My promotion this year to chief marketing officer (CMO) at Prezi had me reflecting on my own career journey, and wondering whether I could offer any insights to other women aspiring to become a senior executive. Certainly, I know how challenging the road is for women who want to work at the C-level. According to Korn Ferry, only one in three CMOs is female.
I’ve always felt strongly about helping other women at Prezi, and in business in general, to succeed. Now that I’m CMO, I also believe it’s my responsibility. So, how did I get to the C-suite? By being clear on who I am, who the people around me are and displaying thoughtfulness in empowering all of us. There are six key ways this played out for me, and hopefully they’ll prove useful as tips for your journey as well.
Sure, it’s important to work backwards from the qualities we all know a chief executive or department head should exhibit, but this can become a recipe for not looking inward. Do a positioning exercise on your personal brand at the company, and assess whether the qualities you’re known for are actually your strengths, or rather, what is valued at a senior level. What are your personal-brand promises and pillars, positioning, tone of voice, target audience and unique value proposition?
2. Look at everything through the filter of your superpower.
What sets you apart from other people on your team? What problems do people typically ask you to solve? Identify your superpowers, refine and cultivate, and work every day on making them the filter through which your approach your work (and don’t forget to develop a clear narrative for the impact they’ve had). Then slowly build space around them; run your superhero approaches by allies, list these strengths in your performance reviews, and look for moments where you can swoop in and point to the success the company has been having practicing these powers. There’s nothing more impactful than a “look, up in the air” moment, but the secret is that you can’t plan when it will happen — you just need to consistently be practicing for it.
Many businesses today are highly collaborative, including cross-departmentally, but nearly all employees still prioritize their KPIs over those of other departments. I believe I’m understood to be a better leader because I invest in empathizing with the functional teams that my marketing organization collaborates with, like sales and product engineering. But you don’t have to change jobs to gain that kind of perspective. If you work in marketing, for example, you could build empathy for functional partners in sales and product engineering by listening to sales calls or participating in bi-directional updates with the product teams. Just make the effort to learn and follow up on how their goals are working out, and people will notice.
4. Build a personal board of directors.
We’ve all heard about curating a select group of trusted peers and mentors you can turn to when you want to share ideas, get advice and solicit objective, expert viewpoints. But no one understands your challenges better than colleagues where you work, and these are also the people who can advocate for you when decisions are being made. That’s not to say you should share salary negotiations or job searches with them, but it’s important to believe in the people around you and to have them do the same.
If you want to work at the C-level, you must be able to delegate work regardless of gender. This is probably the biggest behavioral change from mid- to senior-level. Women leaders are unfairly typecast as unable to do this, so it’s also a great opportunity to shatter that ridiculous stereotype. Delegating is good for your team, too. By giving your directors and other employees more responsibility, you are providing them with development opportunities and showing them and your leadership that you’re focused on the greater good.
Lastly, women need to help other women succeed — that’s a fact. And the highest-impact way to use your influence is by creating a peer group that meets regularly for open dialogue. These types of groups elevate the women around you and also send a clear message that someone has their back if they need it, which is why I make a point to meet with women outside the marketing function as a part of this peer group.