LEADERSHIP

She’s already been promoted to CEO after only 6 months

Source: Pexels

One reason many professionals pursue entrepreneurship is that the prospect of climbing the corporate ladder toward executive and equity opportunities is bleak. 69% of Fortune 100 CFOs are internal hires, and a study from the Korn Ferry Institute found that the average tenure of a C-suite executive is over five years.

That’s what makes Cece Morken so impressive. She’s the President and Chief Operating Officer of Headspace — an external hire who only just joined the company on April 1st — and in six months flat, she’s been promoted to CEO effective January 1.

According to Morken, the top job wasn’t even on the table during negotiations. And it’s not like there wasn’t a lot to manage when she arrived:

  • Their $12.99 monthly subscription yields $100 million in annual revenue
  • The company also has $215 million in funding and over 62 million overall users, according to a figure from earlier this year
  • And then there’s this thing called a pandemic happening, which means tough decisions are everywhere these days

In the face of all this, Morken is navigating the company through a huge growth period — and clearly kicking butt along the way. So if you’re ready to kick things up a notch in your career, let Morken’s recent success inspire you to take action in one or all of the following ways.

Win trust early on

In promoting Morken, Headspace founders told her “We’re really comfortable with where you’re taking things.” That’s quite the compliment for an executive who’s been in the picture for only six months.

Having trust from stakeholders isn’t the only thing you’ll need to reduce friction and get ahead. Winning the allegiance of your direct reports and big clients is equally as important, which is why Morken conducted a “listening tour” when she first arrived in the Spring.

Reading about her process reminded me of a book that should sit on every starry-eyed go-getter’s bookshelf: Your First 100 Days In A New Executive Job by Robert Hargrove.

  • Since a new executive or general manager is most vulnerable in their first 100 days on the job regardless of experience, winning the approval and allegiance of different department heads is critical.
  • Hargrove suggests a way to do this is to identify “catalytic breakthrough projects”. These are quick wins you can execute, and they win you credibility and reputation far faster than a grand vision that becomes impossible to execute.
  • Conclusion? Delivering quick wins and showing people you care are top priorities in a new leadership role.
“We’re really comfortable with where you’re taking things.”

Pursue multiple sales levers

Every B2C company has B2B sales potential because employees are ultimately consumers too. While Headspace already has nearly 3 million paid subscriptions, bigger fish still swim free in the form of corporate partnerships. In a recent interview with Forbes, Morken signaled that the company had focused on building a strong pipeline for future B2B sales.

If your eye is on one day becoming an executive or an entrepreneur, sales must sit at the forefront of your mind regardless of department. There’s a saying in some C-suite circles: “Sales leads operations, operations doesn’t lead sales.”

Rather than obsess over granular details about what your newest offer, go out and drum up a bunch of new revenue first. Companies rarely find themselves in this position, but if you end up with too much money and not enough infrastructure, you can always throw cash at your problems to make them go away.

To do this, you need money in the first place. Learn sales — even if you’re not a salesperson.

“Sales leads operations, operations doesn’t lead sales.”

…Or just avoid the red tape and start something yourself

Still don’t want to wait years or decades to wield equity and decision-making power? I hear ya. Start your own business instead.

Entrepreneurship is a muscle. So instead of trying to lift a massive business barbell in week one and throwing your back out in the process, take small steps to strategically fatigue and build back up your skill set over time.

  • Create content. Creating content forces you to organize your thoughts, publish your ideas, and actually ship something in a low-risk environment. If you’re not willing to promote a blog, how will you promote a company? Content creation is also fun.
  • Spend your whole first year learning. You’ll never get it right on the first swing, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be selling. Give yourself a year to play in the sandbox and try out different offers. The scientific method assumes nothing and you should do the same.
  • Learn from others who’ve done it. Cash is a renewable resource, whereas time is not. Instead of spending months or years trying to figure it out yourself, invest in the proven approaches of others.

Advancing your career doesn’t have to be slow and aimless. Whether you’re an employee looking to get ahead or a budding entrepreneur with stars in your eyes, expanding your skill set now can help bring dreams to fruition faster in the long run.

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Want Faster Career Progress? Act More Like Headspace’s New COO was originally published in Entrepreneur's Handbook on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.