

Find an aspect that’s interesting for you; try to research for related information, and you’ll discover the joy of learning.

The first step? Jot down as much information and as many ideas as possible: How Simply Jotting Down Ideas Can Make You Smarter

With time, this practice will make you a faster learner.

10. Study Every Day

It will take some time before you get used to a daily studying routine, but your mind will eventually grasp the habit.

The more frequently you study, the less time it will take for you to remember the things you read.

If you start studying as soon as possible after you have learned some new concepts, it won’t take long at all for you to get ready for an exam. Now that sounds really good, doesn’t it?

More to Help You Learn Quicker

Featured photo credit: Becca Tapert via unsplash.com

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