Future CEO : Becoming a CEO doesn’t happen overnight. CEOs work their way through the ranks and rise to the top thanks to a combination of hard work, perseverance, and traits and qualities that make them a top-notch business leader. Once you achieve your goal of becoming a CEO, though, your work is far from done—you must keep improving all the time to maintain your perch at the top.
1. Embrace your role with confidence and take charge.
The CEO of a company isn’t necessarily the founder or even the owner, and they aren’t the same thing as an entrepreneur either. Rather, the CEO’s job is to run the company—by overseeing financial decisions, resolving imbalances, and keeping things on track for more profitability each and every year.
- A great CEO is a combination of an ideas person (like an entrepreneur), willing to take risks and think big; and a hands-on person, eagle-eyed in matters of money and human resources, always willing to dig into the details until everything is perfect.
2. Provide a clear corporate vision that defines a specific culture.
To be a truly great CEO, you must exercise control over your company by shaping the workplace environment to be one that has a distinct and palpable culture. In other words, a great leader creates a sense among their employees that they are a part of something truly special, something bigger and more significant than any one part of the whole.
- Lay out a succinct and specific list of values that define your corporate culture. Everyone in the company should be able to memorize and internalize these values, and utilize them in their daily work.
- For example, you might lay out 5-10 core values. Instead of making them generic like “Treat people with respect,” though, be more specific: “Present our financial services to every client in such a way that they feel heard and valued.
3. Tackle challenges boldly, without a fear of failure.
CEOs are the type of people who try, fail, adjust, and try again. People who aren’t cut out to be CEOs use a fear of failure as an excuse not to try. Being a CEO is a constant challenge, with high risks and high rewards. If you don’t thrive with your “feet to the fire,” consider other options.
- Even if your “Widget 2.0” falls flat with consumers, move confidently forward in developing “Widget 3.0” while learning from your mistakes. Believe you’ll succeed this time, and accept that you’ll be replaced if you keep falling short.
- If you’re a student dreaming of becoming a CEO someday, ask yourself how you’ve handled challenges so far. Are you the one who wants the ball when the clock is running out? Do you do your best work in school when the stakes are highest? Have you overcome failures?
4. Lead the company on a new course when you know it’s necessary.
As a CEO, it’s your job to run the entire business. Though you delegate many of the daily tasks to your subordinates, you’re the one with the bird’s-eye view who can see the whole pattern of the company as it breathes and changes over time. When course corrections are required, don’t hesitate to act.
- You may need to close a factory or relocate operations, for instance, which will obviously impact many people. You should be sympathetic, but at the same time accept that you must do what is best for the entire company.
- Use what you can see and know from your unique perspective to communicate your plans and explain your decisions to your workers clearly, plainly, and openly. If they know what your vision for the company is, they’ll have a much easier time helping you to realize that vision.
5. Talk and listen to workers to stay connected to the company.
As CEO, you don’t get to sit in your cushy office and let your subordinates deal with everything but the most important decisions. Rather, an effective CEO is always in the thick of things: visiting every department, assisting with any task they are qualified to assist with, speaking to employees, and listening to their feedback.
- Welcome everyone’s input—ask workers what they need, encourage suggestions for change and improvement, and make it clear that you take the employees seriously. However, always keep it clear that you are the final authority.
- Provide avenues for anonymous feedback—such as webforms or the old-fashioned suggestion box—but also give opportunities for employees to come in and talk to you directly.
6. Earn trust and show respect so people want to follow you.
A CEO can’t be a good leader if other people don’t want to follow them. Employees want someone they can trust and respect leading the way. Stick to your principles, be true to your word, and treat others the way you wish to be treated.
- If, for example, you insist that inappropriate behavior won’t be tolerated, follow through and refuse to tolerate it. If you claim to care what other people think, listen to them when they have something to say.
8. Set high expectations for your workers, but accept mistakes.
Show them that the company believes in them enough to let them keep trying until they make it–as long as they are good enough at their jobs to make it in a big way when they do. Encourage productivity by encouraging risk-taking and personal judgment calls. You always have the last word if something is a poor fit for the business.
