Business Economy

Steps to be a CEO

Shiv Shivakumar | Updated on: Dec 20, 2021
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A practical guide to climb the corporate ladder

When I lecture at B-schools, I ask students, “How many of you want to be a CEO?” More than 95 per cent put up their hands. For most of the students whose hands are up, it’s plain wishful thinking since there is empirical data to show that less than 5 per cent of a B-school batch make it to the CEO office (the ones who are entrepreneur CEOs are not counted). 

Everyone wants to be a CEO, because it looks glamorous, sounds powerful, it seems to get coverage and one feels one can do the job. Nothing is farther from this picture. 

GS Rattan, Ex-CEO, Tata Bearings, and a 31-year veteran of the Tata Group, has written this book on ten steps to being a CEO. It is not a formula that he offers but more a practical guide in terms of things you need to consider. 

Positive attitude

Rattan starts at the first job where he urges you to define what can be done and cannot in a job, and building a positive attitude to the organisation and job. When one is a junior manager, most companies expect outstanding execution, no deviant behaviour and someone who carries out the tasks in full. 

Having patience, handling criticism and learning to unlearn are the next set of thoughts. We are impatient at every level to get the next promotion or break, so having a bit of patience in a long career helps. We are also thin-skinned; we tend to attribute motives to a person who gives us feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Two-thirds of feedback is useful and one-third is junk; you need to recognise that. When anyone gives you feedback that you don’t agree with, then ask them to give you examples and also to show you the mirror the next time you display that behaviour or tendency. That’s always a good way to think about feedback. 

When you are a manager and leading people, then you need to be in the limelight, in a positive way. A manager has to be the team’s biggest champion; he must goad them, challenge them in private but always praise them in front of others. 

Envying success

Handling peer jealousy and handling people who envy your success is a tough thing to handle. Giving appropriate credit, ensuring that senior managers understand that you and your team have delivered well is a way to handle this. 

A more troublesome one is where seniors in the organisation are jealous of your success and are trying to stymie your progress or come in the way of you getting credit. One realises that one has to share information with the line manager and also make key people part of the success, so that they can also bask in its glory. 

Staying in the limelight is easier today with a range of industry associations and with social media. This is a godsend for managers. 

Managing a team needs delegation, building team spirit and to delegate effectively. Delegation does not mean abdication; it means holding people accountable to the tasks that have been delegated. Carrying a team also means spending a lot of time on people issues , like selection, training, development, and finding them their right next roles. 

Beyond comfort

One must move beyond the comfort of one’s own domain and function and network. I would urge people to network more outside the organisation. In today’s world where no one knows which industry is a competitor and who a collaborator, it is wise to network. Rattan makes an important point that your career is roughly charted till a level below the CEO; to get to the CEO role, you might be passed over even if you think you are the best suited. So, a network helps you realise your potential in case your company doesn’t take care of you. 

Rattan also urges you to grab underperforming areas in an organisation, turn them around and show results. 

When you are the CEO, you will make mistakes, there is no shield to protect you. It is important to recognise you are human and this will happen. Handling success is easy, handling failure is difficult. Many tend to brood and blame others, or blame karma, when the best way is to forget the failure and get on with life. 

An easy, short, snappy book to read.

10 Steps To The Boardroom: Climb Your Way to Success 

By GS Rattan 

Pages 161 Price: Rs 288 

Published by Penguin Portfolio

Check this book out on Amazon

(The reviewer is Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy & Business Development, Aditya Birla Group) 

Published on December 20, 2021

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