If you've got your eye on a career path that culminates with the top dog CEO role, you may be under the impression that hard work, an MBA, and some savvy interoffice political skills will eventually carve that path for you. 

While that may sometimes be true, new research shows that one trait in particular fast-tracks the path to the Chief Executive position: risk-taking

In a ten-year study called the CEO Genome Project, more than 17,000 C-Suite assessments were studied alongside a closer look at the "CEO Sprinters" who reached the top position in less than the 24-year average from taking their first job. 

The most interesting takeaway from this study revolves around these sprinters and what led to their breakaway success. Interestingly, it was not a certain degree, or role, or network; instead, the sprinters commonly shared a pattern of taking risks. The study identified three types of risks, and shared that 97% of the sprinters had at least one risk (almost 50% had two) while only 24% held the coveted elite MBA.

Those three types of risks include:

Grab a Chance to Build

My career has always been in media, which attracts creative souls for obvious reasons. But a bit of advice I received early in my career has held true for decades: "stay close to the money." 

You can iterate on other ideas, participate in brainstorms around new initiatives, and so on - but to build a track record of business results, nothing tops taking ownership of a growth initiative from ideation all the way through measuring an impact on the bottom line. Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who can prioritize and strategize good ideas and shepherd them along to profitability will prosper. 

Ready or Not - Say Yes

Another common risk type among sprinter CEOs is the willingness to take on roles, challenges, or projects that are beyond your current skill set. As the saying goes, "fake it until you make it." This is especially true if a higher-up invites you into such a scenario - they wouldn't do so if they didn't think you had it in you. 

These opportunities don't show up very often, of course, so consider carefully before you turn one down because you don't feel ready. If you don't see a scenario where such an offer will be extended, ask for the opportunity. Raise a hand to get involved in solving a complex problem or a longstanding challenge for your company. Your efforts won't go unnoticed. 

Fix a Big Mess

The third risk the study identifies is the ability to fix a "big mess." These big challenges require leadership skills, problem-solving, strategic chops, and grit. When managed well, fixing a big mess highlights the key attributes of an emerging leader. These big messes exist in every company. Listen for the grumbling and seek out an opportunity to take on the challenge. 

Taking risks is a gamechanger in terms of elevating and escalating your career path, and it will be required of you anyhow should you move into the CEO role. Start practicing now to fast-track your path to the corner office.

Published on: Oct 30, 2019
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