Author: Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO
Original Publication: Ms. Career Girl
Date Published: March 22, 2018
That bit of wisdom from the legendary Estee Lauder has served me well in my journey from career girl to CEO. It’s one thing to set your goal at the top. It’s another thing altogether to create an action plan to make it happen. But it’s never too early to start, and while everyone takes a different path, here are ten essential tips to keep in mind as you make your way forward on the road to CEO.
Start from the bottom.
That is, if you want to make it to the top. Learn every angle of the business, from the most menial position on up. That way, you will really get to know the entire company, and all its strengths and weaknesses. Don’t ever think you’re too good for any job; you must be willing to take anything on, and work harder and longer than anyone else. You need to want it enough to do that, and have the drive to do it all well.
Find your mentor.
A mentor is essential to your success; someone who is an executive or department head whose work you admire. Mentors don’t choose you — you choose them. Find one who can teach you aspects of the business you’ve never experienced — and make it clear you are interested in having them champion you.
Get that degree.
It’s essential to have a comprehensive operations, finance and strategy background and perspective — having this as a basis will help propel you up faster. At some point, if you can, set the goal to get your MBA, ideally as you study part-time while you are working. It may be a rough road to juggle work and school, but learning these principles and then applying them immediately is an intense, invaluable experience.
Work in operations.
If you’re in a specialty role at your organization, determine the right time to initiate a switch to the operations side (at one point, I served as VP of Client Services and Operations). Once you start to work on the operations side, don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard; come up with better and more strategic ways of doing things. But, be sure to do so respectfully, in order to get buy-in – bullying won’t make you any friends or get you promoted.
Be a Jane of all trades.
Once you’re ingrained in operations, offer to take on anything and everything — eventually it could lead you to a COO role. Working as a COO could in turn allow you to proactively ease into creating or managing the company’s mission/vision/strategy. This is essentially the CEO’s role; if they’re not doing it properly, here’s your chance to demonstrate that you can.
Don’t get comfortable.
At some point, you may become fatigued and be tempted to coast, but be patient and continue to work hard and smart. Don’t ever be lazy, rest on your laurels or think something should be handed to you. It will only be handed to you if you truly deserve it and have worked hard for it.
Always exude confidence.
It can be a harsh world out there, especially in a hyper-competitive business environment. Don’t ever expect compliments (high-level executives never get them), but do maintain your confidence, even in the face of criticism. Confidence comes from within; it is typically lower level employees who need constant, positive reinforcement. Your reinforcement should come from you — you’ll never let you down.
Don’t give up.
Tired yet? You should be! But inevitably at some point, the current CEO will move on or retire. If you’ve followed the above steps, at that point you’ll be well-positioned for consideration to take over the company. You may then feel it’s the finish line, but in actuality the journey has just begun. You will now work harder and have less sleep than you ever have in your life moving forward — but the rewards will be worth it.
Learn what the job entails.
Congratulations, you’re now CEO! Be careful – all the old adages are true; it’s lonely at the top. Come to grips with the realities of this ultimate responsibility: you will spend 80% of your time on employee/HR issues, which aren’t part of core business school curriculum — you’ll have to master this on the job. Fostering a positive company culture is also key, and so is conflict management. On top of all this, high performance will be expected in a very short period of time. And next year, you’ll have to top this year’s performance, no matter how stellar. Constant pressure is central to the job. Get used to it.
Never let go of that drive.
Once you’re there, you’ll learn being a CEO is definitely not all race cars and champagne! However, you do have the ability to be a positive influence and example for a lot of people: your employees, their families, your clients, the community. Making a difference in this world is truly the most gratifying part of the job. Let that be the ultimate motivator that drives you to even higher goals and greater heights of success.
So, you think you want to be CEO some day?
Don’t just dream about it. Create your unique path: be strategic, work hard and make every step you take one that fulfills that dream. No doubt, it takes true perseverance to get there. It’s never too early to start now and enjoy the journey!
Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne, an award winning technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years. Hawthorne has a legacy of ad industry leadership by being a visionary in combining the art of right-brain creativity with the science of left-brain data analytics and neuroscience. Jessica’s role principally involves fostering long-standing client relationships with the company’s expansive base of Fortune 500 brands to develop highly strategic and measurable advertising campaigns, designed to ignite immediate consumer response.