Being a CEO of an organization or a founder in a startup environment is tough. Oftentimes, it’s lonely because of its immense pressures which can make everything feel incredibly overwhelming. The light at the end of the tunnel often feels just like an oncoming train with endless challenges that need to be met.
This pressure is not insignificant. It can trigger a fight-or-flight response, leading to mental and physical illness. It can affect hormones, disrupt sleep patterns, and even alter the white blood cell production happening in the body. This is not something to brush aside or ignore.
A leader’s job is to be a role model for their team. It is also their job to make decisions with confidence and remain a source of stillness and reason even in the most challenging times. Although some leaders have their team, their board, or their advisors to lean on in some cases, they must have the powerful presence to direct focus, make the hard choices and decisions, and problem-solve quickly and creatively. So, how can you best alleviate this pressure and find the necessary support to succeed as a leader?
WHY DO LEADERS FEEL ALONE?
A hidden challenge of leadership that isn’t talked about often is loneliness. According to a poll done by the Harvard Business Review, half of the CEOs surveyed expressed feeling lonely and isolated at the top. And, 61% of those surveyed believe that their loneliness hurts their job performance and ability to make good decisions.
On the outside, through rose-tinted glasses, being a leader seems pretty ideal. They get to lead the pack, make all of the decisions, and oftentimes, get sole recognition for a job well done. But, with recognition comes accountability too.
The pressure of accountability is known to be often debilitating to leaders who feel unsupported. Founders lead their teams trying to be the best they can be with the knowledge that they have. Oftentimes, especially in a start-up environment, error rates are high, and performance is affected due to little direction, lack of feedback, perspective, or experience.
As a startup founder, you must take all of these factors into consideration, attempting to align them, while also trying to get daily duties accomplished and the company moving forward on what can feel like an impossible mission at times. Many do this without the ability to confide in anyone. That’s the common but sad reality for many CEOs.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are some solutions to help lighten the load of a CEO and help you to feel supported while building a better business and a successful team.
SOLUTION: EXECUTIVE COACHING
One of the best solutions when it comes to eliminating that lonely feeling at the top is executive coaching. Executive coaching in layman’s terms is a mentor. It is a qualified individual that works one-on-one with individuals in order to offer support by observing and talking to the team and CEO, and with that information analyzing the findings and creating a plan for moving forward. The executive coach focuses on helping a leader clarifying their goals, as well as the company’s goals, gaining better self-awareness, achieving objectives, reaching their fullest potential, and acting as a soundboard for their team.
Business executives from well-known brands to small tech startups rave about the benefits of executive coaching, as it helps them to see everything with more focus and to clean up processes, workflow, and communication amongst their teams. Though it is an investment, companies believe that it’s a good one and can change the game when it comes to helping a company grow. Because, let’s face it, without a focused and qualified leader, a team cannot be efficient or effective in their workflow.
According to an article in Harvard Business Review, “Many of the World’s most admired corporations, from GE to Goldman Sachs, invest in coaching. Annual spending on coaching in the US is estimated at roughly $1 Billion Dollars.” This may seem like a big chunk coming from a company’s pocket, but according to a study done by MetrixGlobal LLC with Booz Allen Hamilton, it’s worth it because of the vast return the companies see after making this initial one-time investment.
Bruce Grimley is an author, the managing director of Achieving Lives Ltd, an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and the U.K. President of the International Association of NLP Institutes and Coaching Institutes. In his book, “Theory and Practice of NLP Coaching: A Psychological Approach,” Grimley quotes Businesswire:
“The business demand for coaching is nearly doubling each year. Out of the $80 billion being currently spent on corporate education, FLI Research estimates that $2 billion is spent on executive coaching at senior executive levels in Fortune 500 companies.”
The need for executive coaching can be mission-critical to many CEOs and startups looking for that extra support while drowning in a sea of isolation and loneliness. No one can make it to the top alone. An outside perspective from a certified professional can help with lifting some of the burdens, fears, and challenges a leader faces by offering advice and a clear roadmap of where to go.
SOLUTION: CLARITY AND PLANNING
In this past decade of coaching, we have found that the way out of loneliness and overwhelm is to have a strong storm team as well as clarity and focus. Giving our clients the structure and often a clear roadmap allows them to scale and operate their company fast, efficiently, and with ease. Collaboration and delegation is the way out of an overwhelming situation.
Developing a clear process helps your team to be productive and effective while giving you, the CEO, the support they need to excel in their position. It focuses on everything from customer retention to employee engagement and satisfaction. In a short amount of time, CEOs will start to see their intrinsic motivation increase, feelings of isolation and loneliness decrease, and their visions aligning with the outcomes of proper strategy. We often focus on creating a clear short-term strategy for CEOs and utilize key players on their teams to drive rapid change within their company. Creating a structure and a clear execution roadmap gives leaders the ability to move forward faster without feeling like they’re drowning.
