Rise to Leadership: Become a CEO

Occupying the corner office can feel like a pipe dream. According to some estimates, there are less than 200,000 CEOs across the entirety of the US—meaning your chances of joining the C-suite can feel pretty slim! 

But the truth is, executive leadership is just like any other job, in that working hard can get you there. The true challenge is in knowing how to direct your work in a way that gives you the best chances of rising to the top. To make it happen, you’ll need to begin defining who you are as a leader. The broad principles below are the best way to turn yourself into CEO material.

Look for Opportunities to Build Your Skills

Highly influential CEOs will embody a pretty extensive skill set. Beyond skills in simple management, the most successful leaders should look for opportunities to build up these essential skills:

  • Attention to detail, for both big-picture decisions and tiny details
  • Market and industry knowledge that covers the current environment for your brand
  • Customer knowledge, including an understanding of their needs and the competition
  • Basic financial knowledge, though details can be left to the specialists
  • Operational knowledge of internal systems and processes
  • Sales knowledge, from persuasion tactics to the nuances of branding
  • Leadership, including how to motivate teams to achieve
  • Communication in multiple contexts and across multiple mediums
  • Attracting and retaining employees
  • Developing and maintaining a company culture
  • Developing employees’ skills

Though this list is broad, you can expect to need to draw from most of these skills on a regular basis as a CEO. Taking time to develop them can help you chart your path toward the leadership role you’re hoping for. 

Cultivate Connections

We’ve all heard it before: “It’s not what you know but who you know.” In truth, I’d argue it’s a fair amount of both.

Executive officers often have an extensive network of contacts, from both inside and outside of the company and even outside of the specific industry they work in. Very few CEOs ascend without cultivating connections among key brand stakeholders.

This can mean attending industry conferences, seminars, and events as well as networking with influencers and peers. This isn’t about surface-level interactions; it’s about deeper connections and resources to draw from in the long term.

Expand Your Experience and Expertise

Essentially, this tip boils down to the following: “Always be learning.”

Beyond basic skills, developing a broad range of expertise is critical for any CEO. Because leaders must have oversight over an entire company or brand, they need to have the experience to weigh decisions with care, understanding the full ecosystem of every strategic choice they make. This means that tackling a wide range of projects can help you gain the experience you need to tackle the challenges you’ll face as a CEO.

In addition, don’t forget about the power of stepping up! Volunteering to tackle difficult or unwanted projects can be a great way to not only build and show off your leadership qualities, but also to show that you’re a team player who can bring a project to success where others balk at the challenge. 

If you’re reaching for a higher leadership position, you don’t have to struggle alone. Especially when the thing standing in your way might be you! Check out my recent podcast with Daria Tsvenger, a Forbes-featured mindset and life coach, to learn more. For further tips on building your career, don’t forget to take a look at my other posts as well!

Lara Schmoisman, CEO & Founder of The Darl and Marketing Simplificado

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