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How to Become a CEO

How to Become a CEO
Credit: RawPixel/Shutterstock

Occupying the corner office is a hefty and ambitious dream, but it's possible. After all, every company needs a leader.

CEOs (chief executive officers) are the highest-ranking people in organizations. They make the decisions, make the most money and have the most responsibilities. Do you have the skills to work your way up the ladder? Find out the typical duties of a CEO.

Every company has different goals and missions, as do CEOs. However, they're in charge of the company and should set overall goals for the organization. Also, these executives represent their organizations and sometimes need to talk to the press or be the public voice of the company.

"The CEO should be responsible for setting the strategy to reach the vision," said Brad Hillier, CEO of Re-Bath. "This also includes ensuring the company has the right team to execute the strategy – this involves identifying new roles that need to be hired for, roles that need to improve either through development or new staff, etc."

Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation, said a CEO's responsibilities should include the financial, operational and technical functions of the business.

As with most positions and jobs titles, people can get to CEO from different paths and educational backgrounds. However, CEOs typically start with a bachelor's degree in something such as business, finance or management.

"Most CEOs of larger organizations have MBAs, but that does not always hold true with smaller organizations," Sweeney said. "CEOs' backgrounds are often varied as the businesses that they run."

The best CEOs typically know how to manage the finances of a business and operational aspects of a team. But this isn't the case for every CEO – especially those in startup organizations, said Sweeney.

While there isn't a clear path for a CEO, what matters are the skills and knowledge picked up along the way. Sweeney says that diversity in background and career experience usually leads to a strong CEO with greater perspective.

"When CEOs understand different industries and have worked in different environments, they can leverage that knowledge and experience to implement the strongest components of their experience and move beyond components that are not as effective in running their business," she said.  

Hillier says that, to be a CEO, you should learn how to take initiative and develop ideas, how to manage people, and how to understand metrics.

Great CEOs are good communicators and natural leaders. "Successful CEOs are often strong listeners and executors," said Sweeney. "Successful CEOs are strategic, but they are also calm. They traditionally have grace under pressure and think before they execute."

Along with soft skills such as the ability to motivate others and make decisions quickly, CEOs should have hard skills such as a solid understanding of business and finance.

"I think the ability to understand numbers and the financial implications is very important," said Hillier. "Having some legal understanding is also very helpful. There are a lot of contracts to deal with, so a better-than-basic understanding of legal agreement structures can be very efficient."

Whatever your background or skill set, passion is one of the most important aspects to a successful CEO.

"You will never be successful, in my opinion, as a CEO if you don't have a passion for your company and what you do," Hillier said. "That passion is critical to coming up with innovative ideas, motivating your team, and motivating yourself through the hard times."

Saige Driver

Saige received her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Telecommunications from Ball State University. She is the social media strategist for Business.com and Business News Daily. She also writes reviews and articles about social media. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.