How to hit the C-suite spot: getting that ‘chief’ title

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming the chief but there are a  few fundamentals that top the list

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming the chief but there are a few fundamentals that top the list


The career question I hear most often from rising senior leaders is this: “How do I get on the C-suite shortlist?”.

The management literature is overflowing with advice on becoming the chief. Having played a role in many C-suite successions, I’ve found there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. That said, I’ve identified a few fundamentals that top the list.


Know how long you’ll be in line, and take steps to put yourself in the right place at the right time. Decide how long you are willing to wait, and understand the succession timeline.

If you are a C-suite hopeful and there’s no spot opening up in your time frame, it may be a signal to look elsewhere.


You need to go beyond your functional role and get broader experience in strategy and operations. Rotating around the organisation gives you a balance of experience.


Competition for top slots is intense. Getting on the C-suite shortlist requires having a demonstrable impact on the entire company. There are countless ways I’ve seen executives raise their profile, but they fall into three categories.

Disrupters shake things up and make people a little uncomfortable to get an organisation unstuck and drive change. I’ve witnessed executives who’ve unlocked new ways of doing business and leapt levels into a C-suite role as a result.

Turnaround leaders pick up the pieces and make things right when a business or function is failing to perform. These fixers are often shortlisted for the C-suite because of their talent for problem-solving and working through ambiguity.

Stabilisers understand what to preserve in the business and can give it the care and feeding it needs.

No matter the specifics of how you stand out, demonstrate that you can get results in high-stakes environments.


Even if you succeed in your functional or business roles over a long period, you won’t make it to the top team unless the cultural fit is right. It’s better for you to size up this element early and engage in career planning accordingly.

Broad support

Formal C-suite advocates and senior sponsors are crucial, of course. But you need multiple advocates and allies at all levels of an organisation to get to the C-suite.

CEO chemistry

Your most important advocate or supporter, of course, is the CEO, or whomever you will report to. The best way to win over these and other highest-level decision makers? Bring personal experiences to the C-suite that complement and complete the wider top team.

Finally, state your ambition. If you don’t take a risk by making your objective known, no one else will. If you gain a commitment from key leaders to help you gain the experience needed or to put a development plan in place, then you may be onto something.

– Copyright Harvard Business Review 2017

Cassandra Frangos is vice-president for global executive talent and organisational development at Cisco Systems.

Previously published in The Irish Times.


Check out Ireland's leading jobs here

Back to listing