Contrary to popular belief, the CEO lifestyle is not filled with fine dining, jet setting and fancy conference rooms. There are a number of misconceptions about what it takes to be the CEO of an organization and what is included in that person’s laundry list of responsibilities.
The job seemed easy enough when I decided to start my own business. But reality hit when functions such as bookkeeping, logistics and marketing became more than one person could handle. The next hurdles included hiring and firing employees, grooming managers and other company leaders, and outsourcing work to agencies and contractors. Early in my career, I believed many of the common myths about what it was like being the leader of a company. But since I’ve had to assume the mantle of chief executive officer, I’ve learned many of those things simply are not true.
For aspiring entrepreneurs, here are five things most people get wrong about what it takes to be an authoritative, effective and successful CEO.
1. They have superior knowledge about everything.
I pride myself in knowing I am rarely the smartest person in the room. The best CEOs surround themselves with confidants and domain experts. Drawing on the intellect of others, business leaders can make educated decisions about next steps for their company. According to Roselinde Torres and Peter Tollman, senior partners at The Boston Consulting Group, “Omniscience is unattainable and does not guarantee great leadership. Smartness is helpful, but so are humility and inquisitiveness.”
The ability to admit when you are wrong and the courage to turn to others for help is empowering. To accomplish anything great, CEOs need to be curious and constantly evolving. At the same time, they should readily lean on friends, family and colleagues for advice in growing their business.
2. CEOs come from privilege.
In one of my first entrepreneurial ventures, I ran a fluffy slipper kiosk at the local mall with my brother. It was far from glamorous, but we were blessed. Thankful that we could turn a small profit, we consistently skipped class to run the shop and pooled our earnings to open our first retail store. Eventually, Amerisleep was born. We didn’t have the privilege of an Ivy League degree or a generous investment from our family. Like many entrepreneurs who started from nothing, we pursued a small idea, scaled it, pivoted a few times and carefully built an empire.
There are plenty of rags to riches stories. Larry Ellison (Oracle), Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Ursula Burns (Xerox), Oprah Winfrey and Li Ka- Shing came from humble beginnings and are now among the most revered business leaders in history.
3. CEO is an easy job.
The title of CEO comes with a myriad of challenging and near-impossible responsibilities. That is because managing a large-scale business operation is hard.
In 2010, Steve Tappin published a book titled “The Secrets of CEOs: 150 Global Chief Executives Lift the Lid on Business, Life and Leadership” which revealed that chief executives were consistently overworked, overstressed and exhausted. Tappin, in an interview with CNN, explained, “The major emotions a CEO has are frustration, disappointment, irritation and overwhelm. There should be a health warning. If you have those emotions for 80 percent of the day, they lead to stress and cortisol in the body, which leads to accelerated aging, heart attacks and cancer.”
Tappin added, “In many cases people were burned out and stressed. The end game is that they've got very low energy. People assume CEOs are superhuman but they're grappling with a really hard job.”
To combat the stressful lifestyle, many entrepreneurs -- including Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson and Elon Musk -- make sleep a priority so they can walk into their office each morning feeling refreshed and ready to seize the day. At Amerisleep, we even have a nap room to ensure our employees and I receive well-deserved shut-eye, even while we are at work.
Related: 10 Myths About Successful CEOs
4. Socializing and schmoozing are in the job description.
CEOs are the face of an organization, constantly operating at the front lines despite overseeing the back-office. The media paints them as power brokers and super connectors.
Although critical business deals may result from a night out over dinner, what many people do not realize is how isolating the job is. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Dr. Thomas J. Saporito wrote, “Often dismissed and rarely discussed, many CEOs are plagued by feelings of isolation once they take on the top job. Findings from our inaugural CEO Snapshot Survey™ (PDF) reveal that half of CEOs report experiencing feelings of loneliness in their role, and of this group, 61 percent believe it hinders their performance.”
To overcome this challenge, entrepreneurs seek support from friends outside of their professional spheres and prioritize personal happiness.
5. CEOs alone make all the important decisions.
New management theories such as holacracy have recently questioned the efficacy of traditional corporate structures. The jury is still out on whether these experiments with emerging management trends will ever be successful long-term. That said, most people believe companies led by CEOs are just that -- driven by a single person.
Businesses run by a dictator rarely stay that way or stick around. Wise CEOs seek to strike a balance in power by recruiting an experienced board of directors and senior management team.
Research from the 2010 Journal of Management Studies suggests, “A strong board provides a useful watchdog and a second set of valued opinions to the strategic direction of the company. This oversight by the board can help catch the deviant strategy that could lead to firm failure, before it is implemented by the CEO and the organization’s top management team.”
Important decisions that have significant repercussions should always be up for discussion and then put to a vote.