How to become a CEO in 5 steps

Updated 22 May 2023

Becoming a chief executive officer or CEO is an ambitious and exciting journey. CEOs undertake years of education and sometimes even more years working as they learn what it takes to be one. Learning the skills they have and the steps you can take can help you on your journey towards becoming this high-ranking employee.

In this article, we discuss steps to becoming a CEO and the skills this role requires.

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What does a CEO do?

A CEO is the highest-ranking member of an organisation. A CEO's specific duties vary by company but they decide the direction and priorities of the business, how it uses its resources and budget and manages the business relationships. The CEO reports directly to the owner of a business or the organisation's chairperson, depending on the business model. The CEO is a public representative of the company and often represents and promotes the business at events, conferences and in the media.

Related: Hierarchical structures: definition, how it works and examples

How to become a CEO

Becoming a CEO is an endeavour that requires many years of focused intention. Though the path to CEO varies by industry and business, these steps help you in the right direction:

1. Take university courses

The first step on your journey to CEO is getting an education. Taking the right university courses can determine what apprenticeships you might receive and ultimately what job you might get. You might need 2-3 A-levels to earn a basic degree. Coursework in business studies, finance and economics can prepare you with the business knowledge you'll want for a CEO role. Advanced degrees. Advanced degrees such as MBAs can help increase your chances of securing apprenticeships or jobs that may lead to a position as a CEO.

Another area of study that CEOs might explore is engineering. Because many students globally focus more on technology and science, some companies may seek high-potential candidates from these fields. In many of these fields, you can earn a bachelor's degree in 2-4 years.

2. Complete an apprenticeship

Some programmes might offer a Senior Leader Master's Degree apprenticeship to help focus your education on senior management at organisations. These programmes designed by employers hope to prepare individuals with the tools and education they can use to sustain businesses. Individuals interested in similar roles like chief operating officer, chief financial officer, senior director or other executives might consider this additional 2 years of schooling before entering the workforce.

No matter the path you choose, becoming CEO requires a mindset of continual learning throughout your career. As policies change and new skills become apparent, continued education can make you a well-rounded decision-maker.

3. Gain work experience.

Much of the skills you learn to become a CEO, you learn while working. Research companies and industries in a field that interests you. It might even benefit you to enter the workforce before earning your degree, using that achievement as an opportunity for your first promotion. Browse some job sites and reviews to see if there is information on promotions and career growth as this is crucial in becoming a CEO. The most important thing is building your skills, gaining experience and seeing how the company and industry works.

4. Get promoted

Once you enter the workforce, you want to get promoted repeatedly until you reach the top. You may face challenges as you learn how to manage teams and entire departments as you adapt to new responsibilities, but your managers, colleagues and potential mentors can help you along the way. Be sure to document evidence of your successes with metrics that prove you are a qualified leader.

Similarly, consider your performance and how you can improve. One of the most important qualities of a CEO is their ability to assess performance and make adjustments when necessary.

Related: Top tips for successful career progression

5. Start your own company

Some successful CEOs earned their roles by founding their own company. Building your own business can be both rewarding and teach you several valuable skills. As an entrepreneur, you determine the company's culture, direction and mission. This alternate path is also useful for showing larger companies you have the technical capabilities and leadership qualities necessary to run a business. You can learn how to work with technologies, build teams and develop over the years and if you're successful, you might become the CEO of a larger company.

Traits of CEOs

As the leader of an organisation, there are essential qualities that improve a CEO's chances for success. The right combination of hard and soft skills helps CEOs to build influential power and recruit others to follow their vision. Essential traits for a CEO include:

  • Strong communication skills

  • Financial literacy

  • Motivation

  • Ability to assess performance

  • Decisiveness

  • Accessibility

  • Creative problem solving

  • Initiative and ambition

Here are some reasons CEOs might apply these skills:

Strong communication skills

Communication is a vital skill for a CEO because it is the highest level of management in the company. The ability to communicate effectively helps others understand any decisions the CEO makes.

When making decisions, CEOs negotiate, gather information and discuss potential solutions with other stakeholders. Communication skills can help them understand the potential and problems within the organisation and the industry can help them make informed decisions and to communicate these decisions.

Financial literacy

One of the CEO's biggest responsibilities is to ensure the business is successful financially. This requires a level of financial literacy, business management skills, a basic understanding of accounting and cash flow knowledge. Often, CEOs might have owned their own business before becoming the CEO for a larger company where they might learn these skills.

Similarly, CEOs often communicate with shareholders. It's important to learn the basics of the market and industry to understand how stocks, earnings and shares work.


As the leader of the company, the employees can look at your example of how they stay motivated. Keeping high energy levels and making your presence and actions visible. You can motivate teams in other ways, too, with things like incentive programmes or creating a company culture where employees motivate one another to excel through competitions or other activities.

Build this skill by listening to the ideas of others and responding appropriately. For example, actively making changes based on employee complaints can inspire people to work hard because they know you care. Working well in teams builds lasting relationships and loyalty, which is key to moving the business in the right direction.

Related: Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Ability to assess performance

Performance assessment is the ability to determine if previous actions and behaviours were effective or productive for the company. Past decisions can offer a CEO a lot of information for how they handle situations in the future. They can teach you what works well, what you can improve on and what you might leave behind. CEOs that learn from past decisions can analyse the relationships between action and outcome. Assessing their own performance and their teams is an important skill for a CEO.

Since CEOs invest in training and resources for their employees, evaluating performance data can also help target areas where the company might improve. For example, they may invest in formal leadership training in response to employee surveys that show a lack of confidence in management.


Decisiveness is the ability to decide quickly and effectively in response to information. As the head of an organisation, CEOs face deadlines and enquiries from a myriad of internal and external sources. The ability to decide quickly keeps the business on pace with its goals. Decisiveness is a skill that comes with confidence and experience. You also could use confidence when making big decisions that can affect the entire company. This skill requires you to examine details and macro views of the company while predicting what might happen if you make a certain choice.


Being accessible means being a good listener and making time for others. Successful CEOs are approachable to other members of the organisation. Many have an open-door policy that encourages staff members to communicate any ideas or concerns.

Managers make themselves more accessible by hosting informal one-on-one meetings to get to know the people that work for them. Adopting a coaching or mentoring style of leadership brings out the best in your employees and improves your relationships with them.

Creative problem solving

Creative problem-solving is an invaluable skill for any career. It is reaching a unique and innovative solution through a methodical approach. Innovative decisions help businesses succeed through market changes, financial challenges and changes in leadership. Solving problems creatively requires researching the facts and analysing the data. From there, a CEO makes a series of hypotheses with a team and tests each to find the most viable approach.

Related: Problem-solving skills: definitions and examples

Initiative and ambition

Initiative is the knowledge or power to act before others do. Becoming a CEO requires you to take the action by pursuing education, starting a job and getting promoted. Initiative is crucial to knowing when is the right time to pursue these things and when you might continue to develop in your current role. Ambition is to set high goals for yourself, even when just starting out. A CEO has the most responsibility in the company, so aiming to achieve that level of responsibility takes ambition.

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