Are you the type who won't rest until your highly polished brogues or Louboutins are planted under the CEO's desk?
There's no shortage of ambitious up-and-comers with their eye on the executive suite. But are there benefits to settling for a gig as a hardworking deputy or senior lieutenant instead?
IT industry veteran Eddie Palmer thinks so.
The sales director for internet security vendor Check Point Software Technologies since 2010, Palmer has held a slew of senior roles during his 35 years scaling the high-tech sector's greasy pole.
His CV includes an early-career stretch at the helm of his own IT consultancy employing 12 staff, and a decade in Asia overseeing sales in 13 countries for IT vendor Datacraft.
When asked to sit in the local CEO's chair last year while Check Point hunted for a replacement for the previous incumbent, Palmer was adamant his interest in the job was strictly temporary.
“I made it clear from the outset I would be acting … I really wasn't interested [in the CEO role],” Palmer says.
“I like to stay hands-on with the team and be involved with the day-to-day activity … I never really strived to be a CEO. I've always been happy to be more involved at the coalface.”
While not a nine-to-fiver – he routinely clocks a 60-hour week – Palmer says he's not keen on the unsociable hours a local CEO reporting to headquarters in another time zone must keep, or on losing a weekend day each week to work.
Frequent international travel was also less than attractive to someone who'd already spent a large slab of their life in international flight lounges.
Golf, fishing and training dogs are Palmer's preferred ways to wind down, but he says he had significantly less time to devote to these activities during his CEO stint.
Sydney executive coach Stacey Ashley says the conundrum of whether to settle for a 'best supporting role' or continue to shoot for the top job is one that many ambitious types ponder in their 30s and 40s, as plum opportunities loom.
Ashley says the internal dialogue usually runs along the lines of 'do I keep going, or, when I look at my whole of life, is there enough in it to make it worthwhile, have I achieved enough? Can I continue to do some of the other things that are important to me?'.
“There would definitely be some people who would be really clear about whether they want the top job,” she says.
“Others are quite clear they don't want to be the one – they're comfortable being the person supporting the number one. They're comfortable with the role they play as a senior leader but they still have a sounding board and the opportunity to learn from somebody else.”
The corner office can also be a lonely place, Ashley says.
“There are things CEOs can't discuss with anyone else from the organisation. It's a huge responsibility to have an entire organisation you impact on … people, families, investors, shareholders, suppliers, customers.”
Christopher Neesham, a consultant psychologist at Melbourne Psychology, says executive aspirants should focus on fulfilling their personal potential rather than training their sights obsessively on the top job.
Rising up the ranks means increased responsibility and accountability, and candidates need to make an informed choice about whether they're prepared to pay the personal price for career success, he says.
Graham Sammells, the long-time CEO of IQ Group, a firm which consults to the superannuation sector, says it's not all bad at the top – at least, once you've learnt to seek help when you need it and switch off when the day's work is done.
An accidental CEO – he fell into the position from a senior professional services role after his predecessor moved overseas – Sammells turned to mentoring group The Executive Connection for support a couple of years in.
Around the same time he resolved to demarcate work and family life more strictly and leave all but the most urgent tasks at the office.
Despite the occasional bout of 'decision fatigue', he relishes the opportunity to make his mark and the freedom to decide where his own time will be devoted within the business.
“Clearly you have impact and influence because the buck does stop with you,” Sammells says.
“And you get to do lots of different things – it's a juggle."