Ben Horowitz summarizes the hardest job of CEOs as, “managing your own psychology.” Until recently, I believed that I was pretty good at this. After all, despite not taking more than a few days off since I was 15 -- even after I sold my previous companies I would immediately start working on the next thing -- I’ve never felt “burnt out.”
Up until a couple years ago, I equated the job of CEO with serving the needs of various stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, etc.). Like most CEOs, I learned that it’s virtually impossible to serve all of these, at times, competing interests. Not only is it impossible to please everyone but many stakeholders are notoriously short-sighted and reactionary. They’re like a customer with a broken muffler demanding a louder stereo when what they really need is a new muffler. Keeping stakeholders happy is not the job of the CEO but the byproduct of delivering on his real responsibilities.
Fortune 500 enterprises and startups alike face constant pressure to increase revenues. Naturally, that’s not surprising. Ultimately it’s why we found startups in the first place. Meanwhile, investors want to be a part of growing companies, and smart employees want to be part of the next big thing, not the last. But this intense pressure to grow often pushes management into unhealthy and risky decisions. Take, for example, the demise of Ecomom.com following the tragic suicide of its founder/CEO, Jody Sherman.