After interviewing over 300 CEOs in the four years since I started work on my book,Hungry Start-up Strategy, I know that CEOs do things differently than other people.
If you practice seven surprising habits they have been cultivating for years, you can turn yourself into a CEO.
1. Get your head above the weeds
If you work for someone else, there is a good chance that you have been given a specific task to accomplish.
But you’ll never become CEO if you think you’ll be promoted just for doing the task at hand. To be sure, it’s important for others to know that you can be depended on to do what is needed.
But those who become CEOs invest more time to understand the organization’s deeper reason for being, figure out a new initiative it will need to do to realize that purpose, and let those with power know that they want to be in charge of making it happen.
2. Create and cultivate culture
One of the most important jobs of a CEO is to create and cultivate a company’s culture.
If you want to become a CEO, you must understand how to do that. So ask yourself: What kinds of people get ahead here? What behaviors lead others to get booted out? Do those values help or hinder the company’s growth? Are the company’s stated purpose and performance measurement systems consistent with those values?
If you hope to run a company, you ought to be able to see what your current employer does well and where it could improve. And you should know how you would do it differently if you were the boss.
3. Remove obstacles that keep others from succeeding
Great CEOs serve the people who work in their organizations.
That means that focusing solely on your own needs will hinder your climb. If you want to show your company’s leaders that you have CEO potential, start to think about how you can help others to do their jobs more effectively.
After all, a talented leader will spend time listening to the people who are in charge of getting things done. Through listening, those leaders will find out the unintended obstacles that hinder people.
And they will use their power to clear away those barriers, so that the company is a great place for talented people to come up with new ideas and make them happen.
4. Set ambitious goals
One of the most important things CEOs do is to give people purpose. They do that by thinking of ambitious goals that will inspire the talented people they have hired.
If you are an employee now, ask yourself these questions: What ambitious goals is your organization striving to accomplish? Do those goals excite you? Do you see career opportunity in working to achieve those goals?
If the answer to those questions is yes, then you are fortunate to be working for a CEO who knows how to motivate people effectively. If not, think about how you would set different goals if it were your company.
Winning CEOs have the well-developed habit of setting goals that motivate people.
They can do this because they know their industries better than others, and they come up with compelling visions for how their industry could be better.
You should look at your industry and develop a vision for it. Then, figure out how you would set ambitious goals to motivate others to join you in realizing that vision.
5. Give up control, but hold your team accountable
A CEO must motivate groups of people to work together.
If the CEO has risen from the bottom to the top, she has been in charge of many of those groups earlier in her career.
Yet in order to rise to the top, she must give up what she used to love–being in charge of the people who do the work.
If you want to practice becoming a CEO, learn how to give up control to others. Tell them that your role is to provide direction and theirs is to figure out how to get there.
6. Coach, don’t micromanage
CEOs who insist on managing the tiny details of employees’ work will ultimately turn them off.
After all, if the CEO thinks of an employee as an extra pair of arms and legs, the employee will stop thinking and get demoralized.
If you aspire to become a CEO, you need to coach people to figure out how to achieve the organization’s goals.
Rather than telling them what to do, ask them to propose solutions to problems they identify. Then, push them to think through the pros and cons of those options, pick the best ones, and learn from what works and what doesn’t.
7. If you don’t love what you’re doing, quit
The CEO must be good at different skills as the company grows.
Intellectually, it may be easy to see that an early-stage CEO needs to be good at selling or building a product. But the CEO of a public company must communicate well with many different stakeholders and make sure that it follows regulations and procedures.
The hard part is to see whether you fit with the requirements of that evolving CEO role.
To make sure you are always the right person for the job, ask yourself these questions: Is your work critical to the company’s success? Are you the best person to do that job? Do you enjoy that work?
If the answer to any of those questions is no, find someone else to do the job and get out of the way.
Practice these seven habits, and you will be on your way to the top job.