The step from a high-profile sales job to the ultimate leadership position in a company is well-worn. But that doesn't mean it's an easy one to make. Ultimately, there are few – if any – shortcuts, and you’ll need exactly the right combination of hard graft, help from colleagues and mentors and a little bit of luck. Here’s what I learned along my career path, lessons I’ve figured out that could stand you in good stead.
1. A mentor is everything. Find someone who knows the business you’re in who you can talk with in absolute confidence and utter transparency. Getting feedback from a mentor – a second point of view, and usually one that comes with the benefit of experience, is invaluable.
2. Stretch yourself. Get stuck into projects or initiatives that are outside your normal role. Don’t do it for the glory, but for the experience and the extra skills you’ll gain. It will also show you can deliver in a different environment.
3. Get to know your peers. Understand – and get to know – the key stakeholders across the business you’re in. But don’t take up golf if you hate golf just to get ahead, but instead look to find common ground. Act authentically.
4. You’re not just about the numbers. It’s a common misapprehension that sales people only care about hitting a number. Of course, that’s nonsense, and the good sales people I see every day are the ones that consider a whole raft of other things, too. Thinking in detail about the customer and how you work and interact with them pays off in the short term, and will pay off in the long term as well.
5. Show you’re up for change. Provide ample evidence that you are willing and able to embrace new techniques and practices. This involves more than just jumping on passing bandwagons. Talk to your customers and look at what’s going on in the market. Look at how you can adapt your business model to a changing environment. Over the years, sales has moved from transactional to solution-based selling and now to social selling, for example. Once you spot a significant change in how you can do things, position your team to take advantage of it.
6. Show you can lead. This sounds obvious, but it’s not always straightforward or easy, and all too often people mistake a forceful personality for leadership skills. Not only do you need to show you’ve got the resilience and character, you also need to demonstrate you can inspire others positively, and give them the incentive to go out and do things for themselves.
7. Prioritise and delegate. You can’t be involved in everything, and delegation is a key skill – one that goes hand in hand with inspiring people. You don’t need to see the detail on everything.
8. Understand the team. Building the right team is a tough job, and you will be called upon to make tough decisions. Make them early, and act on them, or they’ll cost you in the long run, and prolong situations that can be corrosive for the team, the affected people and you. On top of that, they can slow the business down. Make calculated decisions, and make them early, rather than late.
9. Balance strategy and execution. Every change of position comes with a surprise: your expectations of the job, and the actual realities. There’s a danger in thinking that a CEO ‘just does’ strategy, and it’s a huge part of the task. But you also have to delegate once you’ve built a strategy, and execute with focus.
Working your way up through a business can come easy to some people – but more often than not, it’s a case of a lot of hard work. You can’t get away with only paying homage to a lot of the attributes that a good CEO needs, because more often than not peers, your board and your team can tell. At all stages, it’s hugely important to act with conviction and authenticity. There are, as I said, few shortcuts. But the reward is the opportunity to lead a business and nurture a team – and that can be the best feeling in the world.
By Jayne Archbold, CEO of Sage Enterprise Market Europe and Sage ERP X3