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Anyone who has ever been stuck in an office cubicle wonders what it would be like to be in the corner office as the CEO. Although it seems unrealistic, some part of you can’t help but wonder just how hard it would be. After all, if they can do it, why can’t you?

There are a couple of paths to becoming the CEO; some people, like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, start their own company and make themselves boss. More often, though, people begin in a junior role and proceed up the corporate ladder. Along the way, they become educated, acquire experience, nurture relationships, and grow their skill sets.

Of course, it’s never that easy; in fact, it’s usually requires an incredible amount of preparation. That’s probably why the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the average salary of a chief executive at $196,050opens in new window per year. So, do you have what it takes to run the show? You will never know if you are CEO material unless you try, so here are five solid steps to put you on the right path for the top spot.

5 Steps to Becoming a CEO

1. Expand Your Expertise

Leading a company requires an incredibly broad skill setopens in new window that you will build inside and outside of the classroom. Because you will continually develop your skills throughout your career, the best approach is to start early. The goal is to seek out opportunities to expand your decision-making, organizational, communication, and leadership abilities any way you can.

Cultivating a broad range of skills and expertise about how an organization runs is essential because CEOs need to understand how the moving parts of the company interact. By looking at the company from the viewpoint of various divisions, you will be able to see much more than the sum of its parts.

2. Rise to the occasion

The path to becoming a CEO is not without risks, which means you should be willing to step up whenever possible. There are some projects that nobody wants to touch because they are too complicated or below their perceived pay scale. These opportunities are often wonderful stepping stones for career advancement. Your managers will see you are willing to take on the challenges that others push aside. By taking charge of a situation, making decisions, and executing to the best of your ability, you are making a bold statement about yourself and your skills.

One of the unique components of being a CEO is that the problems they face often have no clear solution. A CEOs job is to take action when necessary, even with ambiguous or incomplete information. Paralysis by analysis is not a trait anyone wants in their CEO. Of course, this can lead to mistakes. Despite what they may want us to believe, about 45 percent of future CEOs made a significant mistakeopens in new window they considered to be costly to them or their business. The key to being a successful leader is how you respond to failure and adapt to meet future challenges.

3. Experience, experience, experience

You aren’t going to jump from the mailroom to CEO in a week, which means you will need to build your experience at various junior-level positions throughout the organization. The key is keeping your eyes open for situations that present clear opportunities to grow, such as a management training program.

One of the common steps to becoming CEO of a company is serving on the Board of Directors of a nonprofit group. Although the position does not pay, you will get plenty of value by observing first-hand complicated processes, like strategic planning and the interaction between board members. Although somewhat time-consuming, serving on a non-profit Board of Directors is a reasonably realistic representation of the challenges you will face as a CEO. Plus, you will likely meet with other professionals and expand your network.

4. Cultivate connections

To be successful in the corporate culture, you must be adept at building a strong network of contacts in and out of your organization. If your name isn’t on the tip of the tongue of key stakeholders, you stand little chance of rising to the position of CEO. Many companies tend to promote from within, making the respect of those around you crucial.

So, with whom exactly should you be building these relationships? That’s simple: everybody. You should focus on the people your company does business with on a regular basis, including vendors, wholesalers, sales representatives and customers. Build relationships at the top levels by going to industry conferences and executive education programs. Whomever you develop a relationship with, make it a real relationship. People can see through superficial small talk, so take the time to get to know them and establish a genuine rapport that will pay dividends down the road.

5. Learn as much as you can about business

Although we hear tales of high school dropouts going on to lead major corporations, the odds of you rising to the top without a degree are infinitesimal. A study of 2,600 American CEOs revealed that 92 percent of them had college degreesopens in new window. Those who didn’t have a degree, the study revealed, took 15 percent longer to reach the top job.

Regardless of what field you are looking toward, you should take courses that will give you a solid foundation in finance. A basic understanding of accounting principles and economics are invaluable. Nobody is going to let you run a company if you can’t read a profit and loss statement. At St. Ambrose University, our online MBA, part of our ACBSP-accredited program, helps you build the skills you need to advance in your career. We offer an accelerated format featuring eight-week classes, allowing full-time students to earn their degree in as few as 14 months.