If you want to become a CEO you don't necessarily have to play office politics, but you cannot pretend that they don't exist. It is important that an aspiring CEO have qualities that are valued by those in the upper echelons of your corporate world. The CEO of a mechanical engineering firm, for example, would tend to be very straight laced and conservative, while the CEO of an internet start-up might be expected to be more of a quirky, crazy genius type. Think of the most famous CEOs you know of, and see how they tend to "go with" the corporate culture they have crested.
Mary Kay Ash made her company, Mary Kay Cosmetics, very much in her own very feminine image. Real estate mogul Donald Trump has the cutthroat decisiveness necessary to head an empire of casinos and real estate ventures. Google CEO Larry Page is very much the wunderkind whose new corporate philosophy corresponds with the new business models that are growing up along with the internet. Did they all eventually make money on a grand scale? You bet.
But regardless of your business strategy, you still need a strong personality, whether you're quiet or gregarious. It is absolutely crucial that you know the corporate culture inside and out, and that you have excellent communication skills. You must be able to manage people not only in the corporate culture through which you came up through the ranks, but the different corporate atmospheres at other branches or locations of your corporation, particularly if some of those branches are located in other countries.
If it is your dream to be the lead dog of the corporate sled team, then you have your work cut out for you. You will have to pour a lot of blood, sweat, and perhaps tears into your career. It won't be easy, and you won't make money by the bucket-full at first, but you already knew that. Here are some words of advice from those who have done it.
First things first: you must be really certain that you want the job. Of the 150 CEOs that were interviewed for the book The Secrets of CEOs, about half said they found the role to be lonely, to have very long hours and huge responsibilities that often obliterated any kind of social life they may have enjoyed before. More than half said they had sacrificed time for family, for their non-work passions, and their personal interests. If you want to be CEO, then you need to have a very accurate understanding of what a CEO does day to day, and whether that's something you think you're cut out for.
You will have to prove day after day that you are a real workhorse. You'll have to be willing to work overtime without being asked, give up weekends without a complaint, clean up after the mistakes that other people make, and generally wed yourself to your job.
Your performance at work is the major factor in determining whether you are cut from the CEO cloth. Whether you can prove yourself in many different roles and situations will determine much of your ascent up the corporate ladder. Many CEOs have been willing to relocate, take on different roles, and even move to other countries on a fairly regular basis.
You need to know every possible perspective on your business, and you must know everything about your industry as a whole. Whether you make money on an executive scale or not is not your biggest worry yet. You will have to attend corporate as well as technical meetings, learn who the competitors are, read voraciously about the latest trends in your field and know who the rising (and setting) stars are in the industry.
If you do make it to the top, then you'll make money on a scale you had only ever dreamed of. But rest assured you will have to put in many long and challenging years to get there. Is it worth it? Only you can decide that.