Driving Toward The C-Suite? We've Got Your Drivers' Ed

Leadership smeadership.

To be C-suite-ready we need to be driving toward the profit center. As Fast Company recently noted in its article Why Women CEOs Are More Likely to Be Forced Out

The career path of General Motors CEO Mary Barra is a good example of what it takes to become CEO. “Something happened that was critical for her career; she was taken out of HR and put into product development for the purpose of developing her executive skills,” Fiorina says. “Without that move, she clearly wouldn’t have the experience to be CEO. Many women don’t make that critical move.”

Say "No" to the Soft Stuff and "Yes" to the Right Stuff

Were I allowed a legal career "do over," I'd start by saying "no" to the committee work that felt safe and comfortable - hiring and continuing education, neither of which, I'd learn, were likely to advance my career a centimeter. Instead, I'd say "yes" to the work closest to money and power  - finance and firm management (not HR, management).

I'd not only attended a good law school, I'd surprised myself by graduating at the top of my class. If I could accomplish that, surely I could have learned to read a profit and loss statement, understood the opportunities and dangers of lines of credit, and, evaluated the potential profitability and synergy of new practice groups joining the firms for which I toiled countless hours for a salary (and not a single hour for a piece of the action).

I would have formed alliances, positioned myself inside the most lucrative practice groups and been a better friend to the woman in HR.  I would have built my own book of business. And if I didn't have a clue about how to do that (I didn't) I would have asked one of the firm's rainmakers to take me under his (it was always "he") wing and show me the ropes in return for which I'd help him author articles or attend the conferences he was tired of attending.

I wouldn't have changed a thing about me. I wouldn't act more female or more male. I wouldn't have deepened my voice or learned how to have more "executive presence." I wouldn't have laughed at sexist jokes if I didn't think they were funny and I wouldn't gossip about anybody, anywhere at anytime. 

I'd delegate more even if it initially took me more time to teach a junior than to do the darn thing myself. I would have put my skin in the game of anyone who had already made it (fair and square) or was willing to do the work necessary to do so.

 I would have taken my entire career as seriously as I took my client's disputes, would have learned how to negotiate, how to manage a law firm, how to read a financial statement and how to develop business.

I worked hard but I didn't work smart. I didn't have a plan. I let my career drive me instead of me driving it. 

We won't be teaching "leadership" here anymore even though we'll use the word. Because it's yesterday's word and it means both too much and too little. If we don't know how to get where we want to go, how can we lead anyone else there?

What we'll be teaching is success, however you define it. What you want to achieve today, tomorrow and for the rest of your working life.