As an aspiring professional mountain bike racer, I knew the quickest way to turn pro was to win as many amateur races as possible in order to build my resume quickly. Part of what drove me was I thought turning pro would make training and racing easier because I would know exactly what to do.
But after turning pro, I had a strong dose of reality. Racing at the professional level was not necessarily physically or logistically harder, but it was instead psychologically harder. Expectations were higher for myself, and I felt as if I was the target at all the local and regional races. I was the person everyone wanted to beat. As an amateur, I had a small number of A-level races and many B- and C-level races I used to test and train in. As a pro, I felt like they were all A-races, and it was mentally grueling.
As a lifelong entrepreneur and now business coach to scale-ups, I believe success in business creates a similar problem for entrepreneurs and CEOs. As the entrepreneur or CEO scales the business, new roles are created with the intention of streamlining the workload and giving team members the ability to focus on a few important things versus being spread too thin. This is a great move for the business and helps the CEO with the workload — but not always with his or her stress levels.
Here are three reasons I believe executive roles can be more stressful even as the workload becomes more evenly distributed throughout the organization:
1. Delegating projects and initiatives can bring a new set of challenges. Building a leadership team that is healthy and cohesive is often very different than the earlier stage of the business when the CEO could call all the shots and make things happen instantly. Having to work through other people takes intention and time. Focusing on developing the people who drive results versus solving problems yourself can be stressful as the business really starts to scale.
To help combat this, I suggest evaluating how much experience the person to whom you are delegating the task has with the specific type of project. Regardless of how accomplished they are as a leader in your company, adjust the monitor and review intervals based on their project-related experience. This will help eliminate unwanted surprises and frustration on both sides later on.
2. Leading a business often means you’re held to a higher level of management practices. The CEO of a successful company is a role model both inside and outside of the business. How things are done is just as important as what is done. Being aware of the lasting impressions regarding decisions and actions, as well as having to always be a cultural role model, can add to the stress. One common mistake entrepreneurs and CEOs often make is unintentionally undermining their direct reports by not letting them know of key decisions in advance. Nothing is more frustrating to a manager who hears from one of their reports about company decisions first.
I believe one possible solution to this miscommunication is to add a cascading messages line item at the end of all executive meeting agendas. This can help make sure everyone knows the who, what and when of key information that will be shared with the rest of the company.
3. Sometimes you have too many great ideas. In my experience, the biggest cause of stress (and one that has taken me 20 years to figure out) is that success often brings more opportunities and big ideas, but these cannot always be executed at once. Success also brings resources and people who are eager to make things happen. But again, the reality is there is still only one CEO. It becomes even harder to prioritize what the company should work on strategically; the opportunities become higher grade and are often more difficult to distinguish from one another from an impact perspective. In the early days of a business, nine- and 10-level ideas were few and far between. But once the business grows, all the ideas seem to be nines and 10s. It is not always clear which is the best one to pursue, and the CEO’s mind begins to feel like a blender trying to sort it out.
To help resolve this, try asking yourself these four questions:
- Which of my priorities or ideas will get done (or mostly done) even if I don’t personally spend much time developing them?
- If I were to line up my personal and company priorities and ideas like dominoes, in what order could I put them so the first one I knock down also knocks down a majority of the rest?
- Which opportunity gives me energy just thinking about it, and when it is done, will feel great and build confidence?
- What can I delegate to someone else while monitoring their performance?
Becoming a successful entrepreneur or CEO can be very exciting as the company scales, but it also tends to create a whole new set of stressors. Learning to manage these three attributes is a critical skill for creating a healthy business and happy life.