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The Pinnacle of Leadership: How to Become a CEO

The role of the chief executive officer (CEO) is changing. Now, more than ever, this highest-ranking professional leverages his or her business acumen to address modern social and economic demands to guide their enterprises to profitability and growth against global competition.

Strong leadership, earned through years of education and real-world experience, is the primary responsibility of CEOs. In addition, these corporate leaders must possess a strategic mindset, understand cultural and economic values, and embrace evolving technologies. Companies rely on these dynamic executives to make hard decisions, analyze outcomes, and invest in the future of their organizations.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth in top executive roles between 2016 and 2026, giving dedicated professionals opportunities to advance their careers and use their skills and experience to gain leadership positions.  

What Does a CEO Do?

A CEO oversees all high-level managerial decisions for the business including economic strategies, Public Relations, and human resources protocols. This expansive role demands business expertise, interpersonal savvy as well as the ability to work confidently despite the stress of high-level responsibilities and challenges.

Becoming a CEO means developing the ability to take a strategic approach in attaining a company’s vision and direction. In addition, a CEO articulates the steps necessary to foster sustainable growth and progress within the business. The company’s values are more than just slogans on paper; they are the roadmap for the CEO in managing resources, building company culture, and thoughtfully making decisions that directly impact the organization’s reputation.

The day-to-day work of a CEO largely revolves around maintaining a steady course toward achieving the company’s vision. Activities on any given day may include conversations with key stakeholders, relationship management, and strategic planning.

CEOs are always learning both from past mistakes and while adapting to changing demands. They possess superior interpersonal and communication skills as well as management abilities. These traits, coupled with a strong educational background and years of business experience, position CEOs as leaders in their field. The compensation for this high-level work can vary considerably across regions, industries, and companies. The median pay of a CEO is $104,980 annually, according to the BLS.

Steps for Becoming a CEO

Given the position’s complexity and vast responsibilities, the path to becoming a CEO can vary widely. Nevertheless, many CEOs do share common traits and backgrounds. 

Prepare Academically

Many aspiring CEOs first earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance, or a related field. An undergraduate degree provides a baseline understanding of the business world.

Many continue to study at the graduate level, attaining advanced degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Individuals interested in becoming a CEO role also should consider a Master of Science in Leadership (MSL) degree. An MBA provides critical skills for advancement, including a detailed understanding of business management concepts such as finance, marketing, and operations. On the other hand, an MSL degree, such as the one offered at Norwich University, provides deeper insights into the critical leadership demands faced by CEOs and focuses on helping students become better leaders. This program equips professionals with the skills to meet the demands of the role—defining ethical principles, honing communication skills, and further developing emotional intelligence.

Gain On-the-Job Experience

When considering how to become a CEO, gaining real-world experience is an essential step. Typically, future CEOs spend years working in business and forging professional relationships with others. After beginning in lower-level jobs, most aspiring CEOs move to management positions. During their ascent into higher level roles, they continually hone and develop new skills, steadily gain more corporate responsibility and discover their leadership styles. This on-the-job experience is invaluable when leading any-sized company in the top-tier position of CEO. Often, these corporate executives begin their own companies, adding to their wealth of experience.
CEOs are often more than leaders—they are visionaries. Many successful entrepreneurs credit a habit of lifelong learning as a key to success. Maintaining a sense of curiosity and a willingness to learn from others help CEOs better adapt to a changing world, which allows them to make the best decisions for their organizations.

Future Growth of CEOs

The BLS expects job growth for CEOs at about 8% across the nation between 2016 and 2026, which is in line with the average growth for all professions. However, the demand is largely contingent upon the industry. Naturally, the availability and growth of leadership positions in a given industry depends on that field’s economic progress. What is certain is that businesses, both big and small, will require the guidance of CEOs that possess a combination of acumen and leadership expertise.

Learn More

Successfully navigating a corporation amidst the ever-changing economic climate and emerging technologies requires strong, well-trained leaders. Future CEOs must equip themselves with compassion, strategic thinking, and flexibility to succeed in today’s modern age.

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Leadership program helps individuals develop these skills to effectively lead teams and inspire forward-thinking progress. This virtual program provides the opportunity to explore various leadership perspectives and immediately apply learned skills to the workplace to make a positive impact.


Recommended Readings

Manager vs. Leader: Understanding How to Lead in a Business Environment

6 Ways Leaders Can Improve Team Productivity

What Is Leadership Development?



What Does a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Do?, The Balance Careers

Lifelong Learning Is the Fundamental Key to Successful Entrepreneurship, Forbes

Ten Personality Traits Every CEO Should Have, Inc.

Top Executives, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

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