When it comes to pressure and challenges, CEOs often have a hefty load. Though some stresses are universal, executives may feel an additional burden to transcend every issue for the good of the company.
Here’s a look at some challenges that CEOs may encounter, and some tips on how to approach getting past them.
CEOs may feel a natural inclination to take on more than is necessary — or more than they can realistically handle — simply because they are in the corner office. Though it may be a difficult process, business leaders have to manage this load and determine where others can help. Noreena Hertz describes this in a story for the Wall Street Journal.
“From a personal leadership perspective most CEOs today admit, in private at least, feeling overwhelmed by their own to do lists,” she notes. “Email overload is a widespread problem, stress levels are reaching new heights, the ‘urgent’ crowds out the ‘important.’ If you are a CEO ask yourself — What can you delegate? What can you ditch? Who can better serve as your gatekeeper? How can you make sure you carve out essential thinking time?”
This is important from day one, from employees trusting the leadership team to clients trusting a product or service. CEO transparency plays an important part in trust, as does technology, which are both represented in the annual CEO poll by PricewaterhouseCoopers International. Chairman Bob Moritz describes this in a story for CNBC.
“Today, for example, to counter the risks stemming from the inevitable data breaches and cybersecurity issues, a company based on integrity and transparency will be strongly positioned to speak directly to its customers and stakeholders — both present and future — outlining all that was done and will be done to preserve data privacy,” he explains. “The days where the CEO of a company was rarely accessible to the end customer or was able to get sanitized feedback are gone, as are the days where the consumer had little sight into how a product was produced and a supply chain crafted. Today, executive teams need to fully grasp the ethical and moral implications of their decisions, and communicate their actions with integrity.”
When a business deals with a significant problem in its products or services, its leaders must step up. A business’ credibility can be at stake in these scenarios, and a damaged reputation can put it on shaky ground. As Asha Mankowska details in a story for Forbes, “It takes years to establish a good reputation both offline and online, but a mishandled challenge is more than enough to harm a company’s growth and revenue.”
“… CEOs must communicate the problem to all impacted parties: customers, staff, government, competitors and the general public by establishing a formal system to manage online reputation,” she writes. “The right infrastructure and teamwork will enable the company to quickly rise to any challenges. The key to effective damage control is to acknowledge problems as they arise, and confront them immediately.”
The ability some businesses have in allowing employees to work from home — or anywhere, really — can attract candidates seeking flexibility. It can also present challenges for business leaders in keeping everyone on the same page. Jennifer Post writes about this for Business News Daily, and she features consulting group CEO Amy Walker.
“With the ever increasing trend toward telecommuting, virtual meetings and hiring contractors over employees, today’s CEO needs to know how to manage the changing workspace,” Walker says. “There are many perks to increasing flexible work options in a company … [and] CEOs will need to make sure management is trained on how to manage virtual team members.”
Short-term vs. long-term
Quarterly financial targets can be a critical part of tracking efficiency and growth. An overwhelming desire to reach those targets can also negatively alter the overall focus into a mad dash in the closing days of the quarter. Sallie Krawcheck, cofounder of Ellevest, describes this emphasis on short-term goals in a story by Vivian Giang for Fast Company.
“I’ve worked at private companies in which the quarters of the year went by without anyone noting them, but instead focused on annual and five-year results,” Krawcheck says. “And I’ve worked at a company in which each quarter was held out as the most important quarter in the company’s history — literally — and analyst estimates watched like a hawk. Everyone knew when the quarter-end was, and that often meant investments were stopped and started in order to ‘make the numbers.’”
Executive positions can naturally come with a big dose of pressure. Some people are built for handling such loads and some wilt beneath them. But everyone needs support, whether it’s in staffing, in delegating tasks or just open communication. Dr. Nicole Lipkin included this in her book What Keeps Leaders Up at Night, as featured by Martin Zwilling in a story for Forbes:
“Stress comes in two distinct forms: good stress and bad stress (distress). Managed effectively, stress is a good thing, leading to survival. But chronic stress and distress results in overreaction to non-life-threatening events. Schedule an on-going reality check with trusted advisors to know the difference.”
As with stress, finding this elusive balance is a struggle that many of us deal with, and one that won’t go away without serious thought and action. CEOs may find themselves nodding in agreement whenever the subject is mentioned, but then struggling to actively put solutions in practice. As Mankowska writes for Forbes, employees feel it, too: “In a world where service is expected 24 hours a day, seven days a week, employees often feel pressure to put in long hours, work from home, and be constantly available.”
“… As a CEO and true leader, you are the role model,” she explains. “Demonstrate the conduct that will make your organization healthy and productive. No one is irreplaceable, and no one needs to be there all the time. Your employees can get things done in your absence. Encourage them to take all the vacation they earn. Show them strong commitment to values like health, friends, family and community. The pressure to perform well in a high-level, high-stress position can be alleviated by working in a dynamic workplace with a satisfied team.”