So, You Want To Be a CEO? Try G.R.A.S.S

These days, CEOs have reached spectacular stardom—from tech giants such as Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, to executive turned politicians such as Mitt Romney, Meg Whitman and Michael Bloomberg. What are the elusive qualities that makes them them? Try G.R.A.S.S. The 5 CEO Factors

These days, Chief Executive Officers (CEO) have reached spectacular stardom—from tech giants such as Elon Musk,  Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, to executive turned politicians such as Mitt Romney, Meg Whitman, and Michael Bloomberg.

But how does one become a CEO? What is it that makes them, well, them

Jeffrey J. Fox published a New York Times Bestseller titled How To Become CEO: The Rules for Rising to the Top of Any Organization.The book provides a great compilation of tips to succeed and thrive in corporate organizations.                                                

Using the book as a foundation, coupled with research from my interviews with executives and influencers, I have narrowed the elusive qualities to 5 CEO Factors.

  • Growth
  • Relationship Management
  • Appearance Management
  • Standards of Conduct
  • Skills

Or G.R.A.S.S.


Kaizen is the Japanese word for ‘change for the better,’ with the emphasis on the word ‘continuous.’ A Harvard Business Review article states that ‘the best leaders are constant learners’. Leaders learn, and they learn from everywhere and everything.

How do we practice Kaizen?

  • Become an Idea Machine. James Altucher has become synonymous with the concept of an Idea Machine. One of James’s stickiest concept is a daily 10 Ideas exercise. Every day, choose a topic that interests you (or that doesn’t) and come up with 10 ideas for that topic. In a year, you will have come up with 3,650 ideas. A few fun topics: 10 Ideas to Get a Promotion, 10 Ways to Build Exercise as a Habit, 10 Book Ideas, 10 Ideas to Solve the Rising Healthcare Cost, 10 Things I can Do Right Now To Be Happier.
  • Learn from everything and anything. As Sergio Marrero, CoFounder of RBL1, said in an interview, “If we look around us, we are surrounded by mentors and visionaries and leaders. We have access to some of the best thought leaders, and some of their best thoughts through podcasts, YouTube Channels, articles, books, videos. Think about how amazing this is. This wasn’t possible 30 years ago! Today, we can listen to several hours of world shapers over the internet, and hear some of their best thoughts crystallized, for free. That’s unbelievable! It’s so important to immerse yourself constantly.”
  • Take control of your career and seek what you desire. If your job description is in x, but you want the job to look a little more like y, then pursue that. Make sure that you are excelling with the tasks in your job description. Once you do, pursue the y. Craft your career, don’t let it craft you.
  • Learn from your failure. Keep a failure journal (or write it in your idea journal) and record your mistakes. 

Relationship Management

You are not working for your company. You are working for yourself. In today’s environment, we are our own CEO.  And with this mindset shift, treat your boss and your colleagues like they are your clients.

Tips on upwards management:

  • The #1 rule is never, ever, ever surprise your boss. Always make her look good, keep her informed, and don’t let her make a mistake. Ever. When there is a problem, and there will be, let them know right away. Jodi Glickman, author of Great On The Job, shares that transparency is key, and you should never lie in business. She states that you should be upfront about shortfalls, admit if you do not know something, and share what you do know.
  • Your boss’s boss is also your boss. Get to know her. Get to know your department’s problems, plans, personalities, and weakness. Be there to help your boss, and your boss’s boss, with both professional and personal activities. For example, if your boss is looking for day care options, and you know something about daycare, then share your information with her. However, don’t be friends with them. Toe the line of friendship.
  • Have a ‘Can Do’ attitude. It’s never ‘can something be done’ but ‘how can that something be done’.

Tips on lateral management:

  • Treat everyone well, and respect everyone’s journey. Overinvest in your people, and hire them for their integrity, their ‘I Can Do It’ attitude, and intelligence. Give credit where credit is due, critique in private, and always be polite and courteous.
  • Have gravitas. Gravitas means grace under pressure. Never show panic, never have outbursts, never write nasty emails, and never be drunk at company events.
  • Network. Take someone out to lunch or coffee once a week. Meet people inside and outside the company. Networking is no longer a nice to have, but a need to have. Create a networking tracking document. And at the very least, LinkedIn them.

Appearance Management

This one may be pretty self-explanatory. But you must look the part. Look at the senior leadership in your corporation and take note on how they appear. How are they groomed? What do they wear? 

Do not drastically change who you are but do be aware that appearance do matter. As a general rule (usually for any corporate environment), you should be well groomed. That means hair, nails, skin, and teeth. 

Standards of Conduct

These are some general best practices for succeeding and thriving in corporate environments.

  • Gain Visibility. Work on highly visible projects, or pet projects of senior leadership. Time, energy and resources is limited, so be selective in the projects you invest your time in. However, balance highly visible projects without being self-serving. Sometimes, you can take that job that no one else wants to take. And most importantly, have integrity.
  • Pursue line experience and presentations. Choose line experience and revenue producing departments. Pick your spots to shine, such as presentations to senior leadership or conducting an internal training workshop. 
  • Obtain critical credentials. Pursue the credentials that those in the inner circle have. It could be that most of the leaders have an MBA, or came from the finance department. If you want to move up within your firm (as oppose to growing with another firm or starting your own company), then you must learn what the spoken and unspoken credentials and criterion are, and obtain them.
  • Be a company spokesperson. Say only positive things about your boss, your company, your colleagues. Use your company’s products.


Lastly, skills. A C-level position is a highly skilled profession. Here are a few skills that you will need.

  • Communications. Learn to speak concisely, clearly, and in a way that it is easy to understand. Learn public speaking and develop a strong presentation ability. Learn to write clearly.
  • Tolerance for ambiguity. Today’s business environment evolves and changes. Although long term plans are important, a corporation will need to be agile and pivot with the business dynamics. A CEO will need to learn to shift through the noise, find the right insights, and pivot accordingly.
  • Decision making skills. Learn to decide quickly, efficiently and avoid cognitive bias.

So, there you have it. The 5 CEO Factors.

As you progress in your career, zig zag and steadily race through that ladder or tightrope, make sure that you practice kaizen, that you manage your relationships, that you groom and dress the part, that you follow some of the best practices mentioned above, and that you develop the necessary skills to advance.

Here’s to you and your continued success!

About the Author:

Christina D. Warner is a healthcare marketer at Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is a Duke Business School alumnus and has innovated commercially for Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Veniti (now Boston Scientific) and Goldman Sachs. Christina is a regular columnist for Authority Magazine and Thrive Global and has been quoted in many national publications. You can download her free ‘How To Get Into the C-Suite and More: top secrets from CEO’s, political figures, and best-selling authors. Connect with Christina at LinkedInor Twitter

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