Mike Pelfini — 27 October 2015
My apologies to John Dunne for paraphrasing one of the popular phrases from his Meditation XVII. Being the chief executive of any enterprise is an exhilarating experience. There’s tremendous influence to be exercised as a CEO. It can also be marked by a unique and deeply experienced sense of isolation and occasional loneliness. The good news is that there are ways to mitigate that uncomfortable part of the position, stay connected, and be productive. Here are four:
- Share the Pain & Gain Have a strategic plan with clearly articulated and shared accountabilities Is your executive team’s work guided by a sound strategic plan? The plan should include clearly articulated roles, responsibilities and shared accountabilities to support goal or priority achievement. If not, make one with your team. Actively working in partnership with one or more colleagues on key deliverables puts a spotlight on the interdependency that exists in healthy work environments. As the work proceeds, the sense of isolation abates. I never felt more connected and in-synch with my colleagues as during those times when we were actively engaged in implementing our plans; making key decisions; solving difficult problems; celebrating successes–together.
- Throw ‘Em a Bone Communicate with your key leaders clearly and regularly. I found that much of the isolation I’d occasionally feel could be minimized through regular and clear communication with my team. I often make the mistake of assuming I’ve shared with colleagues my thoughts about the matters of the day that affect them, when I haven’t. It doesn’t take much effort or time to express a thought or to ask a question via email, phone, text, or hallway chat. Staying up-to-date with others alleviates feelings of aloneness.
- Hook Up With Your Herd Join a solid network of other leaders to work “on” your company regularly without needing to be “in” it. You might be tempted to think, as I did early on, “No one could possibly know what I’m experiencing here. I’m (or we’re) unique!” Uniqueness in this sense can be terminal. Being part of a peer group adds a critical sense of context to the daily decisions and pressures you face. I also recommend being as liberal as possible in defining for yourself who is your “peer.” I ended up joining a Vistage group in which I was the only nonprofit CEO, and it was one of the best moves I ever made!
- Get a ‘Go-To’ Guy or Gal Find someone who’s traveled the road you’re on and who measures her success in working with you by your own successes. In my first month as a CEO, it seemed I moved from managing one crisis to the next. The one that really took my breath away was figuring out how to cover a projected payroll shortfall that would have affected the majority of our then 120 employees. Fortunately I was able to secure a loan to cover our immediate needs. But the difficult steps needed to change the underlying conditions that led to this ugly symptom I could never have taken by myself. The best possible outcome was that the experience introduced me to someone who would become my mentor and thought partner in a professional relationship that continues to this day. Having that relationship is a lifeline of support unlike any other professional relationship I’ve had.
These are four actions I’ve taken that have made my work as a CEO a more connected, less isolating experience. What works for you?