Last couple of weeks, we used metaphors from childhood life and teenager life to explain my lessons as a CEO. In this third and last lesson, I will take you all the way to old age.
Lesson 3: Get ready to be lonely
This hits you hard when you become the CEO the first time. Especially, if it is not a small start up kind of environment. Till the point that you became a CEO, you always had people you could “freely” chat with. There were some of your peers that you were close with. If you expressed a company-contrarian point of view over drinks with your direct reports, nobody thought the company was thinking of changing direction the next day.
What I learnt is that all that goes away the day you become a CEO.
It is truly – and the only – peerless job. When everything is said and done, it is you and you only who will carry the weight of having to make decisions. You can get all the opinions you want from everybody – and in an ideal world, you should get conflicting opinions – but then you have to close the door, close your eyes (or perhaps go for a long walk if that is your style) and make the decision. All by yourself.
Your ability to express your points of views will be severely curtailed. If you prematurely express your thoughts, it will unfortunately have the effect of shutting down everybody – well, most. The organization does not read your thoughts as merely thoughts. They read it as your commands/decisions. You can ask folks “What do you think if we did….” and rest assured that more often than not, there is a Chinese whisper going around in the organization the next day that “apparently we are headed in the direction of ….”. Communication is tough.
I have heard advise from others about forming a sounding board around myself with current or ex-CEOs from outside and Board members. I have found such folks either not having a great familiarity with the context or of very little operational experience to be of much use. It is good to hear their points of views but I am not sure there are silver bullets anybody will have for you.
So, like it or not, it is going to be you and you only. With often suppressed ability to be open.
Just like in old age, your life (work life at least) is going to be very lonely. You need to get ready for it.