What functional backgrounds do most Presidents and CEO’s come from? Today many come from the finance area. In the past, they often moved up from sales and marketing, followed closely by operations. No matter which functional area the CEO comes from, he or she had better have a strong understanding of financial issues.

Cost control, treasury, cash management, financial restructuring, raising capital and banking relationships are just a few of the more important areas of concern a CEO will need to address. But a mastery of the CFO’s role or any other functional role does not guarantee success when ascending to the CEO’s position.

The best route to the CEO role is to have exposure to all functional areas of the company in a meaningful fashion. Staying close to other functional leaders is critical to rounding out your own experience. This involves networking on a regular basis with other functional leaders and with the rest of the management team.

If for example you have no experience in sales and marketing, spend as much time as you can to learn what they are doing, why they are doing it, and how they are executing on their plans. Take advantage of every opportunity to gain new experience outside your comfort zone particularly if it involves exposure to foreign markets. While most people work on improving their technical skills and gaining “real life” experience, don’t forget about your people and management skills and even becoming comfortable with public speaking.

Probably the most utilized assistance people are seeking today to help get them to the next level is an executive coach. Even if you hold the title of CEO, a coach can help hone your skills.  The comments I repeatedly hear from new CEO’s are “It’s lonely at the top. I used to share my thoughts with my peers but now that I’m the CEO, there are certain issues I can’t share with anyone internally.” If you’re considering an executive coach or approaching your boss or the board to retain executive coaching services, here are a few thoughts for your consideration:

  1. When selecting a coach, pay close attention to the process the coach uses and the types of outcomes he/she has had in the past.
  2. Make sure the process includes extensive assessments. It’s important for you to understand your strengths. It’s equally important to know how to navigate around your weaknesses.
  3. Try to choose a coach who has some of the same functional experience you have so he/she can easily identify with some of your issues.
  4. Make sure the coach has experience and understands business strategy.
  5. While a coach needs to be a good communicator, the individual probably needs to be a better listener, capable of challenging your assumptions
  6. Do some research to determine if the coach has been part of the management team and contributed to the visioning of a company.
  7. While you are not looking for a friend, you should feel comfortable enough with your coach to let your guard down and reveal some of your concerns, discomforts and insecurities.
  8. You may not always agree with your coach, but should respect their opinion and give it careful consideration.
  9. Early in the process, establish some outcomes that you both agree on that will make a difference, can be measured, and will benchmark your coaching experience.
  10. A coach is not a psycho-analyst. However, an executive coach will help you become better at whatever you are striving to be, recommend approaches to business situations and personal development, and boost your confidence so you are ready for the next level.


By Dan Portes, Chairman and CEO of Management Resource Group, a Career Partners International Firm

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