While traditional industries still adhere to the norm of seniority for the top job, technology-driven industries are disrupting the C-suite and have indeed turned it age-agnostic.
It is no secret that the average age of the CEO is declining and technology is undoubtedly playing a big role. While traditional industries still adhere to the norm of seniority for the top job, technology-driven industries are disrupting the C-suite and have indeed turned it age-agnostic. In the digital world, a CEO no longer needs to be in the late fifties with over 25 years under the belt, a deep baritone voice and a personality that evokes respect. On the contrary, the space is replete with the likes of 35+ year old Sachin and Binny Bansals who created the Flipkart behemoth, the 25-year old Ritesh Aggarwal from OYO who is redefining hospitality globally, the Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, who turned 41 earlier this year, or the 33-year old Bhavish Aggarwal of the Ola fame. However, not every young professional with mettle makes it to the C-suite of a decent-sized company. Here is a look at what makes some professionals fast track themselves on the path to the C-Suite:
1. Drive and Vision
A much greater drive than your average Millennial / Gen-Z. Fast track professionals / entrepreneurs are just not content to “also run”. They want to win and are ready to make the sacrifice with their personal time. The blokes who make it big at a younger age do not let their age stifle their ambitions. They are able to think big and paint the big canvas for others to see and follow. Young CxOs develop the vision from an early age. Everything they undertake is propelled by this picture of the future. Much like in sport, they have visualized themselves in certain positions and are therefore ready when the opportunity arrives. They set exacting standards for themselves and measure their performance against non-trivial yardsticks.
Fear is sensed and preyed upon in the corporate jungle much like it is in the wild. A young professional is closely scrutinized from every quarter for chinks in the psychological armour. Confidence in action and speech, in all interactions, is key. A calm and reassured mindset allows for merit-based team selection (sans any insecurities), healthier sales negotiation, prudent investor selection and deal making, and ease of acceptance when an opportunity presents itself. This arsenal of knowledge allows them to go toe-to-toe with industry veterans and seasoned campaigners, and even come out on top. They are not intimidated by getting on-board with folks senior in age and experience to themselves.
It is paramount that the lack of experience is offset well and truly by immense subject matter knowledge. Successful young turks keep themselves on top of their game with the hunger to acquire everything there is to know about their sector. This is essential to not only earn the respect of the team, but also to think through strategy, articulate value propositions and pre-empt objections. Organizations do not need fast mouth cowboys but leaders with confidence flowing from knowledge. Stellar education pedigree helps, but is neither a guarantee nor a necessity to be thoroughly informed.
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4. Sense of urgency
Most effective and respective young leaders do things with a sense of urgency, almost as if their survival depended upon the execution of the next piece of the plan. They are so relentless in the pursuit of their everyday goals that it leaves everyone in their wake wondering where they derive their energies from. In many ways they compress enough work in their 1 man year that an average professional would have done in 3 to 5. Their success therefore is not accidental and their presence not easily replaceable.
Most younger CxOs stumble at the “how to scale” hurdle. They succeed at execution of the pilot phase but are quite clueless when it comes to handling the magnified problem that people, cash flows, clients, locations and investors pose when the scheme is in several multiples. Foreseeing this problem, planning for resources including bandwidth, and putting together a team with required experience, could go a long way in tackling the “Scaling” beast.
Lack of grey hair on one’s scalp need not mean absence of the wisdom available at one’s disposal. Selecting a trusted and accomplished set of mentors or advisors can ensure one steers clear of career potholes, addresses difficult interpersonal situations, deals smartly with investors and has a sounding board at all times. Mentors help the uninitiated CxO-in- waiting overcome the loneliness in the battle. Wise young professionals choose brilliant mentors and stand on the shoulders of their collective wisdom to look and reach far ahead.
7. Risk appetite
Some of the smartest CxOs I have known, do not die wondering about the “what if”. They try, they fail, then they try again. They understand the importance of action and are not wound up in analysis alone. Their action orientation is not at the expense of critical thinking but a result of it. When no further data can substantiate a decision, they would rather do than wait. Whether it is a Musk or a Jobs, they have been willing to punt on the not-so-obvious, and sometimes even bet the farm. Having a high IQ and EQ is hygiene, but the Risk Quotient is what makes a highly successful young CxO. Ask any young leader in the industry, and you will uncover a tale about a fork in the road where the person would have taken the path less trodden.
(By Gaurav Chattur, MD and Co-Founder, Catenon Asia)