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lonely at the top

I have had the great blessing of working with many founder-CEO’s over the past 3 decades. In most of these situations, I was either a trusted advisor, colleague, and or the #2 (Chief Operating Officer). As I reflect on these experiences, even though these visionary business leaders all had different personalities, gifts, skills, and leadership abilities, the one common denominator I experienced was a deep sense of loneliness and in many times a deep isolation.

14 years ago when I was deciding on going back to get my Masters Degree, many folks I knew scoffed at me when I chose an MS in Counseling over an MBA. At the time I did not realize how much this education and subsequent experience would benefit me as I walked closely with Founder-CEO’s over the past decade plus.

The sad truth is while many founder-CEO’s have vibrant and healthy cultures, even those that do, still, struggle because there are several forces at play that are simple reflections of human nature more than anything else.

  1. There is NO ONE in the Founder-CEO’s company that can truly relate to them, because by nature people tend to self-preserve, and an employee, no matter how transparent and healthy the company culture is, will always be looking after their best interest, and it is impossible for the Founder-CEO to get the unfiltered, unabashed truth from an employee, even a C-Level executive.
  2. Most Founder-CEO’s are first generation entrepreneurs, meaning that most people in their family or origin, and often spouses and close friends, do not understand the intense pressure, demands, and heavyweight that are put upon them. It is very hard to effectively communicate with others about the struggles because most all people can’t fathom the level of daily risk that is required to build and grow a successful business.
  3. Believe it or not, I have found that most Founder-CEO’s struggle with a deep sense of insecurity and unworthiness. They use this as relentless motivation to succeed “At all costs”, and while the outward appearance may look like it is all put together, on the inside, many fight internal battles every day.

The hardest part for a Founder-CEO in all of this is simply coming to terms with it. Understanding it, even dare I say, embrace it. With understanding comes the ability to do something to impact it. There are people who can help you, be it coaching, counseling, advising, or even taking a piece of the workload off you. Seek a qualified person (or group of people via a CEO roundtable organization), to share the burden with. Understand you are NOT alone, it is that truth that will help set you free