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If you have your eye ultimately on the CEO office and want to get there fast, there are three catapults that can help spring you to the top.

They were identified by the CEO Genome Project, in which three consultants with ghSmart assembled data on 17,000 C-Suite executive assessments and studied 2,600 in depth to analyze who gets to the top and how. They then dug deeper into what they call "CEO sprinters," those who reached the CEO position faster than the average of 24 years from their first job.

"We discovered a striking finding: Sprinters don't accelerate to the top by acquiring the perfect pedigree. They do it by making bold career moves over the course of their career that catapult them to the top," Elena Lytkina Botelho, Kim Rosenkoetter Powell and Nicole Wong write in Harvard Business Review.

"We found that three types of career catapults were most common among the sprinters. Ninety-seven per cent of them undertook at least one of these catapult experiences and close to 50 per cent had at least two. (In contrast, only 24 per cent had elite MBAs.)"

So pay attention to:

  • Going small or sideways to go big: The path to CEO rarely runs in a straight line upward, as we imagine. Sometimes you must move backward or sideways in order to get ahead. Indeed, more than 60 per cent of sprinters took a smaller role at some point in their career. That included starting something within their company, such as a new product or division, moving to a smaller company where they could assume greater responsibilities or starting their own business. “In each case, they used the opportunity to build something from the ground up and make an outsize impact,” the researchers note.
  • Making a big leap: More than one-third of sprinters took a very big leap, often in the first decade of their careers. The consultants point to a 24-year-old who joined a $200-million business as a senior accountant; eight months later he was offered the CFO position, vaulting past the controller who hired him. That seems happenstance. But the sprinters believe you make your own luck. “Seek out cross-functional projects that touch numerous aspects of the business. Get involved in a merger integration. Ask your boss for additional responsibilities. Tackle tough, complex problems. Above all, make a habit of saying ‘yes’ to greater opportunities – ready or not,” the consultants advise.
  • Inheriting a big mess: Often a key factor was inheriting a big mess, such as an underperforming unit, failed product, or even a bankruptcy. More than 30 per cent of the sprinters led their teams through a big mess that had to be fixed fast, requiring strong leadership that revealed their abilities to others.

The consultants conclude that these catapults "require a willingness to make lateral, unconventional, and even risky career moves. It's not for the faint of heart. But if you aspire to top leadership, you might as well get used to it."

2. How to get motivated when you don't feel like it

There will be days when you don't really want to show up at work. The reports that need preparing seem uninspiring, the responsibilities not worth doing. The motivation isn't there.

Blogger James Clear has some suggestions to help, based on his experience playing baseball for 17 years, notably in high school when as a pitcher the desire wasn't there. He developed a pregame ritual that allowed him to perform well, whether motivated or not.

It was a 20-to-25-minute warm-up where he jogged in the outfield from foul pole to foul pole, stretched, threw some balls to a catcher in the bullpen, first without a wind-up, then with a wind-up, then focusing on his different pitches. It was more than physical; it put him in the correct mental state.

That leads to three steps for developing your own routine at work:

  • Make it so easy that you can’t say no to it. When writing, his routine starts by getting a glass of water – so easy, he can’t say no.
  • The routine should get you moving toward the end goal – that’s literal, it should involve physical movement. The activity counters the tendency when unmotivated to be slumped over and listless. “If you're physically moving and engaged, then it's far more likely that you'll feel mentally engaged and energized. For example, it's almost impossible to not feel vibrant, awake, and energized when you're dancing,” he writes. Not that he is recommending dancing. But find something to get you going that fits with the work.
  • Follow the same pattern each time. The routine is priming your mind to undertake the task. “Eventually, this routine becomes so tied to your performance that by simply doing the routine, you are pulled into a mental state that is primed to perform. You don't need motivation, you just need to start your routine,” he says.

That last point is critical. Although this helps when you are unmotivated it's actually creating habits that help you at all times. He argues it turns you into a professional – somebody with purpose and routines – rather than an amateur.

3. Smart questions to ask at the end of an interview

When you're being interviewed for a job, here are some questions to ask at the end, courtesy of executive recruiter Gerald Walsh:

  • Have I answered all your questions?
  • What are the key responsibilities of the position?
  • What are the biggest challenges of the job?
  • How would you describe the ideal candidate for the job?
  • How do you measure success in this job?
  • What are the expectations of the supervisor?
  • How engaged are the employees in the department?
  • What do you like most about working here?
  • How would you describe the culture in the organization?
  • What are the biggest issues facing the company right now?
  • What will this company look like in five years?
  • Who previously held this position and why is it available?
  • The company’s values are listed on the website. Can you give me examples of how the company lives its values?
  • If offered the job, will I have an opportunity to meet my prospective co-workers before deciding?
  • Is there anything else I can provide to help you make your decision?
  • What is the next step in the process?

"Remember, never ask questions about compensation. The interviewer will initiate that discussion when the time is right. You should also never ask questions about information that is readily available on the company's website, such as product lines, number of locations, and company size," he adds.

4. Quick hits

  • Amazon founder Jeff Bezos urges you to adopt “a beginner’s mind.” You don’t want to be a know-it-all; you want to be a learn-it-all.
  • Minutes of project meetings are useless if not read. Process engineer Glen Rosentrater recommends calling or visiting meeting attendees to ask if they have any questions about the minutes or to highlight important points. As this becomes habitual, people will be more likely to read the minutes in anticipation of your call or visit.
  • When interviewing somebody for a sales job, ask the candidate at the end to summarize what they remember from the discussion, advises consultant Colleen Francis. If they can’t do that, they haven’t been listening properly, and if they won’t listen to you they probably won’t be listening to clients or prospects, she warns.
  • One hotel is moving beyond soft pillows to attract customers. At one of its California locations, Marriott Hotels turned the shower door into a digital notepad. When the door gets steamy, guests can write or draw on it. And what they compile is sent to the individual’s e-mail so the inspiration is not lost.
  • Research found people who took five minutes near bedtime to compile tomorrow’s to-do list fell asleep more quickly than those who wrote everything they had done that day. The more thorough and specific the list, the quicker they were asleep. Also on sleep: Fitbit data shows consistently going to sleep at the same time is the biggest factor in ensuring a better, more energized morning.

Expatriate leaders don’t necessarily have to speak the language, but they have to do their homework

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