Are You Twenty Feet from the C-Suite?

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If you like movies about the music industry, you might have caught the 2014 Academy Award and Grammy winner Twenty Feet from Stardom.

The film profiled a group of incredibly talented singers including Darlene Love, Lisa Fischer, and Jo Lawry who backed up some of the most famous artists of all time. While many of the singers were thrilled to perform just twenty feet away from the headliners, others had visions of the spotlight.

How about you? Are you twenty feet from the C-Suite waiting for your big break?

After nearly twenty years as an executive coach (and a former C-Suite leader), I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to break into the top ranks. And even though we’re living in a virtual world, business goes on and people are being promoted. Might as well be you, right?

Here are some tips to help you on your upward trajectory:

  • Make your desire known. As my mom used to say, “If you wanna play with the big dogs, you’ve gotta get off the porch.” Don’t be afraid to make your ambitions know. You’ve got to take the risk if you want to get to the top.
  • Know your culture fit. If you don’t understand your culture and how you fit into it, advancing to the top ranks is a non-starter. If you’re a disruptor but your organization thrives on traditional processes and button-downed people, it might be difficult to climb the ladder. Unless, of course, your contrary perspective is exactly what the enterprise needs. Understand how your skills and style can impact the organization and thrive in its culture.
  • Rally support. You should always be building a network of allies, but it’s especially important when you have your eye on a C-spot. Make sure you venture out of your comfort zone and get to know—and support— people across the enterprise. My rule of thumb is to schedule a catch-up or get-acquainted with someone in your company once a week and someone in your industry once a month. And, yes, a one-on-one confab or a full-scale industry conference via Zoom works just fine.
  • Have patience. Opportunities get pretty slim up at the top, so timing is everything. Find out if and when your management would consider you for a C-level position. If there’s someone in the spot you want who’s early in their tenure and doing a fabulous job, recognize that while your time may come, it may not be anytime soon. Either settle in and wait your turn or set your sights elsewhere.
  • Bring your C-game. It’s important that you’re excelling in your current role before you announce your desire for a bigger one. You should always be developing your skills and knowledge base, as well as demonstrating your impact on the organization. Meantime, ask your higher-ups what else you need to learn, build, or achieve to prove you’re ready for the next level.

While Darlene Love will always be revered as back-up singer to the stars, she went on to release her own albums and to perform in films and on Broadway. Twenty feet from stardom and a star in her own right.

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