Startups Workplace

The Unseen Side Of Leadership: Navigating The Solitude Of CEO Life

Illustration of woman working on a computer.

Being a CEO often conjures up images of success, optimism and authority, with many envisioning a leader who is always in control, highly respected and financially successful. However, my experience as a former entrepreneur and strategic adviser working closely with many CEOs on a daily basis paints a somewhat different picture. In reality, the role of a CEO can be incredibly isolating.

Unlike employees who share camaraderie and casual coffee breaks with peers, a CEO’s position is unique. Despite any genuine attempts at friendliness, the inherent power dynamics — where the CEO has the ability to make significant changes, including firing — means they are seldom viewed as a peer. This distance is not just limited to the broader employee base but often extends to the top executives as well. Even within the C-suite, where conversations tend to delve into more critical aspects of the business, there exists a barrier when it comes to discussing highly sensitive issues. Topics such as the timing for a company sale, changes in management structure, or strategies for board presentations remain challenging to navigate openly.

When considering the board — including VC members and other stakeholders — the dynamic shifts further. Given their power to potentially end a CEO’s tenure, conversations are typically approached with caution, focusing on presenting strategies rather than seeking genuine advice or engaging in open discussions. For example, a legitimate discussion on raising capital or an exit may cause alarm for some board members, thus the topic will either be avoided or surfaced after a strategy has been chosen, rather than early on.

Below are three actionable strategies that can help mitigate feelings of solitude and foster a more connected, supported leadership experience.

Network with other CEOs

The importance of building a network with fellow CEOs and industry peers cannot be overstated. Engaging in forums, joining entrepreneur clubs or attending industry-specific events can provide a sense of comradery and shared purpose. You will find you are not alone in your struggles. These connections offer valuable perspectives, advice and who-knows-what, also good business as you build these relationships. Consider setting up regular meet-ups or virtual catch-ups to maintain these connections.

Write a blog/vlog

While highly sensitive topics may be off the table, sharing your journey, challenges and insights through a blog or vlog can be a therapeutic outlet and a powerful tool for connecting with others who may be experiencing similar challenges. This platform allows you to articulate the highs and lows of leadership, offering transparency that can resonate with other entrepreneurs, potential clients or even future team members. Furthermore, it allows an expression of who you are as a person, not just as a business title. In today’s world this is rare and highly valuable.

Work with a strategic adviser

Partnering with a strategic adviser can provide you with invaluable insights, support and guidance. A strategic adviser acts as a sounding board for your ideas, challenges you to think differently, and supports you in navigating the complex decisions that come with leading a startup. This relationship not only helps alleviate solitude by ensuring you have a trusted partner in your corner, but also drives meaningful progress in your business.

Itay Sagie is a strategic adviser to tech companies and investors — specializing in strategy, growth and M&A — a guest contributor to Crunchbase News, and a seasoned lecturer. You can connect with him on LinkedIn for further insights and discussions.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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