How To Transition From Upper Management To The C-Suite

If you are in upper management and looking to be promoted, there are a few things to consider to ensure you advance in your career. We sat down with Juli Bennett, Executive Director, Vanderbilt Executive MBA Programs, and Jon Lehman, Faculty Director, Vanderbilt Executive Education, to break down ways you can become more valuable to your company and progress to the c-suite.  

Gain the attention of the c-suite executives

This is one of the first steps you can take in your current role. Executives don’t need to view you as someone ready to be promoted right away, but they do need to see you as someone who has the potential to grow into top management. You can demonstrate this by getting more involved at work and in your community. Bennett suggests taking on more responsibility around the office.  

“You have to get the eyes of the c-suite on you, and you do that by volunteering for projects that are outside of what you might normally do in your role, and showing you are someone who can become a high-potential employee,” she said. “Get comfortable raising your hand for something outside of your comfort zone.”

Lehman adds, figuring out how you are perceived by c-suite executives and having the opportunity to change that perception is key.

“The focus should be less about you moving up, and more about how you can deliver more on behalf of the company,” he said. “Therefore, your upward trajectory will accelerate if you can demonstrate your value to the company.”

Seek out corporate mentorship

Securing mentorship within your company should be a priority. This is someone who can advocate your potential to top management and help support you along the way.  When seeking mentorship, you should figure out what areas you are looking to grow in and find a mentor who is an expert in that area.

“You need to have someone who is higher up in the organization that can become your advocate,” Lehman said. “It needs to be someone who understands your desires, capabilities, and potential, because they can help guide you down that path and advocate for you for resources and responsibilities.”

Expand your education and develop a new set of skills 

One sure way to make yourself more valuable to a company is by gaining a new set of skills and/or knowledge. You can achieve this by pursuing an Executive MBA or Executive Education short program or certificate program. These options allow you to continue working full-time while applying what you are learning in the classroom on the job immediately. 

Lehman refers to Korn Ferry’s leadership model to describe the skills any great leader should possess across any industry. The model lays out critical leadership competencies and which ones take you to the top. This includes the ability to create the new and different, developing a plan to get tasks done, and engaging others to help get tasks done. While these are basic skills leaders can hone, Lehman says you must continuously be willing to learn more and gain new skills to make it to the c-suite. 

“As you get further up the food chain, you have to be aware of what it takes, and you have to be able to grow yourself into that next set of skills, which constantly evolve the further you go up in an organization,” he said.

To learn more about Vanderbilt’s Executive MBA program, click here. If you are interested in learning more about Vanderbilt’s Executive Education programsclick here

The Vanderbilt Executive MBA program is designed specifically with working professionals in mind. We offer world-class education with an important degree of flexibility that minimizes disruptions to your daily rhythm and time away from personal commitments. Earn a globally recognized MBA—through our Executive Edge or Global Immersion track—that prepares you to make an immediate impact in your organization and a lasting difference in your career. And you can count on our alumni network and career resources to stay with you for life.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.