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How To Become a CEO

If you belong to those who strive to conquer career peaks, and career success means nothing else for you but the CEO role, you’re in the right place. In this article, we reveal what CEO’s job really implies, what educational foundation one has to obtain to get access to such high positions, and what personal qualities one should develop to be able to handle the responsibility of defining the future of an organisation. Let’s waste no more time!

Understanding the Chief Executive Officer Role

The CEO or Chief Executive Officer’s role is the very top management position in an organisation. Being the head of the group of other chief executives (also known as C-suite leaders), including the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), a CEO typically collaborates with them on a daily basis.

Beyond the Corner Office: How to be a CEO

First and foremost, being a CEO means doing everything possible to ensure a company’s bright future. It usually includes strategic planning, financial planning, managing change, handling crisis situations, and other important things. Besides those, a CEO has to be consistently informed about all the processes taking place inside and outside of the company. Therefore, their daily responsibilities also include numerous meetings with managers, employees, as well as potential vendors and business partners. Future CEOs should realise that it’s an extremely varied, oftentimes unpredictable, and never boring role, succeeding in which will feel incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. However, there is also the other side of the coin.

Alongside receiving the perks, a CEO is the one who shoulders responsibility for any failure happening to the company. Even if the reason for the failure isn’t the CEO themselves, it’s them who have to arrange the processes, build teams, and manage employees in such a way that these failures have little chance of happening.

Educational Foundations: Building a Successful CEO Skill Set

Individuals who have decided to move towards the CEO position should understand that this career path will take quite a bit of time. Whether you want to climb a career ladder and become a CEO of an existing company, or you want to establish your own business, nothing will work out without the right education.

Education to Start With

If you dream of leading your own organisation, without the necessary knowledge, you won’t be able to arrange and run all the processes in your own company properly. If your aim is to land a CEO job in an existing company, the board members just won’t allow an individual without the right qualifications and a wide breadth of experience to rule their business.

The very first step in paving the way to your dream position will be obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Choosing business-related programmes like Organizational Leadership, Business Administration, Finance, or Marketing will be a truly smart move. These programmes provide a solid foundation of organisational, communication, business management skills, and effective leadership skills that are vital for future executives and CEOs.

MBA or Alternative Routes: Choosing the Right Educational Trajectory

Of course, a bachelor’s degree will give you the key skills. However, it won’t fully prepare you for becoming a CEO – one has to top it up with an advanced degree. According to research conducted by one of the world’s leading staffing firms:

  • 47% of CEOs have achieved some form of post-graduate qualification;
  • 42% have a background in Finance and Banking, 16% in Marketing and Media, and also 16% are Chartered Accountants.

Interestingly, of all the 2023 Fortune 100 CEOs, only 9.8% hold an Ivy League MBA. This trend challenges the conventional belief that only an elite school education can guarantee a fast track to top-level executive roles and the future success. In fact, obtaining an advanced degree in a top university has something to bring to the table: valuable connections and brand name prestige. But even without those, if you focus on developing a diverse set of skills and qualities typical of successful CEOs and also dig through opportunities to gain valuable hands-on experience, the chances of making a breakthrough are high.

Gaining Professional Experience: Climbing the Corporate Ladder

As we’ve said, business school studies are a solid foundation, but it’s only the beginning of your professional journey. The real fun starts when you land your first job and start integrating into the dynamic landscape of a modern corporate world. Only in this way will you be able to obtain the valuable practical experience that will eventually help you make it to a CEO.

From Entry Level to Executive Suite: Navigating the Career Trajectory

If you are willing to become one of those effective leaders, your plan has to be a bit more sophisticated than ‘Find a good company, work hard, become a CEO in 20 years’. There are some ideas for you to consider when developing your own career growth trajectory:

  1. Degree apprenticeships. A great opportunity to start putting your theoretical knowledge into practice and simultaneously develop professional competence in real world working environment. Being designed by the united efforts of both training providers and employers, Senior Leader apprenticeships provide sets of the most relevant skills required for providing clear, inclusive, and strategic leadership within an organisation.
  2. Self-development. Becoming a CEO means making peace with the idea of continuous or even life-long learning. First, you’ll keep your skill set always relevant and updated. Second, your pro-activity and hunger for new skills, knowledge, and self-development will definitely put you in a good light in front of your employer and help you climb the career ladder faster.
  3. Focus on soft skills. Achieving perfection in your hard skills may take quite some time, however, enhancing your soft skills is a never-ending process. Let’s take leadership qualities alone – it’s not only giving orders and reviewing reports. Not every manager can become a good leader as besides managing, it also requires emotional intelligence, communication skills, time management skills, and many more. We have a closer look at them below.
  4. Make networking your hobby. Best of all if you start networking at your educational institution and eventually turn it into your daily routine. Whether you are at a conference, workshop, or even having an interview at another company – instead of a dry and formal business card exchange, try to establish meaningful connections. They may well open doors to new opportunities.

Leadership Development: Cultivating CEO Qualities

Strong leadership skills are a must-have for anybody who has put their eye on the CEO position. As we’ve already mentioned, being a CEO isn’t only about managing business processes, it’s also about managing people. What exactly it implies:

  • Being empathetic. Working on your emotional intelligence and inspire others to work on theirs;
  • Promoting a growth mindset among your employees, being a role model in it;
  • Ensuring and encouraging transparency, ethics, and fairness;
  • Developing openness to changes;
  • Working on your executive presence, giving your employees a feeling of being understood, supported, and protected;
  • Demonstrating strong will and decisiveness.

Furthermore, a real CEO should regularly have self-reflection sessions where they will analyse their behavoiur and actions, encounter and embrace their weak points, and also identify areas for growth. Being a CEO means destroying your ego and prioritising your employees’ and company’s well-being over your own. This is hard but it will help you develop an authentic leadership style and create a forward-thinking corporate culture in your organisation.

Networking and Professional Relationships: Building a CEO Network

You already know that networking is an integral part of a successful CEO’s routine. However, it’s now just about getting as many contacts as possible. We’d like to share some ideas on how to properly arrange your networking routine.

  1. Define your objectives. Ask yourself ‘What do you want/need to get from networking?’ People may seek diverse viewpoints, new knowledge, new challenges, professional help, new access to resources, and many more. Being specific about your expectations will help you create an effective action plan to achieve your goals.
  2. Reconsider your current network. The 2020 lockdown hit everybody really hard, and some valuable contacts may have been lost. Thanks to social media, we still have a chance to see what’s going in in their lives, both personal and professional. Check on your old contacts every now and then, what if you accidentally prove to be useful for each other?
  3. Participate in international events. Not only inside your country but around the whole world. Not only inside your industry but outside too. Learning how other leaders run their businesses can help you broaden your horizons and come up with new approaches to running yours. As a bonus, you get access to a new talent pool.
  4. Always give back. Every relationship, every connection can’t go just one way. If somebody gets a feeling that you’re superficial or aren’t there for them when they need you, don’t be surprised if they don’t pick up a phone when you call them next time. If you expect generosity from others, don’t keep your fist tight when somebody needs your participation.
  1. The Robert Half FTSE 100 CEO Tracker
  2. Robert Half’s FTSE 100 CEO Tracker May 2022
How To Become a CEO
Date: 20 December 2023
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