The fastest path to the CEO roles: stereotypes and reality

Aiga Ārste – Avotiņa, AMROP Estonia and Latvia managing partner

Getting into leading positions is one of the topics surrounded by the greatest number of myths and prejudices, thinking about leadership and the path of professional growth. The stereotypes and reality are so different from each other that I decided to summarize my observations on what is the fastest way to get to the desired management position.

One of the most common assumptions about a safe path to the top of your career is something like this – you need to graduate from a prestigious business management program, then start working in a large, stable, well-known company and move slowly, patiently, without major shocks up the career ladder. Undoubtedly, a good education is the right starting point for career development. However, it is not a catapult to the seat at the leadership table. Also, a place in a large, stable corporation will not guarantee that after a few years of patient work there will be an opportunity to work at the highest management level.

Aiga Arste3

Path to the dizzying peak of the career

Our experience in the selection of top managers shows that the fastest way to the so-called C Suite positions is by accepting challenges that may seem unattractive and even risky from the sidelines. For example, if you are a head of department in a large company, move to a smaller company in the same industry as a manager and help the company “escape” from losses, put a problematic company in order, or start developing a business in a new market. It will be an opportunity to show what you are really capable of and thus be noticed on a larger scale. The potential of a leader can be unlocked by starting your own business or changing your field of activity. In short, by creating an opportunity by yourself to unleash your potential as a leader and by testing it.

One of the hallmarks of true leadership is the ability to engage in such organizations and situations where things are not excellent at all. It is the ability to notice problems and find a solution. Disorganized work organization, conflicts, poor financial performance of the company and, in return, the opportunity to change it with your actions. Often people deliberately avoid such companies for fear of damaging their CVs and becoming associated with the problems that prevail in the organization at that moment. But I can say with confidence that with real talent and determination, this is the best opportunity to test your leadership talents and how much you actually know and are able to accomplish.

There is only one path to the dizzying peak of your career – along a narrow, lonely, rocky path, covered in sweat and tears. You will have your own bitter pill to swallow and most of the time it will be proportional to your career ambitions. Challenges provide a practical toughness that will be appreciated by everyone later. Only authentic leaders accept the challenges of joining companies when they are operating at a loss, or occupying a managerial seat, knowing full well that the three previous candidates have not been in office for more than six months. The specificity of organizations in difficulty is that there is not a single problem to be solved but a whole set of them. Even in the case of a good business idea, it can be hampered by personnel management problems, poor financial management, gaps in the production process. Therefore, the leader's opportunity is to assess the true scale of the problem, identify the reasons that hinder business development, make decisions that can incite change, and act in such ways that can bring about positive change.

There is a saying that with wind blowing in the right direction even bad ventures can succeed. But only a strong headwind allows real leaders to stand out and be noticed. Do you have to be a born leader of this kind? Although leadership also has a situational aspect and can be developed and refined, I believe that the potential of a leader must be present in the person. Your vision, your willingness to take responsibility, your ability to gather people around you, your ability to implement ideas – these traits, combined with a good education and the ability to find situations in which you can use your full potential, are the best set for an authentic leader.

An experienced leader once said during a conversation: "Power is not given, it is taken." So, the fastest way to leadership positions is to consciously become involved in situations in which you can show your leadership potential. It is also our key focus in the selection of senior executives and will play an increasingly important role in a world with a rapidly growing component of uncertainty.