how to become a business leader

How to Become a Business Executive & Climb to the Top of an Organization

What would it feel like to become a successful business executive? Do you think that you have what it takes? If you’re already picturing yourself in the hot seat as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Operating Officer (COO), or Chief Information Officer (CIO), there’s no reason why you shouldn’t reach for your highest goals. As the CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, says, “Chase the vision, not the money; the money will end up following you.” Make your vision a reality by following this how-to guide to becoming a business executive, and reap the benefits.

The perfect storm that allows a person to rise to the top of an organization includes a mixture of job experience and formal education. There’s also a healthy dose of ambitiousness and bold moves involved.

Step 1: Education

While bachelor’s degree is expected (at minimum) for executive roles, many experts recommend a master’s degree because it may increase your odds of getting promoted faster. A traditional business graduate program like the Master’s of Business Administration (MBA), a job-specific advanced degree program like the Master’s of Science in Finance (MSF), or a leadership-focused degree like a Master’s of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL), can help you gain the right experience for the job you want. However, there are always outliers.

Forbes reports that 36% of C-level executives have a master’s degree or higher, while The Harvard Business Review (HBR) found that 8% of C-level executives never finished college at all. Yet, according to the HBR’s CEO Genome Project study, career-climbers without a college degree take 15% longer to earn those CEO stars. That means that over a ten-year career, you can spend a whole year and a half waiting around for a promotion. Or, you can take the same amount of time and accelerate your career advancement with a flexible master’s degree, like the MSOL.

Step 2: Job Experience

Many organizations prefer to hire from within. Getting your feet wet at the bottom is the best way to show off your skills and initiative, and to learn the business inside and out. When it comes time to prove that you are worth the promotion, you’ll be able to point to concrete successes and results that already resonate with company leaders.

The HBR found that 89% of the CEOs that do not have college degrees spent 40% more time in the industry in which they became a CEO, compared to their colleagues who have college degrees. Time is money, and reputability is built slowly without a master’s degree to boost your resume.

Surprisingly, out of 70,000 C-level executives surveyed by Forbes, the average work experience in their industry totaled only 7 years. On average, these executives had been in their current role for only 3 years. Figure that if those executives were able to climb the corporate ladder within 5 years, you can do it too. Bolstered by the fact that the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts an 8% job growth for top-level executives between 2016 and 2026, you can enter the field of business leadership with a positive career outlook.

Step 3: Lateral Moves and Leaps

Take a look at just a few success stories from the topmost U.S. companies. Even within the Fortune 500s, you will see that many leaders did not arrive at their positions by taking the road most traveled. Instead, they took on challenges with gusto! They experimented, innovated, and made firm decisions. Sometimes, they ended up in uncomfortable places, but understood that growth is not always in one direction. For example, some executives might take small roles over their career, in order to learn new skills. Others take big leaps for which they hardly feel prepared for. Still, others inherit a big mess just to untangle it. Career catapults might be unconventional, and could be downright risky, but strong leaders are adaptable and say “yes!” to new opportunities.

As you now see, there is not just one path or tell-told way to become a business executive. The best CEOs have paved their own ways! One great place to begin is with a master’s degree, specifically catered to your needs and goals as an aspiring leader. The MSOL program at Goodwin College is a trustworthy choice for future business executives and career climbers in any industry. Gain the skills you need to earn the roles that you deserve!