If you dream of someday running your own company or becoming the CEO of an existing company and standing tall in your field, the time to prepare for that future is now. Every great leader is different from those who came before and from their contemporaries, an originality of vision is one of the things that helps them rise to the top, but they all share certain qualities that you can begin cultivating today.
Read some books about current and recent leaders in their fields, and the top qualities of successful CEO’s and leaders, but don’t stop with contemporary accounts. Many have been writing books about leadership for as long as they have been writing at all, and we are fortunate enough in the 21st century to be able to look back at the work of the ancients as well, such as the work of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius or the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu, whose “Art of War” is embraced by business people today. Read widely beyond these books as well; having a broad base of knowledge about many things will give you perspective and wisdom.
A bachelor’s degree is a great start to your business education, especially as you may need to build on it later with an MBA or a similar degree in order to advance into an executive position. Education isn’t getting any cheaper, but a student loan can be a great way to pay for college. You don’t have to start repaying it until you graduate, and you can look for a loan that offers low interest rates and a repayment plan that you are happy with. In addition to studying business, try to take a wide variety of elective courses in various subjects so that you get a well-rounded education.
Great leaders are great communicators but being good at persuading and inspiring is just one element of communication. You also need to learn to be a good listener too. Tact matters as well. People are going to come to you with all kinds of ideas and all kinds of complaints, and it’s a skill to learn how to make them feel heard without necessarily agreeing with what they are saying to you. Working with student clubs, taking a speech course, and checking out your local Toastmaster’s organization are all good ways to improve your communication skills.
Take every opportunity you can now to establish yourself as a leader. As a student, you may be able to mentor other students. Run for an office in your student government or in clubs that you are a part of. Look for opportunities to get involved in community organizations as well.
Networking is one of the key skills you’ll need to develop, and this is something you can start now as well. An internship as a student is a great way to get to know people, but you can also network with your professionals, fellow students and even professionals in the community. Developing a professional online presence is another great way to connect with people in the field you want to work in.