Álvaro Cárcel, Executive Search Director

I recently had the opportunity to read an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled: How do I become a CEO?, which I would like to summarize below, along with some of my own reflections.

Reaching a General Management position is an aspiration for many, but a real possibility for very few. We live in a society where it is encouraged to go far, have ambitious goals, and constantly grow. We all know phrases like “the only limit is you”, or in English, which generally seems to sound better: “the sky is the limit”.

First dose of reality: not everyone has the ability and potential to become a leader of an organization.

Second dose of reality: not everyone has the courage, the bravery, the resilience, or the necessary motivation to occupy a position of responsibility of this type.

Therefore, anyone considering, even remotely, reaching a position of leadership, should ask themselves two questions (which sometimes lead to unpleasant conclusions at first, especially for people with strong ambition):

  • Do I have the skills, or at least the potential, to lead and make an impact?
  • Do I have the motivation and resilience to continue paddling on a long and exhausting journey?

If the answer is negative, it is probably better to focus on alternatives and focus on other types of goals. In fact, it is the best possible decision. Obviously, it is not about being conformist and throwing in the towel. But if the answer is a clear no, then it is time to look for other paths that lead us to greater happiness and satisfaction.

If the answer to the previous questions is yes, it is time to carry out an honest exercise of self-knowledge and analyze our differential value in 3 key pillars:

  • The ability to design, or as the article says, to be an “organizational architect”. In short, to see to what extent we have the ability to bring together talented people, align them with a common vision, offer them guidance and professional development, and achieve goals. It is not easy at all. In fact, it is probably the biggest challenge to a professional career. Being a brilliant professional (what is often called an “individual contributor” in collaborative environments) is already difficult, but in the end it largely depends on individual performance. But leading a team/organization successfully means being able to deal with a high degree of situations that do not depend on you.
  • Generate (and maintain) a powerful network. In general, a successful General Manager has the ability to forge healthy relationships at all levels: friends, family, clients, suppliers, organizations, etc. They are people with a genuine interest, precisely, in people. And the nuance is very important: it is not about creating a powerful network (which is already difficult in itself). It is about maintaining it over time, and this requires solid values: integrity, honesty, and a long-term vision.
  • Create a vision and transmit passion. In other words: have a clear purpose. They are people who are clear about why they are here, why they do what they do, and who care about how they do it.

Reaching the above conclusions is not difficult. The difficult part is knowing what must be done to gain access to a leadership position. Two tips:

  • Don't obsess. The focus must be on the path, and not on the final goal.
  • Linked to the previous point, any professional with aspirations must take care of the path, and this involves "acting like an owner" at every step of the way. Since one begins their career as an intern, even in a specialist role, such as manager or management positions.

Therefore, and by way of summary, is there a formula for reaching a General Management position? For me, it might resemble the following:

General Management = (motivation + capabilities + resilience + ownership) + (build teams + network + passion/vision)