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Do you have what it takes to be a CEO?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014  
Posted by: Barbara Francella
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By Susan Bulkeley Butler

Much has been written about the need for companies to add more women to their senior leadership teams and corporate boards. In the United States, women fill fewer than 17 percent of leadership positions and corporate board seats, even though we represent about 50 percent of the workforce.

So is it possible for today’s woman to break through these barriers? Yes — but only if you have the right credentials, the right experience and the right understanding of what it takes to reach the highest rungs of corporate America.

When Fortune magazine began its "Most Powerful Women” Summit in 1998, there were two women CEOs among Fortune 500 companies: Carly Fiorina of Hewlett-Packard Co. and Meg Whitman of eBay Inc. As of January, there were 23 women CEOs among Fortune 500 companies, including Sheri McCoy of Avon Products Inc., Denise Morrison of Campbell Soup Company, Irene Rosenfeld of Mondelēz International, Indra Nooyi of Pepsico Inc. and Carol Weyrowitz of TJX Cos. in the cpg/retail industry. Progress is slow, but going in the right direction.

Do you see yourself on such a list? If not, why not? If so, how do you get there?

Related: "Ambitious? Let your boss know you want that promotion" 

I collaborated with Barbara Allen, a former senior executive who has served 18 years as a board member, on a checklist of characteristics that will help you get ahead, no matter your level within your organization or where you want to be.

The first step toward obtaining a leadership position is to move up the career ladder by working every day of every year developing the skills and capabilities for the position you want. Become recognized as an expert, a ‘go to’ person in your organization who delivers value in everything you do. You need to be viewed as someone who is a team player with significant expertise, who is known inside and outside of the company as a real leader.

Set a goal: Where do you want to be in three years? Your aspiration: A leadership position, which will ultimately lead to a senior leadership position.

Becoming a senior leader

To obtain a senior leadership position, you must be the expert, authority and leader in your line of the business — but you must also broaden your experience and your understanding to the rest of your organization.

Here are some core requirements for senior leadership:

  • Business acumen (and financial literacy). It is essential to understand your organization’s business language and the financials. You must have experience solving problems using financial data: Profit and loss statements, balance sheets, cash flow analysis, annual reports, etc. And, you must have experience being responsible for the financial outcomes of a division or other entity within your organization.
  • Experience/responsibility for a line of business (or more).You should always seek to build your skills and capabilities to lead a larger part of a business. Along the way, you should be able to deliver a bottom-line contribution to the success of your company. You should be responsible for developing strategy, meeting personnel requirements, mitigating risks and handling marketing, among other areas.
  • Attractive personal qualities. You must be perceived well. You must be able to lead with integrity and honesty, have good people development skills, be creative and be a problem solver. You must know how and when to use your voice, able to speak up and voice your opinions, but listen and be eager to learn, too. You must be future-focused. Lastly, you must ask the hard questions and, if appropriate, challenge the status quo.

Getting a seat at the board table

Your functional and technical skills, plus senior-level experiences from your corporate responsibilities, will put you on the path to a board seat. Your next role: To help a company operate, compete and regulate itself to be successful, without being in an operational position, only an advisory position.

To get a position on a corporate board, you should get some basic "being on a board” training, mentoring and sponsorship. You should be sure to build an appropriate resume and connect with organizations that will help you achieve your goal: A seat on a non-profit board, and ultimately, on a corporate board.

Here are some are some core requirements that a search committee would likely consider for recruiting a corporate director:

  • Readiness, based on skills and experiences as a senior level leader in a comparable organization.
  • Knowledge of corporate governance.
  • Understanding of what it means to be on a board and the role and liabilities of a being a director.
  • Understanding of how to be an effective board member.

In any position, organization or working group or corporate board, it's important that new members show up, stand up and speak up. Companies want people who bring fresh, new perspectives and a deep-seated corporate ideals, goals and missions.

Develop your skills, experiences, brand and resume — to fill the seat! You can do anything you set your mind to do. Go for it and change the numbers. Move the needle for women and yourself.

Susan Bulkeley Butler is founder and CEO of the SBB Institute for the Development of Women Leaders and author of the book Become the CEO of You Inc. A version of this article first appeared on The Huffington Post

Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.

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