How To Eliminate Overwhelm and Frustration When You’re a Busy CEO
Having spent 20 years across various ‘busy’ roles from being medical doctor, senior corporate executive at Pfizer, technology entrepreneur and eventually in the CEO role my 3rd successive company, I’ve engaged with many fellow CEO’s and studied their behaviours in life and work. I found that the successful ones had some common traits and the ‘unsuccessful’ ones had some common traits too.
Success is defined by an individual, but for CEO’s or Political leaders this is also defined by their boss, shareholders, employees, customers or constituents. Nonetheless, CEO’s are constantly under pressure to meet targets, deal with crisis, fulfil multiple obligations and still be expected to lead a ‘healthy and normal’ personal and family life. As CEO’s understand their own ‘BS’ more deeply, they become more self-aware that their very own behaviours can exacerbate their current ‘crisis’. A CEO can be his or her own worst enemy.
Since I began coaching CEO’s over 8 years ago, I have learnt and taught several techniques to help them continue to pursue their careers at higher levels, whilst managing their responsibilities in their personal life. Often they even have difficulty connecting the relationship between the two worlds, which forms part of the problem.
This is a perfectly legitimate option. For some CEO’s the pressure of the workload and circumstances surrounding their personal life require more time to be focused on the latter or risk causing irreparable damage to their health or family relationships. In such situations, quitting may appear to be the only option.
However, in some cases, this may also be a ‘get out clause’, used as an excuse for being unwilling to acknowledge one’s own mistakes or recognize how their own behaviours have contributed to their current negative circumstances. In these situations, the vicious cycle of frustration is likely to repeat in future roles.
2. Be More Present
There is an accepted philosophy that ‘anxiety comes from living too much in the future’ and ‘depression comes from thinking too much about the past’. Busy CEO’s tend to be focused on the next thing even before the current task or interpersonal interaction has ended.
The focus is more on the clock, than on the person in-front of them. This gives an illusion of efficiency and speed, only to find later that subordinates haven’t really understood their instructions and made mistakes that need rework. The actual reason was because they weren’t communicated to in a patient and appropriate manner by their CEO.
The science of Mindfulness has now perpetuated the mainstream corporate and healthcare arena with companies like Google implementing programs for its ‘hypertalented, hyperactive’ employees, both young and old. The program has been such a great success that other Fortune 500 companies have adopted similar mindfulness practices with their own CEO’s and executives
3. Change Your Expectations, Allow Another Reality
Many CEO’s are consummate achievers that have high expectations of themselves and therefore others. Frustration is an emotion that arises when those expectations are not met. For example, when you expect your CFO to complete the budget in 24 hours, but they can’t get it done on time. Or you expect to meet your annual company goals, but you fall short. Or perhaps you expect your password to work on your company and it doesn’t – all these situations give rise to frustrations.
A relief is felt when you change your expectations. I don’t mean lower them, I mean change them. Perhaps your CFO was being more thorough, and would deliver a more robust budget tomorrow. Perhaps falling short of your annual company goals provides you with a better business case to hire more talented staff. Perhaps your password error means your IT security has just been upgraded and you’ve just averted a major cyber-attack on your servers. Once CEO’s change their expectations and allow new realities to emerge, they can come out mentally stronger.
There are now hundreds of thousands of forms of meditations from a multitude of cultures. The benefits are espoused in traditional literature as well as modern science, and can help CEO’s manage overwhelm and stress over the long term. The body of evidence on medicine has exploded in recent years and MRI scans now even denser grey matter in the brains of frequent meditators. Personally, I have found the practice life-changing and allowed me to tap into greater creative thinking and problem-solving ability, as well as more focus and concentration. My initial time investment started at 5 minutes a day (on trains, planes and other ‘dead’ times) and I’ve worked upwards from there, to great effect.
5. Find your Ikigai
The Japanese believe that every human being has a purpose or a higher calling, which they called their Ikigai. The French call it the ‘raison d’etre’ i.e reason to be. Regardless of race, religion, work status or nationality, having a clear purpose in life and connecting with the meaning of your work allows you to see beyond short term frustrations and bad days, and understand how they actually contribute to your personal growth, vision and mission.
CEO’s that connect with their Ikigai in an authentic manner don’t have to fake liking their job; they love their job and it shows. It shows to their employees, it shows to their customers and it shows to their shareholders. It allows them to tap into a deeper sense of fulfilment and commitment, that sees them through their business challenges and personal hardships.
The first step to finding your Ikigai is to simply answer 4 questions as genuinely as possible, and to find the intersection. The 4 questions are:
1. What do you love doing?
2. What does world need? (problem to solve)
3. What can I get paid for? (how to monetize)
4. What am I good at? (True Strengths)
The truth is that there are quick and easy solutions for CEO’s to minimize overwhelm and frustration in the short term (days to weeks). However, in order to achieve a higher level of performance in the long term (weeks to months to years), I often advise my clients that behavior change is an active process that requires more effort, but yields much greater more satisfying rewards in life, career and legacy.
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Dr Avi specialises in insights and strategies to improve patient and customer experience.