- To succeed in your job as the CEO, you must be willing to trust your people to do their jobs. Make sure you have the right people in the proper roles, then give them the space to support the greater good of the company.
- People who learn and improve from mistakes are in the right jobs; people who don’t need to be reassigned or replaced.
9. Develop a thick skin, but don’t ignore criticism.
As a CEO, you’ll be a natural target for criticism from people both inside and outside your business. Employees, board members, shareholders, analysts, and competitors will all express doubts and level critiques at you. To be successful, you have to be able to brush off the sting of criticisms without ignoring any kernels of truth that may exist within them.
- For example, if someone criticizes you for being too inflexible, are you able to set aside any self-doubt about your ability to be a leader? And, at the same time, are you self-aware and self-confident enough to re-evaluate your strategies as needed?
10. Delegate tasks without becoming distant from day-to-day operations.
As CEO, you need to trust your lieutenants and workers to fulfill your vision without your direct guidance. At the same time, you must remain up-to-date with the operations of your company. No matter what business you’re in, technologies, markets, consumers, and competitors can change rapidly—make sure you (and your company) don’t fall behind the curve.
- Delegate tasks and authority as necessary, but don’t lose sight of how things are being done. Stay informed and involved so you can jump in and make adjustments or changes when needed.
- For instance, it’s not your job as CEO to design the company’s website, but you should remain aware enough about consumer preferences and your competition to guide changes and improvements.
11. Draw from the experience of working your way up the ladder.
Most CEOs attain their position after many years–sometimes decades–in the same industry, or even at the same company. Once you reach the top, don’t forget your roots. Use all that you know about your business to run it as efficiently as possible.
- For example, use your experience to recognize differences between written policy and practical ground rules; utilize connections who can give you insight into places you’re no longer closely connected to; and anticipate the attitudes and beliefs of lower-level employees about the business.
12. Show curiosity and question standard procedures.
A good CEO always wants to know why things are the way they are, and if they can be improved. If you ever hear the phrase “that’s the way things are done around here,” your automatic reply should always be “Why?” No matter what situation you’re in, ask questions, get answers, and ask more questions—feed your curiosity.
- Maintain your curiosity about people as well. Ask them what their goals are, what they need, what excites or frustrates them, and so on. A good CEO must excel at “reading” people.
13. Keep innovating and improving, and keep earning your position.
Above all else, once you become a CEO, your business is the future of the company. You must be adept at thinking several moves (or years) ahead, seeing around the next corner, and guessing what the future will hold. Never forget that, if you become complacent, there are plenty of qualified replacements out there ready to take over your role.
- Stay abreast of trends and always think about your company’s place in the business world at large. How can you stay king of the hill? If you’re not, how can you knock the other guy out of the top spot?
14. More tips
- If you want to become a CEO, you need to perform well in school. Many CEOs complete an undergraduate degree first, work for several years as an employee, rise through the ranks, and then return to an MBA program to earn a graduate degree.
- As an aspiring CEO, you should build up a strong base of financial knowledge. If you aren’t majoring in accounting, economics, or finance, take plenty of elective courses in those areas. Once you’re a part of the workforce, take advantage every opportunity your company offers to increase your financial knowledge with seminars, special classes, and other events.
- Network and build professional connections early and often if you want to become a CEO. During college, attend business seminars and networking events whenever you can. Apply for internships where you can show off your leadership skills and willingness to work hard.
- Even if you current job is far from your dream of being CEO, do it to the best of your abilities. Be a company booster and a team player and, rest assured, you will be noticed. Do everything you can to show your bosses that you’re serious about advancing your professional life.
- Make the most of unexpected challenges and opportunities on your journey to becoming a CEO. Being ambitious about advancing your career means being open to taking paths you weren’t expecting to take. Few CEOs rise to through the ranks of a single company before reaching the top.