A CEO asked me about the most common mistakes made by my clients, most of whom are also CEOs. I had to consider how my clients would answer that question, and I think the overarching theme would be: They waited too long.
They waited too long to establish sufficient structure in the culture's routines. Early in a company’s life, too much structure is suffocating, but eventually a regular cadence for routinely occurring events (such as 1:1s) adds stability and reduces decision fatigue.
They waited too long to get serious about self-care: sleep, exercise, meditation, and time away. These practices are essential for effective leadership, but they're never urgent, so they don’t happen until the leader realizes how important they are.
They waited too long before realizing that they need blocks of open, unstructured time on their calendar to do their best thinking. This can be 30 minutes a day, or 1/2 day every other week, or 1 day a month, or 1 week a quarter, or all of the above.
And they waited too long when making the difficult decision to fire someone. There were good reasons for the delay--there always are--but in hindsight they generally wish they’d acted sooner, and often all parties would have benefited.
So what can be done? Recognize the value of sufficient structure and routine: "The fluidity and ambiguity that foster creative problem-solving in an early stage startup will feel like chaotic dysfunction at a later point in the company’s development."
Recognize that self-care on a leader's part is an investment in the business, "a necessary practice to insure that they are able to fulfill their responsibilities as a senior leader as effectively as possible," not an indulgence or a sign of inadequacy.
Recognize that what's urgent isn't necessarily important, and what's important isn't necessarily urgent, and we're often pressured to steal time and attention from important tasks to feed urgent needs.
Finally, recognize that all of these choices and decisions (from merely blocking off time on the calendar all the way up to firing someone) involve risk and uncertainty, which stir up complex feelings that can't be controlled but must be managed.
Photo by Mike Babiarz. Yay Flickr and Creative Commons.