Logo von
How to Become a Successful CEO: Top Skills Revealed

How to Become a Successful CEO: Top Skills Revealed

Letztes Update: 07. Juni 2024

Becoming a successful CEO requires more than academic qualifications or work experience. Headhunter Dominik Roth reveals the top criteria and surprising traits needed for the role. Learn about the importance of a strong track record, strategic networking, and essential soft skills.

How to Become a Successful CEO: Insights from a Top Headhunter

Achieving a yearly salary of one million euros is a dream for many. However, for CEOs at the helm of large companies, this can be a reality. But it's not just about academic qualifications or relevant work experience—there's more to it. Headhunter Dominik Roth reveals the top criteria and some surprising qualities needed to become a CEO.

The Background of Most CEOs

Most CEOs, or Chief Executive Officers, start their careers with a degree. There are three primary areas that often define the early career paths of future CEOs: sales, operations (which includes production work), and finance. The type of degree is secondary. Engineers may find it easier to secure jobs initially, but at the top of the corporate ladder, the type of education becomes less relevant. While marketing might be an exciting field for many at the start of their careers, it rarely produces CEOs of large companies.

The Importance of a Track Record

When it comes to hiring decisions, the number of years of relevant work experience is not the primary concern. Even technical qualifications take a back seat as one climbs the management ladder. What matters more are demonstrable successes over the course of one's career.

"A company seeks an expert for every challenge, even at the highest level. Every vacancy and job implicitly involves a problem that needs solving. Someone who has successfully tackled such challenges before has the right track record," says Dominik Roth. A track record refers to verifiable achievements that qualify a candidate for a leadership role in a specific situation. "Make sure you make yourself measurable and accumulate successes that are relevant for further career steps. Measurability is the most crucial element," Roth explains.

Are Social Skills Really Important?

The track record is complemented by soft skills. From hundreds of assessments with top managers, Dominik Roth knows that certain soft skills, often considered platitudes, can be more of a hindrance than a help. Team orientation, for instance, may be a comfort factor early in one's career, but later on, the executive committee is a small team, and a focus on harmony can complicate decision-making. Empathy, too, is viewed differently. It is a rational attribute, not just emotional "feeling with" others. The latter can be particularly detrimental when it comes to making tough decisions and delivering unpopular messages with conviction. Empathy means understanding the motives and attitudes of others on a rational level and acting convincingly based on that understanding. While team orientation and empathy may be listed in many job ads, it's essential to rethink these qualities at the executive level.

Strategic Networking

At the threshold to the executive suite, most people fail due to one factor: "They want to impress and work even harder operationally for this final step. But that's wrong—the track record is the reason they are already in the position. At the doorstep to the executive suite, another factor is needed: the ability to network strategically," explains Dominik Roth. This is not about corporate politics but reciprocity and the ability to show others how they can become more successful through you—not just yourself. Strategic networking goes beyond operational character and is defined as "situationally independent and long-term networking within and outside the company," according to Roth. "Most executives are 100% committed to the operational execution of the job and neglect this crucial key element."

For example, a Head of Finance aiming for the CFO position should not look for ways to stand out further but instead demonstrate to the CEO how they can handle finance topics to free up the CEO's time. This allows the CEO to focus more on closings and improve their own track record. With this perspective, it is likely that the Head of Finance will indeed be promoted to CFO—decision-makers favor employees who not only make themselves but also others more successful.

How to Become a Successful CEO: The Role of Strategic Networking

Understanding how to become a successful CEO involves mastering the art of strategic networking. This skill is crucial for building long-term relationships that can support your career growth. It's not just about knowing people; it's about creating mutual benefits and showing how your success can contribute to the success of others. This approach can significantly enhance your chances of climbing to the top of the corporate ladder.

Adaptability and Resilience

Another critical skill for aspiring CEOs is adaptability. The business landscape is constantly changing, and the ability to pivot and adapt to new challenges is essential. Resilience, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, is equally important. CEOs often face high-pressure situations and must remain composed and effective under stress. These qualities enable leaders to navigate through crises and emerge stronger.

Visionary Leadership

To become a successful CEO, one must also possess visionary leadership. This involves having a clear vision for the company's future and the ability to inspire and motivate others to work towards that vision. A successful CEO can see the bigger picture and align the company's goals with long-term strategies. This visionary approach helps in making informed decisions that drive the company forward.

Financial Acumen

While the type of degree may become less relevant at higher levels, financial acumen remains crucial. Understanding the financial aspects of the business, from budgeting to financial planning and analysis, is vital for making informed decisions. A successful CEO must be able to interpret financial data and use it to guide the company's strategy and operations. This skill ensures that the company remains financially healthy and can invest in growth opportunities.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is another essential skill for a CEO. This includes not only the ability to articulate ideas clearly and persuasively but also active listening. A successful CEO must communicate effectively with various stakeholders, including employees, board members, investors, and customers. Clear and transparent communication helps build trust and fosters a positive organizational culture.


Becoming a successful CEO requires a combination of skills and qualities. While a strong track record and technical expertise are important, they are not enough on their own. Aspiring CEOs must also develop strategic networking abilities, adaptability, resilience, visionary leadership, financial acumen, and effective communication skills. By focusing on these areas, you can enhance your chances of reaching the top of the corporate ladder and achieving the dream of a million-euro salary.

About Dominik Roth

Dominik Roth is a headhunter and partner at Mercuri Urval, a global leading executive search and talent advisory firm. He supports technology leaders from the industrial mid-market and hidden champions comprehensively in the areas of headhunting and management diagnostics. Dominik Roth brings extensive experience from over 350 executive searches and hundreds of executive assessments. He is also the host of the popular career podcast "CEO Career Code," available for free on Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcast.

Diese Artikel könnten dich auch interessieren

Becoming a CEO requires a unique set of skills and experiences. Leadership, strategic thinking, and the ability to navigate complex business landscapes are crucial. These attributes not only help in steering companies but also in adapting to technological advancements and industry shifts. For instance, the rise of enterprise search generative AI integration is transforming how businesses operate, making it essential for future CEOs to stay updated with such innovations.

Another critical aspect of becoming a CEO is understanding regulatory frameworks and compliance requirements. The Cyber Resilience Act compliance requirements highlight the importance of cybersecurity in today's digital age. A CEO must ensure that their organization adheres to these regulations to protect against cyber threats and maintain operational integrity.

Financial acumen is also a key skill for aspiring CEOs. Analyzing financial reports and making informed decisions based on data is vital. The recent Xiaomi financial results Q1 2024 demonstrate how strategic financial management can lead to significant growth and profitability. Understanding such financial dynamics can help you steer your company towards success.