How to Become a CEO (Step-by-Step)

  • By: Adam Wire
  • January 29, 2024
How to Become a CEO
Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the dynamic world of business, the title “CEO” resonates as a symbol of leadership and strategic vision. Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) are typically regarded as the public faces and chief decision-makers of a company. But what exactly is a CEO, and what roles and responsibilities come with this esteemed title?

Whether you’re a current business owner, managing director, chairman, or simply curious about the inner workings of corporate leadership, read on to learn the core functions, challenges, and the unique blend of skills needed to serve as a CEO. 

What is a CEO?

CEO stands for “Chief Executive Officer.” In most organizations, the CEO is the primary decision-maker and serves as the top executive leader. In many cases, the CEO wields more direct and daily power than the business owner or founder. The CEO is often the person who runs the business from the top down, responsible for making major decisions and representing the business in important negotiations.

CEOs are typically promoted or externally hired by a company’s owner or the governing board members, depending on the organizational structure. All publicly traded companies have a corporate board, which is usually responsible for selecting a CEO who can further the shareholder’s goals and act as the public company head.

Many people aspire to become a CEO, but only a few have the organization, ambition, and leadership potential to become truly excellent company heads.  

Related: Nonprofit Executive Director: Overview, Roles, and Responsibilities

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How to Become a CEO

If you aspire to become a CEO, pursue a career that will provide you with the right skills and experiences, and hopefully give you opportunities to display your leadership qualities. 

1. Obtain a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree

First, get a bachelor’s degree in your chosen field. Many CEOs have a degree in business, but being an industry-specific expert with deep understanding of your chosen vertical can be equally beneficial. Pursue a degree with a career trajectory that can help you rise through the ranks.

If you decide not to major in business, consider minoring in business to forge your foundational business management skills.

2. Build a Career and Gain Experience

Begin building experience and pursue the promotional path to a leadership position. Display your tenacity, dedication, and capability. Seek out projects to demonstrate your leadership qualities, attention to detail, and ability to think strategically and critically.

Most importantly, gain an intimate understanding of your chosen industry. While seeking promotions, also consider cross-training and working on projects with inter-departmental teams. A good leader understands every department.

3. Demonstrate Leadership and Achievements

Showcase your leadership and performance capabilities. Become someone your teammates naturally look to for direction, energy, or expertise. Seek out opportunities to lead, but also work hard to become a valuable member of every team you’re a part of.

4. Build a Strong Professional Network

A strong network is extremely valuable. Go to conferences and business events. Maintain connections with the professionals you meet through your work and connect with others through LinkedIn via shared interests and acquaintances. Become an industry voice and connect with people who engage with your content. 

5. Seek Opportunities for Advancement

Always watch for opportunities to advance. Put yourself forward as a volunteer, apply for internal promotions, and seek new leadership roles as they arise. 

While advancing through one company can be valuable, leading successful projects with several different companies can be just as impressive. With hard work, determination, and a little luck, you’ll hopefully move closer to your dream of becoming a CEO. 

OnBoard Powers Effective Boards

Becoming a CEO is a long and interesting journey. You’ll likely be part of many important projects and teams before stepping into your first executive role. Once you become a CEO, you may be part of the executive board process, aided by cloud-based board management tools like OnBoard.

OnBoard empowers some of the world’s leading boards, providing powerful tools and cloud-based management for every step of board governance, from agenda building and meeting analytics to secure messaging and task management. Meeting software like OnBoard includes key features to help CEOs work smarter and achieve their goals. 

Download our free board meeting minutes template to bring structure, clarity, and efficiency to board meetings.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What are the Qualities of a CEO?

    A CEO must have strong leadership, organizational, problem-solving, and people skills. CEOs in each industry typically possess specialized skills related to their line of work.

  • How Long Does it Take to Be a CEO?

    It can take anywhere from five to 25 years to become a CEO, usually closer to 20+ years of experience. Becoming a CEO of a small or startup company is easier than climbing to the top of a large corporation.

  • How Old is the Average CEO?

    The average age of a newly appointed CEO is 54. However, nearly 30% of new CEOs are under 50.

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About The Author

Adam Wire
Adam Wire
Adam Wire is a Content Marketing Manager at OnBoard who joined the company in 2021. A Ball State University graduate, Adam worked in various content marketing roles at Angi, USA Football, and Adult & Child Health following a 12-year career in newspapers. His favorite part of the job is problem-solving and helping teammates achieve their goals. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs. He’s an avid sports fan and foodie who also enjoys lawn and yard work and running.