I often speak with startup CEOs and find they’re vastly underleveraged. When CEOs have too many demands on their time, they start to feel less efficient or productive. This can rapidly drive them to feel overwhelmed, if they are not prepared for it.
The Challenges That Come When an Organization Scales
Most successful startups go through a similar process. It starts with a crazy idea. You get some money raised, build out proof of concept, and work hard on finding product-market fit. It suddenly becomes a business. You’re on to something here, and now you’re trying to figure out how to scale it. There’s a lot of advice out there that teaches you to scale your organization, but almost none of it teaches you how to scale yourself.
As the organization starts to accelerate, the demands on your time go way up. As the leader, you’re working more hours than before just to keep up with the increased scale of the company. You’re working pretty hard, which leads to some problems:
1. First, you’ll find yourself becoming more reactive to the huge amount of inbound that’s coming your way.
2. Next, you may feel less proactive in pursuing the objectives that will move the needle most for the success of your company.
3. Finally, it’s likely you’re sacrificing the most important relationships in your life. These are family and friends, the people you need in order to stay strong through whatever startup life throws at you.
The Guilt Trap and Inevitable Burnout
On the work front, it feels all-consuming. You’re focusing your efforts on batting the ball back over the net as rapidly as you can. There’s a painful knowledge that you’re not using the time for projects you really want to pursue. These projects are the ones your entrepreneurial gut tells you will have a tremendous impact on the company. Many CEOs feel a strong sense of discomfort, even guilt. On the personal front, this guilt can be stronger still because you feel you’re letting people down that you care about more often than you like. If these symptoms remain untreated, it puts you straight on the highway towards burnout.
It’s all-consuming when you’re focused on batting the ball back over the net. Tweet this
You might say, “So what? That’s the story of being a startup CEO.” It brings your inner toughness out. All you have to do is suck it up, but I believe this is more dangerous than many people think. Once you get into this world of overload—of too much work, not feeling efficient, and the added burden of a constant nagging guilt—you’ve officially entered the domain of unhealthy stress.
The Threat/Stress State
Chemically speaking, your brain perceives guilt and stress as a threat. Whenever we perceive a threat, the older part of the brain kicks in. Rather than using the brain’s full capacity to come up with the most skillful solutions, we become very reactive to the situations we have. It’s been proven in studies that when we’re perceiving threats, our creative capabilities go down quite dramatically. If there’s one thing your startup needs it’s your full creative potential to come up with optimal solutions to the challenges you face. This becomes increasingly impossible the more you find yourself in this threat/stress state. So while you might say, “I’ll tough it out” or “I’ll power through it,” in terms of your company’s success it actually contributes towards achieving the opposite.
The Importance of Strong Social Relationships
Some people feel they can deal well on their own. However, the most successful people have strong social networks around them, often utilizing their network’s support when they scale. TED speaker Shawn Achor is a renowned Harvard lecturer, speaker on happiness, and expert on how social support relates to our success. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn believes that when we go into crisis mode our friends and family relationships are the ones that suffer, even though those people are the ones that we need the most at this time.
Social relationships are important because they are a proven source of our happiness. They therefore help us have a more positive outlook on life, even when things get tough. Without them, it’s hard to stay positive, you’ll feel alone, and the feeling of burnout becomes more prominent in your life. Shawn cites this study which shows positivity is exceptionally important to creativity. And staying creative, I believe, is one of the most important assets a startup CEO brings to the table:
A trio of researchers gave a group of experienced doctors a series of symptoms to analyze. The doctors were split into three groups: one primed to feel happy, another given neutral but medicine-related statements to read beforehand, and a control group who was given nothing.
The goal of the study was to see how fast they performed the correct diagnosis and also how well they avoided anchoring. (Anchoring is an inflexibility in thinking which occurs when a doctor has trouble letting go of an initial diagnosis in the face of new or contradictory information.)
As it turned out, the happy doctors made the right diagnosis much faster and exhibited more creativity. On average, they came to a correct diagnosis only 20 percent of the way through the manuscript—nearly twice as fast as the control group—and showed about two and half times less anchoring. What the study revealed is that even the smallest shots of positivity can give people a serious competitive edge.
We’re more equipped to handle stress when we have a strong social network. Tweet this
At Mindmaven, we’ve seen the challenge of scaling that a lot of our clients face. Solving this problem is not something that can be ignored. It’s an incredibly important step towards ensuring the success of your startup. While your world will never be perfect, there are a few solutions that will make a difference. One is simply putting a priority on helping yourself scale as you help the company scale. It’s investing into skills, habits, and resources which enable you to get more out of each hour that you’re working on your startup.
If you’re ready to make this happen, I’ve shared some strategies that clients find successful when reaching this stage in their company’s growth. If this resonates with you, I’d be interested to hear your story.
Image courtesy of Christian Weidinger at Flickr.com[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]