You’re moving on up.

Making your way up the ladder, dodging bullets, using every last bit of your intellect and motivation to deftly ingratiate yourself with key decision-makers.

It’s a high-wire balancing act many executives go through to grab the golden ring. What are some of the techniques used? Based upon many hours of advisory with C-Level clients, here are the two major tenets that bubble to the top:

IQ – Intelligence Quotient (or Tactical Intelligence)

You have to have the chops, the intellect, the experience, and knowledge to make it through the first hurdle. It’s that simple. Many executives whine and complain when they hit a very real glass ceiling, but in the end, it’s their fault. They haven’t done the requisite homework and they’re trying to bribe the teacher with an apple. Bottom line, you have to put in the hours, the sweat and tears to adequately build a firm foundation of tools to leverage in the myriad of situations that arise. Some are:

  • Financial – This is all-important – I can’t tell you how many executives I would watch sit in meeting and clearly see they had no idea what was in front of them on our financial projections. Know this area cold.
  • Operational – Know how the organization works inside and out. Sit at home and map out your operational chain from start to finish. Where are the dependencies? What past decisions are holding the company behind? What areas might take the company to the next level? If you are unsure or unclear about one or more of these connections, talk to your people and LEARN.
  • Marketplace – What’s happening in the outside world? Who are the key players? What are the market forces at work – are they playing fair or are they slowly (and possibly illegally) undermining your position. Think holistically. Get out there and mix with your peers, understand the levers that make the world go round. What is the competition doing and how do you master the game of chess with them every day?

EQ – Emotional Quotient (or Emotional Intelligence)

This is where most C-Level executives fail. What got them to this position (IQ) is now failing them. For some positions (CFO, CIO), all their hard work to make it to the table is now useless when they need to use skills other than IQ:

  • Communication – Communicate clearly and concisely. But communication is a two-way street, you need to listen too.  Listening is an art – shutting your mouth (and mind) to focus your full attention to those who are giving you critical information.
  • Motivation – Every word, every order, every instruction must be nicely wrapped to motivate your people. Of course, sometimes you have to bark, but if you find yourself barking most of the time, step back and see how to manipulate your direct report’s levers so they want to make things happen and not undermine you. How do you grow your direct reports, your staff, and your organization through motivation?
  • Empathy – The hardest one of all – in addition to communication (which is overt), understand those signals to allow you to ‘listen in’ and help your people with their problems and obstacles. Ferret out those signals and dive into what is holding them back and help them. You also have to be patient to allow the natural flow of the company to run it’s course. Too many executives forget there are forces you cannot control.
  • Sales – You have to have the ability to mix all three of these areas together and move people into action inside your organization and outside too (prospects into clients, retention and extension of current clients).

Here’s a great book to read on this topic.

What other elements do you feel play a key role in defining you as CEO material?