Terrific article in TechCrunch last week by Ben Horowitz – What’s the Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing your own psychology.
Managing inside my own head is by far the most difficult thing I do as a CEO and I appreciate Ben being so out and candid about what’s going on inside. As he says “Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it, and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown.”
Ben covers classical psychoses like “If I am doing a good job why do I feel so bad?”, and the cliche (and truism) “It’s a Lonely Job” – especially when you are facing a crisis and you have to make the decision to cut staff which impacts the livelihoods of the very people you are working so hard for and care about.
The piece of advice I liked is “Focus on the road not the wall”. It it so easy to stare at all the things that can kill your company – and at any moment in time, even terrific times, any number of things can wipe out a small company. It is this single difference that makes being a CxO in a large company feel so emotionally different than being a CEO of a small company and I have done both. Large companies have mass and momentum – you have time to recover from mistakes most of the time. (A good example is Cadence Design Systems (CDNS) which crashed and fired it’s entire executive team on one day – it’s coming back because of the resiliency of the installed base and the R&D leadership team’s commitment to great products.)
The aspect Ben writes about that I have had in my head many times in the last 15 years which I can testify never goes away is A Final Word of Advice – Don’t Punk Out and Don’t Quit As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting. I’ll add though that the most effective management tool I have found for this personal challenge is to get in the pool and pound the laps until my head is clear – which can be anywhere between 1 and 2 miles before I am calm.
If you have an ambition to be CEO one day read the article very carefully several times.