5 Reasons Being A CEO Is Overrated

NooyiAP Photo/Mark LinnahanPepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said she doesn’t know whether her children would say she was a good mother.

For many, becoming a chief executive is a career-long goal.

In addition to the amazing pay, you get to travel the world and enjoy the sense of fulfillment that comes with running your own operation.

But being a CEO isn’t just about drinking champagne while you recline in first class. It’s hard decisions, long hours, and the knowledge that everything that happens inside your company is ultimately your responsibility.

While the job affords people the opportunity to put their ideas into action and influence millions of people, it’s not always everything it’s cracked up to be. Here are five reasons being a CEO is actually overrated:

1. It’s lonely at the top.

In a TechCrunch blog post about managing the mental breakdowns that come with being a CEO, venture capitalist and former Loudcloud CEO Ben Horowitz said that one of the most maddening things about the job is having to make all of the hard decisions yourself.

While board members can sometimes offer sound advice, Horowitz said there are many times where they don’t have enough insight into the business to be much use. And without any peers, it’s up to the CEO to spend anxious hours ruminating on a difficult decision — all by themself.

As former EchoSign CEO Jason Lemkin explained in a Quora post, even your life partner might not offer much solace.

“Your spouse/significant other can only hear about 58 times how you are about to fail before they naturally start to tune out,” he wrote.

“As an aside, asking oneself anything 3,000 times turns out to be a bad idea,” Horowitz added.

2. It’s unhealthy.

Author Steve Tappin teamed up with a neuroscientist to run physiological and neurological tests on CEOs for his 2010 book, “The Secrets of CEOs.

What they found was that many CEOs were stressed out, overworked, and exhausted from their important responsibilities, insane work hours, and constant travel.

“The major emotions a CEO has are frustration, disappointment, irritation and overwhelm,” Tappin told CNN in a 2010 story. “There should be a health warning. If you have those emotions for 80% of the day, they lead to stress and cortisol in the body, which leads to accelerated ageing, heart attacks and cancer.”

Tappin said that while many assume CEOs are super human from the boundless energy they put into their jobs, they are in fact human beings struggling to keep it together while trying to do something extremely difficult.

3. It’s impossible to have proper training.

Horowitz told Business Insider that even the best prepared CEOs can’t fully be ready for all the things they will have to handle because every CEO job is different.

“You could go to class to be an NFL quarterback, you could have Peyton Manning or Tom Brady teach you lessons,” Horowitz said in a 2012 interview. “But when you walk onto the field you’ll still be completely unprepared no matter how much schooling you’ve had because it’s dynamic and the time you have to make decisions is much much shorter than you think.”

For instance, he said, CEOs often have to hire people for jobs that are in areas they don’t have expertise in, like a CEO with a tech background hiring a chief financial officer.

4. It can strain relationships with your family.

In an emotional conversation at the Aspen Ideas Festival last month, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi described how the demands of her job had made it difficult for her to be a good wife and mother.

“We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents,” she said. “But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mum. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms.”

Nooyi went on to talk about missing class coffee sessions with other mothers at her daughter’s Catholic school and using a personal assistant to tell her kids whether or not they could play Nintendo.

Tappin told CNN that about 90% of the 150 CEOs he talked to for his book said privately that they struggle with work-life balance. His book quotes one unnamed CEO as saying that he doesn’t remember what his first two children were like when they were young.

“I didn’t see my son grow up; we’re only now building a relationship in his late teens,” another CEO told him.

5. People treat you differently.

It’s hard not to get a big head when you’re in charge.

Instead of giving you an honest appraisal of the situation, subordinates will likely tell you what they think you want to hear in order to remain in favour. This means that without colleagues or superiors, you can miss out on the clear-eyed advice that could be the difference between success and failure.

“It’s almost impossible to avoid completely,” former Weight Watchers CEO David Kirchhoff told the Wall Street Journal about the “disease” WSJ dubbed “CEO-itis.”

That’s why many executives are increasingly turning to executive coaches, who can introduce a healthy degree of scepticism to the process of making tough decisions.

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