SOLUTION: JOIN A CEO GROUP
The popularity of CEO support groups is rising as more and more startup leaders struggle to pave a direction for their company and fight off their feelings of loneliness. Joining a CEO support group gives leaders the community they need to succeed as individuals and help them bring their companies to the next level.
These groups are designed to not only bring together leaders and CEOs facing the same challenges, allowing them to offer advice and guidance to one another, but they’re also a way for leaders to provide and receive honest constructive feedback and criticism in a safe space.
Forming strong relationships with other CEOs helps not only alleviate the loneliness and isolation brought on by leadership by building a supportive community, but it also helps to relieve the stress of being a CEO because they are being encouraged and given helpful guidance and advice by others who walk similar paths. It is a definite solution for a leader that needs the reassurance that they are not the only one and there are others struggling with the same challenges.
SOLUTION: TRY VULNERABILITY
For any human, the practice of vulnerability can feel like a weakness. Especially, when you are a leader at the top being looked to for quick and accurate guidance, decision-making, and problem-solving. However, it’s necessary that this perspective changes when you take on the role of CEO.
Traditionally, we believe that leaders should always be strong and know all of the answers. But, that’s just not human, and putting that stress on anyone will inevitably cause them to break. As a reminder, it’s important to be gentle with yourself and know that you’re not a superhero and no one, not even your team, expects you to be.
Instead, you must accept that being vulnerable is a part of good leadership. By accepting that as a fact, you’ll stress less because you’ll stop pressuring yourself to know all of the hard answers all of the time. Remember, it’s ok to say, “I’m not sure,” or “what do you think?” Adding vulnerability into your leadership will also help your team to see you as one of them, which will help with collaborative thinking, communication, and overall team morale. Plus, putting yourself into your team and working alongside them will aid in your own personal feelings of isolation and help you receive the support you need to lead.
SOLUTION: FIND BALANCE
Finding a balance between work and home can certainly help alleviate feelings of loneliness due to the duties and responsibilities of a CEO. Oftentimes, especially in a startup environment, the CEO is the last one in the office, long after nightfall. This leaves them little time in their day to think about anything besides work. And, when work feels isolating, this can be a total drain on their mental health.
Making it a habit to leave the building around the same time as their team is a great start in setting boundaries between work and personal life. Setting boundaries allows a CEO time to refresh and come in the next day with bright ideas, focused energy, and a positive attitude. It also allows them the opportunity to enjoy the communities in their personal lives and all of the special moments, which is necessary for happiness and quality of life.
While maintaining this balance can be tricky with work always in the back of a leader’s mind, it’s important to find ways to stay present with everything you’re doing. Here are some ways to help you stay in-the-moment and push work to the side in order to be the best you can be when you’re on-the-clock:
- Meditate – The basics of meditation can train your brain to learn to live in the now by focusing on the five senses.
- Exercise – Exercise helps to exert your body, eliminate stress, and ward of health concerns. This daily movement can feel like a time for you to reconnect with yourself, feel the burn, and put work out of your head.
- No multi-tasking – When we multi-task, we split our attention and are not fully present with our tasks at hand.
- Go slow – Going slowly rather than rushing through a task to get to the next helps us to be more mindful and effective with what we are working on.
- Why do CEOs feel lonely?
CEOs oftentimes feel lonely because they are left to navigate without proper support, especially in a startup environment.
- How can executive coaching help CEOs?
Executive coaching offers CEOs the support they crave from a mentor that is certified. By focusing on self-awareness, achieving objectives, and maximizing the potential of an individual, executive coaches help to map out a plan for a leader’s success within their company.
- How can 2Y3X QuickMapping help CEOs?
The 2Y3X QuickMapping method can help CEOs by providing them with guidance and the tools they need to make rapid changes in their company.
- How can CEO support groups help?
Joining a CEO support group can help a leader find their community and get sound advice from other professionals in their line of work.
- Why should leaders be vulnerable?
Practicing vulnerability can help a leader bring themselves down to the level of their team. It can help them feel as if they are participating actively in a collaborative environment rather than drowning alone at the very top.
- Why is a work/life balance important for success?
Having a work/life balance can help leaders to feel less lonely because it helps them to get out of the office and have other communities and support in their life.
- Why is staying present important?
Remaining in-the-moment is important because it allows leaders to focus on the task at hand at work while also enjoying the moments in their personal lives.