In my executive coaching and mentoring practice working with existing women CEOs I keep hearing a recurring pattern. “I never wanted to be the CEO. This has simply happened to me. I guess I’m lucky – I was the right person at the right time.”
Of course, the women saying this often ignore the massive volume of work, discipline, and success they have behind that gained the trust of their stakeholders to appoint them CEOs.
As it happens, success obtained through hard work is tricky like that: once we achieve it, it becomes our normal and we stop perceiving it as something exceptional.
But there is a grain of truth into what my clients, existing women CEOs, say. That grain is hidden in the lack of intentionality and strategic approach in becoming the next CEO.
Becoming the next CEO simply happened to them. They worked hard, did what they were told, brought in great results – all this is true. But they were also operating often on growth markets and in growth industries, and their companies needed to hire and attract new clients, thus introduce themselves to the world with a human face.
Thus, having a woman at the top made perfect sense. When the company wants to come across as friendly, open, and nurturing, what better strategy to communicate that than through a woman CEO?
THE PRICE WE PAY
So, you may ask: what’s the problem? Women and men alike can become accidental CEOs. At the end of the day, a great tide lifts all boats.
Well, that’s exactly the problem.
In the absence of intentionality and strategic approach, becoming the next CEO as a woman leader is left to the chance (and a market growth context that, unfortunately, is already behind us, mainly in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe).
But there are a few more prices the accidental woman CEO – and we all – pay for this approach.
- IMPOSTOR SYNDROME. Because becoming the CEO was never an intentional strategy followed by intentional action, getting appointed at the top of the organization can come with cringing anxiety. “What if I am not as good as they think I am? What if I make a mistake and they will finally see the real me?” The presence of the impostor syndrome in top leadership can seriously hinder decision-making, with potential dire consequences for the whole organization.
- LACK OF EXTERNAL VISIBILITY AND STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS. When we feel a bit uncertain in our role, we also avoid speaking from that role. This is why so many women CEOs get themselves so busy with operational details that they never make time for serious strategic communications and reputation management. No relevant public speaking, no consistent interviews for podcasts and the media… Which is why we still miss tremendously more women CEOs role models who are both authentic AND visible in the public arena.
- MAXIMUM FOCUS AND LOYALTY TO THE COMPANY, NOT ITS PURPOSE. We cannot bite the hand that feeds us, right? So, when someone appoints us the CEO, we develop a duty of care to do everything we can to meet their expectations. We spend more time intuiting those expectations and raising to the challenge as opposed to exploring the real purpose of our role and of our organization, and how our organization is meant to serve its clients, its stakeholders, its entire business ecosystem, and the world right now.
Ultimately, being the accidental CEO condemns us to a perpetual managerial role: intuiting expectations, and delivering upon results. Forget purpose, forget courage to challenge the status quo, forget leadership.
Because leadership is intentionality AND strategic thinking. Accidentality is everything but that.
SO, HOW CAN YOU BECOME AN INTENTIONAL CEO?
You can become an intentional CEO in two ways:
- To turn into one even though you feel right now that you are more of an accidental rather than intentional CEO. To go through your inner path of transformation, and to develop personal leadership to the core. This will enable you to be intentional and authentic on all fronts. In fact, this will guarantee that you will be a real leader who finds time for what matters and the courage to do what needs to be done, even when this might ruffle a few shareholder feathers in the process.
- To activate your intentionality even when you are not the CEO yet. Yes, you can turn on your intentionality even as an expert, team leader, non-executive or executive board member. By developing an intentional strategy to become the next CEO not for ego or for more money in the bank, but because you understand that the greatest difference in the world can only be made from the places of greatest influence, you step into your whole inner power. And people will recognize that. Daring, being courageous, talking about and living purpose, leading in line with your values… all these things become normal when you are intentional. And all these things are expected and needed from today’s CEOs.
So, without knowing it, by developing your intentionality you actually develop your inner CEO. Then it’s only a matter of time until you start manifesting it externally – by getting on track to the CEO in your organization or in a different company, or by starting your own business.
Regardless of the path you choose, as long as you do it intentionally everybody wins. You, your team, your company, your clients – our world. You become the role model you can be. You set a positive precedent of inner growth followed by outer growth. What greater gift can you give our world than a real, authentic, emotionally mature human being ready to lead?
YOUR NEXT STEPS:
- NEVER WALK ALONE. Hire my 1-1 executive coaching and mentoring services to discuss your leadership and your future career steps. Book your personal exploratory call with me directly here: https://calendly.com/cristinamuntean/30-minute-never-walk-alone-exploration-call.
- THE CEO ELEVATION CIRCLE. Join our community of practice in leadership development and career acceleration for smart, talented, and ambitious women leaders. We can continue the conversation on career transition and exiting the corporate in our dedicated space ON TRACK TO MY OWN BUSINESS.
- MY ELEGANT EXIT. Join my upcoming webinar on how to develop your personal brand when you prepare to transition from corporate into entrepreneurship. It’s free – bring in your colleagues and friends. The more, the merrier.
- BECOME YOUR OWN BOSS! Join my upcoming 8-hour live course on how to think strategically when you are about to leave your employer and start your own business. It takes place on Sept.2 – Sept.16th and its return on investment is in hundreds of thousands of euro.