What Do I Need To Do To Move UP?

People ask me all the time for advice — I frequently answer questions on Reddit, Quora, and LinkedIn to a mix of executives, business owners, and job seekers. The other day, a potential client sent me a set of questions — so instead of just sending them to him, I thought I'd let you all in on how I responded:

"Hey, Rich. I'm pretty well focused on my goals and have a pathway to achieve — It's more about assessing next steps in the corporate world, such as what do I need to do to become a CMO for a mid-size company in 4 years. What classes and skills are requisite? Speaking engagements? What projects should have I lead? Whom should I create a relationship with? What personal habits should I break, etc? What is size of P&L I should run? Do you have an example of how you help executives at major companies reach their professional goals?"

To your questions — broadly — one needs experience, knowledge, gravitas, tools, communication skills, connections and exposure to become a CMO. Let me cover each one and I'll include your questions:


You need a requisite amount of experience to become a CMO. It's not 'how many years', it's more about how many areas do you feel comfortable in the marketing arena? I come from a marketing background — you need creative, technical, statistical, client, financial and communication experience to make CMO. You need to know all the areas you will manage — so many newly minted CMO's who hit the top rung usually are lacking in many of these areas and it shows in their performance. I'm not saying you need to be an expert in all areas — although you should have leveraged each one during your career.


It's what you know. Where has the industry been and where is it going? What is your competition doing? Where has your company failed and succeeded? What CAN you do to move forward? Knowledge is power and when you're at the pinnacle of your organization, you need to have a adequate grounding in the past, present, and future of your industry. People will be looking up to you and it's imperative that you have a good base to lead them forward. Or, surround yourself with people who do.

Gravitas (Leadership)

Leadership happens instantly. You can't train for it — I can tell a novice a mile away by how they comport themselves in certain situations and with people. Guess what — your people can too. You need to clearly develop good leadership behaviors with positive engagement, enthusiasm, energy, and motivation. Unfortunately, gravitas comes with time — if you compare me with my 35 year old me, you will instantly see how cool, calm, and collected I am during critical situations.

Management Tools & Techniques

It's what you know. Most people aren't open to better ways of doing things. "I've done it this way for years" is the death knell of any job or business because something better or someone faster comes along. As with knowledge, you need to re-assess your toolbox of tool and techniques and see if they're still effective and motivating. Bottom line, as a CMO, you need to leverage many motivational, time-management, and process-driven skills to stay at the top and succeed.

Communication Skills

If you've been a doer (worker-bee) during your career, you need to ramp up your interpersonal communication skills. I've worked with and seen many C-Level people who are incredible at getting things done, but suck at getting people to help them. When you approach the big positions, it's less doing and more communicating. In fact, it hinges on evangelizing. You need to inspire the people around you and help you achieve your vision for the future. If you aren't communicating effectively, you will lose the troops who will make that happen.

Also, you should be speaking ALL THE TIME. Sample topic: Where will your type of marketing/industry be in 5/10 years?

Connections & Exposure

You should connect with key people in (and outside) of your organization. Connections are the currency of influence and success when you want to become a CMO. Marketing needs the assistance of every other department in your organization, so it's imperative that you develop critical connections to ensure a smooth flow of information, assistance, and resources. The more 'friends' you acquire, the more currency you have to spend when you need to lean on them for a favor.

Get out of your bubble. So many people tend to stay and communicate with the same 10 people regularly. You need to build your connections and get out and meet better tennis players who play better tennis.

I can go SO much deeper with each area - but I wanted to give you a brief intro on what you need to do to move up.

Why Retirement Is NOT An Option.

I read a wonderful article in Newsweek the other day — "More Senior Americans Are Working Past Retirement, Willingly" (link). There was a powerful quote from Dr. Leonard Bailey, a 74 year-old heart surgeon who still puts in 80-90 hour weeks and has no plans to retire, "There’s no reason to stop. If you’re constantly thinking new thoughts and dealing with new problems, it refreshes your brain cells and makes new connections."

I LOVE IT. That's the way I am. Even my Dad, who retired after 40+ years working for Electrolux, was asked back by management to keep working because they couldn't find a replacement who knew his job. So he worked an additional 10 years (7 AM-12 Noon) and deftly stayed out of my Mom's hair.

Let's break Dr. Bailey's quote down to not only understand it, but to apply it to our own lives:

"There’s no reason to stop."

There really isn't. Retirement is a societally imposed situation that rips out a major part of our life. Work is a part of our life, our personality, our being and it contributes to the 'adequacy' of our being. I constantly tell clients — you generally sleep 8 hours, you work 8 hours, and you spend 8 hours on personal time. Work is a big part of your life for many, many years. Why stop?

I'm not saying keep putting in 80-90 hours per week, but you can power-down slowly. Ask to only work 4-day weeks and reduce your pay accordingly. Then 3-day weeks. Then 2-day weeks. You get the picture.

"If you’re constantly thinking new thoughts and dealing with new problems"

When was the last time you really sat down and brainstormed about your career or business? Really separated yourself and 'thought new thoughts' about your situation, your position, your industry, your client base and all the people around you?

When was the last time you stopped thinking about your 'problems' and started addressing them as 'challenges'? Carlos Casteneda said, "The difference between  a warrior and an ordinary man is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man sees everything as either a blessing or a curse." Start being that warrior in life.

"It refreshes your brain cells and makes new connections"

If you keep the flow of new ideas, new challenges, new people, and new activities in your life, it will refresh your brain and make new connections. If you exercise the muscle — it will get stronger.

Keep working, keep meeting new people, keep stretching your comfort zone, keep learning, and most of all keep making it happen.