Lonely At The Top – a CEO’s Daily Struggle
Many may think that the CEO has it made. Good salary, basically do what they want, have people do their work for them, and enjoy the trappings that come with being the boss. While there are examples of fat cats earning outrageous salaries and bonuses, and, living the high life, this is far from common.
Most business leaders struggle daily with a myriad of issues. There is the all-pervasive cash-flow, growing the business, staying on track, planning, and, the biggest of all, people. Despite what some employees may think, CEOs spend a great deal of their time on people. Creating a harmonious team, aligned and moving toward the same goal, is the most difficult aspect of leadership.
The CEO Institute ran a session a few years ago, where a group of CEOs entered their normal meeting room and found the floor covered in canvas, easels around, paint and brushes on tables. On arrival the convenor told the group to don a smock, grab an easel, get some paint, and paint something. Of course, the first question was, “What do we paint?”. The convenor repeated the instructions, and, reluctantly at first, they started. At the end of the session they engaged in a discussion. One of the comments made from a CEO was that this couple of hours was the first time they could remember when they didn’t think about the business. It pervades your life, your mind, and, your time.
Most business owners have put everything on the line to open and run a business. Their mortgage is in jeopardy, their family could suffer, they may lose everything. This alone, causes thoughts to ‘hover’ and be ever-present. Every decision a business owner makes can have a significant and serious impact on the success of the business. All of the members of the CEO Institute talk often of the concern they have for those employed by them, and their families. So often, the anxiety felt by CEOs and the delay in dismissing a staff member, is due to their thoughts over the welfare of that individual and their loved ones. They never take these decisions lightly and suffer from remorse, along with sleepless nights, when situations warrant a parting of ways.
These situations are exacerbated by the fact that, as a CEO, you sit alone at the peak of the pyramid. It is lonely at the top, as there are no options to share and to talk out a decision that you need to make. It’s possible to talk to a partner, but, he or she does not understand all the ramifications and will generally be sympathetic to your side and to your thinking. You cannot speak with senior people in the organisation, especially over personnel issues. You can garner ideas, however, the decision ultimately rests with the boss and the responsibility rides with that. They are often isolated with responsibility.
Three of the major causes of stress in our lives are:
- Having to make a large number of decisions with serious consequences for error.
- Having no real sense of personal power or efficacy.
- Having no idea of how well or poorly you are doing.
CEOs face all of these. They are the decision-makers, often it is hard to see the impact of their decisions on all those in the organisation, and, they are often the only person in the organisation not receiving feedback. This is especially so if they do not have a board. The impact can be felt strongly, and they think through this on their own.
This is not a cry for us all to feel sorry for the boss, but it is putting the situation into balance. It is not always rosy at the top and an easy ride in that corner office. CEOs and business owners are faced with stresses that they face on their own. They fight through to create a better life, not just for their family, but for those of everyone working for the company. They feel it, they live with it, and, they keep fighting to be successful.
Being a member of the CEO Institute allows you to have a ‘personal board’ of like-minded business leaders from non-competing industries who can provide you with personal and professional support. As said by a CEO member, “You can never stop learning, changing, tweaking, growing and improving. The second thing is, there are great people out there who are willing to help when it’s not going to plan – all you have to do is ask”