The Surprising Secret to Becoming a CEO

For those with their sights set on Chief Executive Officer, the road to the corner office may not be the straight road you expect.

While, some conventional roads the the corner office have not diverted, such as the necessity of a bachelor’s degree, research is showing that other previously expected pathways are becoming more and more obsolete. Such as the misconception that you must become an expert in one specific field to move up the ranks in that particular industry. According to recent research, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Studies of Success

In fact, researchers suggest that “the generalist” might have a distinct advantage over the specialist when it comes to landing a coveted executive role—or achieving any degree of professional success.

A study conducted by Columbia Business School followed 400 MBA students who went on to pursue careers in International Banking. According the data analysis by Harvard Business Review, “students who had specialized in investment banking throughout [their education] were less likely to receive multiple job offers than students who had broader backgrounds and experiences.”

Another recent study completed by LinkedIn sought to understand the commonalities between CEOs (and other high level execs) across industries. By analyzing the career paths of 459,000 LinkedIn members who began as successful consultants and went on to become executives, researchers discovered that changing a job function within one specific industry significantly increases your chance of rising in the ranks.

The Benefits of Being a Jack-of-All-Trades

Based on those studies, one thing is clear: a jack-of-all-trades—someone with intimate knowledge of multiple aspects of a business—is often seen as the person most equipped to lead. The New York Times notes that diversity is the greatest strength on a resume. Venture capitalists like Marc Andreessen wrote, the most successful corporate leaders “are almost never the best product visionaries, or the best salespeople, or the best marketing people, or the best finance people, or even the best managers, but they are top 25 percent in some set of those skills, and then all of a sudden they’re qualified to actually run something important.”

So whether you’re in business school or you’re an industry veteran, it’s worth it to ask yourself— “Have I diversified my resume?” If the answer’s ‘no,’ and you have your eye on one of those coveted executive positions, now might be the time to broaden your horizons. Because the truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a fantastic speaker, a talented accountant, or a gifted writer, if that is you’re only strength.

When looking to position yourself as a future executive candidate, it’s better to present yourself as a combination of multiple strengths and experiences, rather than an expert within only a single specialty.

A version of this article originally appeared on YFS Magazine.

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