One of my friends, a senior executive at a Fortune 500 firm, recently said, “no, thank you” when asked if he’d like to be considered for the post of CEO of his company.
My friend is an ideal CEO candidate: he’s accomplished and well-liked, he’s about 10 years from retirement, he’s been a company “lifer,” and he’s worked hard grabbing the gold ring.
When I asked what caused this change of mind, he reflected, “At what cost, however?”
Well, his response wasn’t unexpected. A successful corporate career demands a high level of performance for sustained periods.
Ambitious professionals, especially top performers, have started to think differently about the tradeoffs of a demanding job. They’re asking questions such as “How much is enough?” and “If I get that job, what is it that I’m giving up?”
Most new CEOs are overwhelmed, disclosing that their jobs are more demanding, complex, and stressful than expected. Little wonder, then, that the average CEO’s tenure has gotten shorter over the years.
The brutal reality is that CEOs have less time than ever to prove their worth. The tolerance for mistakes and short-term underperformance has really gone down.
CEOs have to perform or perish. The CEO job is no longer a tenured role, and the ground has shifted over the decades. Several factors have made the jobs of business chiefs much more complicated than in the past. There’s immense pressure to produce consistently excellent results and keep everybody satisfied. It’s so stressful just working hard to keep the job. Then there’s the unremitting pressure of walking a tightrope; managing the conflicting interests between various stakeholders is exhausting.
CEOs’ performance must be more transparent than ever due to the never-ending demands imposed by global competition, geopolitical volatility, technological disruptions, ever-watchful regulators, increasingly engaged boards, and the specter of activist shareholders. A job with such challenges can quickly overwhelm, and CEOs end up working days, nights, and weekends in a futile attempt to pull free. They feel guilty about sacrificing precious family time for their work.
Above all, CEOs feel lonely at the top—being “where the buck stops,” they don’t have anyone to confide in. CEOs tend to isolate themselves due to the overwhelming responsibilities and the pressure to appear calm to employees.
Idea for Impact: Not everybody wishes to climb the top of the ladder. A high-pressure climate is not for everybody. Remember, burnout happens not when you work too much but when you invest emotionally in work and don’t get a commensurate return.