Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn as “CEO: The Loneliest Job in Business”
I’ve talked with hundreds of CEOs over the years and I can tell you that most of them agree on one thing: it’s a very solitary position. That may sound strange from someone who has an entire company reporting to him or her, not to mention countless requests for meetings, networking opportunities, etc. But the truth is you can still be lonely even when you’re not alone. Based on what I’ve learned from those conversations, I think there are a few reasons for this.
Why Being CEO is the Loneliest Job in Tech
For starters, everyone from board members and management team members to employees and customers sees their CEO as the ultimate person to rely on within the company. Talk about being singled out. Plus, at the expansion stage, companies are constantly adding more and more people into these roles, placing new strains on the organizational approaches for managing them, which the CEO alone is left to sort out.
As if that weren’t enough, as companies continue to scale, they also continue to differentiate their products as well as the methodologies and processes they use for product, customer, and company development, all of which the CEO needs to deal with, as well. Even though most CEOs aren’t experts in all of these areas, they still need to be able to wrap their heads around everything and ensure that all of the pieces fit together. The success or failure of the company depends on it. And, ultimately, that lies squarely on their shoulders.
The bottom line is that the expansion stage is a difficult time in company’s development. In fact, it’s probably the most difficult time. On the outside, many CEOs may put on a confident face to their board, employees, and customers. They may even come across as superheroes. But on the inside, they are in a lonely position, and are often consumed with just trying to put the difficulties and distractions out of their mind so they can focus on achieving their most important short-term goals. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
So What Can You Do About It?
There are many things that CEOs can do to address their lonely positions, which will not only make them happier, but also help them get better at their job. Here are five examples:
1) Bring on one or two great senior management partners
Some CEOs found their companies with one or two co-founders with unique skills and experiences. When this happens, a deep trust can emerge between the co-founders that ultimately creates a really solid core for a young company. It also helps to spread the most important challenges out across a couple of people. If you don’t currently have partners you can truly rely on, it isn’t too late. Consider the skills that you most need in the company at this point and find a person who both fills the gap and has the experience, character, and chemistry that would make a great partner for you.
2) Recruit one or two people who could serve as partners/mentors to your board
CEOs who have one or two board members who can serve as deep sounding boards, provide some mentorship/partnership help, and help to unite the company’s board tend to have better experiences, better board meetings, and better companies. As with a senior management partner, a board partner/mentor needs to have the right skills, experience, character, and chemistry to make a good partner for you. Download this free guide to help you create a high-impact board of directors.
3) Find an outside mentor or two
Similar to finding a person to fill a board seat, finding a person or two who is willing to be an official or unofficial senior advisor could be very helpful. There is also a growing group of “executive coaches” out here, and I have heard some great feedback from a number of CEOs who believe that they have benefited greatly from their coaches. Again, experience, skill, and chemistry are really important for success.
4) Join a group of other CEOs who you can connect with and learn from
Many CEOs view this activity as a luxury, but the CEOs I have spoken with who are actively involved with a group report that they get great advice. The group I hear mentioned most is the Young Presidents Organization, but there are a lot of local CEO groups in every city that are worth checking out. I have also heard examples of CEOs having success connecting in online CEO support forums or LinkedIn groups.
5) Find the right venture capital partner
Venture capitalists come in all shapes, sizes, personalities, characters, backgrounds, and skills. If you raise capital, try to find a VC with the right experience, skill, character, and chemistry who could serve the purpose of both funding your company and being a true partner to you and your team.
If you are a lonely CEO, consider the list above and determine if one or two of the ideas fit your context. Then set a goal for doing at least one of them and dedicate some time to exploring the possibilities. Also, let your team, board, investors, and network know about your goal so that they can open their networks to you and provide some help.