What does it take to lead a company? Leaders are often seen as having it easy by not having a fixed schedule, getting all the glory, going to fancy dinners, or exploiting their workforce. It’s often easy to second guess decisions in hindsight and to backseat drive an organization, but to truly lead a company you need to be prepared for the following challenges.
As a leader, it’s your job (and hopefully your personality) to continually survey the landscape and adjust your planning. You not only review potential risks, you’re looking for growth opportunities and exploitable loopholes. You weigh the loophole risks against your experience and the experience of your finance and legal teams. You weigh the growth areas against your team’s ability to adapt and change. To be a good leader, you never do the same job twice because the job should be constantly changing.
You never finish working. You may put down your pen at a good point to stop, but you never get the satisfaction of knowing that you have fully cleared out your tasks, let alone your inbox. There is always something to double check, there are always processes to be improved, or client and staff touchpoints that could use attention. There is always another article to read, more knowledge to ingest that could inform your business strategy or market position. Starting the day by reading emails and ending the day with networking at a restaurant is a LONG day. And the next day sure doesn’t get any easier when you were out until 10pm schmoozing.
You’re always on call. From big companies to little ones, the buck stops with the leader. You hear about major CEO’s who fly across the world and leave their family on vacation to appear before the board for PR issues. And if big companies who have PR teams and redundant c-suite-junior-associate-vice-presidents in place, imagine how the little companies run. When it’s your weekend, or you’re on vacation, or even closed for the holidays there is a constant thread pulling at you. That at any moment you could be called up for duty. It’s a lot like parenting a small child.
And the other part you don’t think about about being on call is that you represent your company all of the time. From social media posts, to dinner and drinks with vendors, to going outside and running into clients- you are generally the most visible person at the company and you have to be authentic to that brand as the main representative.
You are only as good as the team you hire. It’s incredibly important to have a good team, when their work is a reflection of your work. If your team never takes responsibility for their actions or always pass on hard decisions to you, it’s exhausting. They (and you) need to make sure that they aren’t rude to clients, that they double check their tasks, that they are always doing their best, and being proactive. If a team member drops the bag and doesn’t complete a job to the satisfaction of a client or as the contract stipulates, you could lose the contract.
And there is a flip side to this, your team is only as proud of you as the company is perceived. Charismatic leaders who don’t follow through on their promises, have poor money management, or an inability to adjust to market changes means your team could lose their jobs. Team members look to you to provide for them and their families. And while they may like you personally, in the end they need to make their own decisions about how to put food on the table.
As the leader, you’re responsible for the culture of your organization. If there is a rampant issue with backstabbing or bullying or sexual harassment, in the end it reflects on you and you could potentially be legally responsible. Take one look at Uber, We Work, or Comcast to see what a horrible working environment can be like and how those CEO’s were fired.
Tim Ferris says it’s lonely at the top. He means more than what we’ve already covered, he means that when it’s time to make a hard decision like laying off staff, you bear the brunt of it. Because you are watching the risks and the bottom line, you’re the first person to see when things don’t look good. And it’s your job to ‘lead’ the team through that. I’ve seen situations where we were going to let an entire department go in a week but we had to grin and smile and grant vacations anyway. If you tell staff ahead of time they may drop into melancholy, there is probably still work to be done and no one will want to do it, and it’s very easy to become bitter about leaving. Even with a large severance package.
So you don’t tell people about their future, you lie to them for their ‘own good’ and basically, if you’re any kind of a human being, you feel like crap about it. Let me tell you that you only have to do this once, for me it was in 2001, to never ever want to be in that position again. So then when it’s your turn as a leader, you do everything you can to avoid it. So you take the responsibility to survey the landscape and this entire essay starts again.